Review: Cathy Lane – The Hebrides Suite

The sounds opening The Hebrides Suite are instantly familiar: the wind that wraps round my head like a sandpaper scarf, the metronomic warning beeps and electronic whirrs of ferry mechanism, the tinny and half-croaked tannoy announcement that cuts the ribbon on my overseas journey and verbally unravels the path ahead. Lane captures the very deliberate and considered nature of travelling by ferry – the vehicle itself is constantly emitting a symphony of siren and water collision, proclaiming the act of transport over and over again. It carries its own distinct acoustic flavour; a cold echo curls up in amongst the slanted metal panels and painted bolts and leaps back out into the cabin, cradling each word in a pocket of rust and salted air.

A couple of times a year my girlfriend and I trek from Bournemouth in Southern England to the Isle Of Mull in the Inner Hebrides, where her parents live in a gorgeous house just up from Tobermory high street. Like Cathy, our expedition concludes with a ferry trip from the Scottish port town of Oban. It’s a journey of stages: of distinct arrival and departure through various modes of public transport, with each phase accompanied further alterations of the existing landscape (slight drops in temperature, a notable increase in greenery). By the time we arrive on Mull we feel utterly disconnected from the reality from which we came; separated from home by a series of stops and rituals, like a boat forced to pass through a multitude of locks.

The echo of mainland interests and tradition doesn’t resound here. Lane generates rhythm and fluidity from interview clips in Gaelic and English, concerning land structure, natural process and vegetable growth; concerns that seem immune to erosion, as if time loops back in on itself each day. Meanwhile, a coarse surge of wind and seawater over sand laps up against the ears – a constant, respiratory soundtrack, into which a choir of sheep and the odd rumble of motor engine (a notably low frequency sound in a chorus that tends to hug the middle to upper ranges) become organically embedded.

One of my favourite sounds on the record is an old Hattersley loom that reprises throughout “Tweed” – a beautiful, hand-cranked cascade through which loose chains and metal cogs rattle and shake. Lane uses it as the basis to coax rhythm out of language; words are skipped and delayed into tiny gallops of Gaelic phoneme, mimicking an uneven machinery mechanism, overlapping with other conversational extracts that swirl and grind across eachother; the Hebrides becomes its own machine of circadian process, interlocking into a water-tight weave of rugged landscape and uneroded tradition.