The Sound Recordist, Seán StreetThe jacket is filled with a full colour painting of the sea, the sky orangey and somewhat troubled. No ships but some white foam on the flattened waves that are coming in over dark sand. Looks perhaps like Turner, a suggestion of a sunset through you can't see an actual sun. The title and the author's name, smaller, below it, are both in white lower case in the bottom right hand corner where the sea scape looks very dark.

Maytree Press, 2021    £7.00

Of sound and light

Seán Street is fine-tuned to the sonic world’s presence in our lives as he explores the various ways it affects us, as speech, music, natural sound and — intriguingly — in association with that other wave-form, light.

‘Wild Track’, opens up the technical and professional world of the recording studio, ‘A blank empty room filled with / possibility’.

‘Notes on Using the Studio’ gives us: ‘Warning : meaning lies between things’, and in ‘What was Said’, the dark power of utterance becomes an ear-worm decades on, where it

                     converts to heat
across a universe, doesn’t fade
at all, when you hear a thing like that,
when you pass it on like a shared curse.

However, when ‘The Sound Recordist Goes to Town’ there’s a preference for the purity of sound above meaning:

But I hear most in foreign places where I’m drenched
in the buoyancy of incomprehension, where
language rivers flow best, not being understood.

It’s an enjoyable paradox that words are used here to celebrate sound without words, in three different ways. First, there’s sound as itself: ‘the rain given voice by what it touches’ (from ‘Listening with a Spider’); then there’s sound as trigger: ‘But it starts with barely the idea / of itself in a rustle of currents / in water’ (in ‘Beyond Hilbre’). Finally there’s sound as metaphor: ‘Light patterns shaping pure music into dance’ (from the poem ‘Early Show’). This last line suggests a symbiotic relationship between light and sound, particularly sound as music.

Light recurs as we proceed through very visual poems, as if light and sound are interchangeable. ‘A Sea Song’ asks ‘And when did you ever hear/ a light like that[…]?’ The beautiful ‘Time and Light’ responds to a painting (The Ruins of Holyrood Chapel) where light becomes a replacement for sound, or a metaphor for its absence: ‘What sings through is light // sound has turned now to mysteries of light’.

This linking of sound and light seems to flow naturally and unobtrusively, yet at the same time is striking for the way it draws attention to how our senses complement one another.

Mike Barlow