Ardsley, NY: Understory Books, 2020. 4to (8.75 x 7.75 inches). 85 color and black-and-white photographs. 140 pages. Pictorial wrappers. New. Item #405908
Throughout its 85 photographs, Tim Noble’s The Welsh Desert captures the stark, solitary, and haunting beauty of the eastern uplands of Ceredigion in Mid Wales. These remote, seldom traveled roads have rarely – if ever – been seen with such a powerful artistic vision. Understory Books is honored to launch its new publishing imprint with this superb photobook.
Yet this is no ordinary photobook, nor does Noble see himself primarily as a photographer. Indeed, if asked, he will insist that he is “just a musician”, but this book reveals an altogether more complex and conflicted sonic artist: one who cannot help but see as much as he hears.
Born and raised in England, Noble moved to Aberystwyth, Wales in 2006 and, within a few short years had, as half of the The Lowland Hundred, released an LP inspired by the town and its surrounding coastline. Under Cambrian Sky went on to earn wide critical acclaim and achieved cult status within two years of its release in 2010. MOJO (one of the last great UK music print monthlies) devoted its “Buried Treasure” column to the record in 2013.
As he explored Aberystwyth and its surrounding coastline, Noble’s eyes often wandered eastward, beyond the confines of the town, across to Ceredigion’s uplands, the north-eastern tip of “the great desert of Wales”, a term which first appeared in print in 1860, in John Henry Cliffe’s Notes and Confessions of an Angler. In the Autumn of 2010, Noble set off on the first of many journeys inland, into the hills, little realising that this landscape would not only inspire many hours of recorded music, but also become the subject of thousands of photographs. Three albums evolved out of this rich period of exploration in Mid Wales: Noble’s solo LP Diffaith, and the second and third albums of The Lowland Hundred’s trilogy: Adit and The Lowland Hundred. And now The Welsh Desert brings his stirring collection of images to light.
Describing that first inland journey in his foreword to the book, Noble writes “I don’t recall a grand musical vision unfolding from this moment, but it certainly awoke something in me, something which led me back into the hills the following weekend and on nearly every weekend thereafter. Over time, the ‘something’ became an almost physical need to be out there in this Welsh desert and an internal dialogue between walker and musician developed. I’d head out whenever I could, however, when the weather was too poor to go outside, I’d find myself in the studio, attempting through sound to bring the outside in.”
Although firmly rooted in the sonic arts, on each weekend trip Noble would pack a camera along with his microphones, and the pictures began to pile up, resulting in an astonishing series of images – over 2000 in all – of a place largely undocumented in photographs. The images fed into his compositions, inspired by his walks. “I was making maps and graphical scores. I sensed myself struggling to capture the menace in a quarry’s shadows or the beauty in the play of sunlight across a stand of pines; attempting to preserve whatever I thought I’d just experienced in the hope that, during my next visit to the studio, I could find my way back to the moment and re-cast it in sound.”
This is landscape photography, but any nod to a particular school or tradition is purely accidental; as striking as they are, these photographs were never intended to hang in galleries. When seen from the right angle, these pictures of sheep at sunset, waterfalls tumbling over mountains, jets peeling through the dusk might recall the notes in a chord, the tempo of a motif, or the decay of an echo.
Understory Books founder Tom Lecky selected, sequenced and designed The Welsh Desert, and provided an afterword. Accompanying the book’s publication, the Understory website will feature videos, music and texts related to Tim Noble and his many artistic practices.