Dan Lyth was born in the Middle East but has lived most of his life in Dunfermline, Fife. A sound designer by day, Lyth began work on Benthic Lines some five years ago, his intention to record an album entirely outdoors. On rooftops and rowing boats, in forests and high streets, mountains and quarries, ruined churches and beaches, car parks and peat bogs. Anywhere really, as long as it was outside!
Having first had the idea while on a trip to Sierra Leone, Lyth quickly realised that it's one thing to daydream of such a plan whilst in the tropics and quite another to actually attempt it back at home in Scotland.
“I think some part of me took perverse pleasure in the thought of having to undergo some real physical exertion to make this record. I have also always been drawn to creative work that has taken a considerable amount of effort, and recording an album outdoors whilst living in Scotland with its devious climate seemed to fit the bill.”
In an age when it seems anyone can produce an album in their bedroom, Benthic Lines attempts to re-explore the relationship between music and the environment in which it is created. What happens to a recording when you have no control over the surroundings? What anomalies and accidents may occur? And would it be possible to weave together the unpredictable sounds of these environments with more traditional performances to create a cohesive whole?
As Lyth’s fondness of field recording has grown more ambitious, so too has his talent as a songwriter. Album opener ‘All My Love’ is testament to this, merging the mythological with the reality of the uncertainties that are brought when becoming a father for the first time. The vivid imagery of ‘Four Creatures’, written from the perspective of someone living in Syria, draws upon Islamic and Christian eschatological imagery to startling effect.
The influence of Steve Reich is worth noting, from the repetitive female vocal sounds on ‘Standing Start’ to the cyclic piano and accordion patterns of ‘Super Nature’ and ‘Earth Broke Its Vow’, Lyth is the first to admit of his affection for Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians.
“A big chunk of inspiration came from Steve Reich’s work and one of the main aims of the album in terms of the arrangements was to try and make music that sounds electronic or programmed but is actually all live acoustic instruments.” says Lyth.
Benthic Lines are the deep sea communication cables through which the world is now connected, and communication is a recurring theme throughout the record ("the cables installed along ocean floors is where we had lived too long for sure" sings Lyth on ‘How It Happened’). How our constant use of communication technology can affect our thought processes and relationships (“We shot some video, scenes that would not be shown, think what you will but the devil’s in the pixels on my phone”, sings Lyth on ‘Four Creatures’). With recording having taken place in locations as far afield as Morocco, Australia, Turkey and Uganda, Dan is also exploring the lines of human connection and lines of ancestry.
Designed with love by graphic artist Sarah Lyth, the album arrives in a beautifully bound 60-page book and includes photos from the array of recording locations. Cover art from celebrated New York artist Matthew Cusick and an accompanying short story, Already Here, by talented Fifer Craig Rennie complete the desirable artefact that is Benthic Lines. So what has Lyth got to say for himself now that his affair with the great outdoors is almost over.
“After travelling, listening, recording and being constantly surprised over the course of four years and across four continents, what will really stay with me is not only all the wonderful sounds we heard (during the recording of Benthic Lines) but also the many inquisitive, open-minded and generous people we met along the way. But it wasn’t all romantic. It’s quite hard work transporting a drum kit to a remote derelict church or dragging a piano out of a small flat. There were broken mic stands, bleeding fingers and failing batteries. And there was rain, a lot of rain.”