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    Why 'Dark. Outside.' Is Broadcasting New Music to an Empty Forest in Scotland

    Written by

    Michael Byrne

    Editor

    The idea's simple enough: pack a couple of boxes (or drives) full of unheard, unreleased music along with a low-power FM radio transmitter and set up shop for the night in a forest park far enough from civilization that it's earned the UK's Dark Sky Discovery designation. No simultaneous internet broadcast, no later podcast or any other sort of release; the radio station is just in one single location on one single night. Take it or leave it. 

    This September, Stuart McLean will be doing just this, the third installation in a yearly event taking place within Scotland's Galloway Forest Dark Skies Park. McClean currently has a call out for submissions to be played at the event (antievent?) with just a couple of simple rules: the music must not be available online and it must be unreleased. After it's played, the hard-drive containing the submissions will be obliterated according to the Gutmann method of permanent data deletion. The only way the broadcast might be reproduced is if someone within range taped it off of their own FM receiver. It hasn't happened so far. 

    What exactly is McLean getting at with this? "The power of radio in the internet age that hopes to get listeners willing to leave the comfort of their own homes to travel into a forest, clamber up a hill and listen to music they've never heard before," he tells Motherboard. 

    So, it's something like the opposite of the internet experience of music consumption, in which everything is available all of the time at no cost, financial or otherwise. "There's no real goal apart from seeing if people will turn up to listen to music they've never heard before by some artists they haven't heard before and some that they have," McLean says. "In some cases it literally is the only place, bar breaking and entering [and] stealing hard drives out of musicians houses and studios, where you would ever hear them."

    In this sense, it goes back to an era when the notions of radio broadcast (or recorded music in general) and live performance mingled. At one time, the act of listening to some music in any form imaginable was an event in itself. But now it's like breathing.

    The 2013 version of the project was part of the Environmental Arts Festival Scotland, and the forest found itself buzzing with people that day, some 600 at one point. 2012, the first year, was entirely different, however: "... I had the idea to play music that nobody had heard before in a place where nobody would hear it," McLean says. "To be honest, I didn't think anyone would say yes when I asked if they would send some music they had that nobody had heard. Why would they? There'd be nobody listening, apart from me.

    "People did turn up," he continues. "[Six]. A friend, Ben, turned up and we listened, talked shite, drank coffee, and pot noodle until our fingers froze."

    So far, submissions have hardly been hard to come by for McLean's forest broadcast. "There [was] a fantastic track from Phil Hartnoll [of Orbital] that hasn't came out yet that I'm really looking forward to hearing again," he says. "The Imogen Heap track was from her album which is out in a few weeks, and East India Youth's track was on the b-side of his 'Dripping Down' 10-inch."

    "I could go on," McLean says. "And on." So he does, rattling off a list of names including Richard X, X-TG, Carter Tutti, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Nicola Roberts, and Wire's Colin Newman. Already this year he has tracks from Coil, Adrian Carter, Cleaners from Venus, PG Six, and many more. "I'm just incredibly fortunate that the people I asked said yes."

    McLean is taking submissions until Sept, 22 at frenchbloke[at]gmail[dot]com. Details, including where to show up for the actual broadcast, can be found here.

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