Faber Social present: Nina Lyon on Enchantment

Faber Social is the unerringly cool arm of London’s Faber & Faber publishing house. Over the coming months we will be featuring exclusive essays, extracts and articles from some of their finest authors.

In this new series, Uprooted author Nina Lyon writes about the relationship between music and landscape and the art of enchantment.

One of the unexpected pleasures of living somewhere remote is time spent alone in the car.
I use this time as a sort of driving meditation: I know the roads well and the drive itself is buried in default mode, leaving space to think. I take the landscape for granted these days, which is an extraordinary thing because it is an extraordinarily beautiful place to be: Pen-y-Fan occupies the horizon at the end of the road home, and the knuckled heads of the Black Mountains punctuate the drive into town, white today with an overnight flurry of snow.

Once I am alone and have somewhere to go it is a matter of finding the right music. The right music will defamiliarise familiar places and mine the new for beauty. It can find an introverted focus or amplify excitement; it needs to match both place and mood.

Last week I drove deep into Mid Wales to find a stone circle. I was short of sleep and in a semi-trance state that should probably have kept me at home, but the journey was magical. There’s less trace of human life there than in most other places, and the Cambrian mountains look like long-buried dinosaurs in a land inhabited by giants. Sound can magnify or break that magic, and for that sort of space you need expansive sounds.

The more complex outer reaches of techno work here: Apparat’s early stuff, like Duplex, has a nootropic quality in the mountains. I also listened to dreamy French pop from the Nineties – Mylène Farmer and Brigitte Fontaine, and then Soap&Skin and Laurel Halo in a more recent iteration of the same unearthly substance.

At the stones, the only sound was birdsong. They were supposed to mark the intersection of two ley lines – I had tasked myself with making sense of the way we like to find uncanny things lurking beneath the normal world – and for a time I wandered between them and around them in an attempt to intuit something, which never really came. Behind them was an oddly Byzantine crossroads for a farm in the middle of nowhere with lanes going off in all directions, and I lost all sense of direction, as though the cosmic energies had me in a vortex.

I heard an anthropologist talk about enchantment over the summer, about how we’ve lost the art of it in our urbanised society and how we need it to reconnect to the better parts of ourselves. Those sorts of adventures provide it, and so do spectacular places, and so do the right sounds. You don’t need to be up a mountain: I got the same headspace seven years back on trains speeding along the Northumberland coast or at the point after take-off where the faint curve of the Earth is revealed, or entering London on the Westway at night.

You have to be discriminating: silence is golden when the music is wrong, or imposed on you from the person behind you on the bus. You have to learn to love silence, and it then becomes possible to find something better, and you will know it by whether it adds to the texture of the scene and makes it unusual. Enchantment is something that needs cultivating.

Nina Lyon’s book Uprooted is available from Faber & Faber

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