– LEAFCUTTER JOHN’s moving sonic portrait of nature in the time of COVID-19 uses crowd-sourced recordings from Britain and across the world

– Commissioned by Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (hcmf//) & Leeds Art Gallery

Watch here from 7pm/25.3.21: https://youtu.be/a6VIPYbP7mw

+ audio only link / download on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/leafcutterjohn/lockdown-patchwork

Lockdown Patchwork by the Bradford-born composer and sound artist Leafcutter John is a poignant sonic time-capsule of the past twelve months featuring crowd-sourced field recordings, music and personal testimonies relating to our relationship with nature and green spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is commissioned by Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (hcmf//) and Leeds Art Gallery.

The hour-long performance of Lockdown Patchwork is available to experience online (https://youtu.be/a6VIPYbP7mw) from 7pm on Thursday March 25, 2021. Visuals include Leafcutter John’s intricate hand-drawn map showing where each of the 86 short recordings was made, who recorded them and where the clips appear in the artwork.

Following a call-out to the public for their most meaningful outdoor sounds from lockdown, Leafcutter John received over 13 hours of field recordings from every corner of the British Isles as well as from as far afield as Poland, Germany , France, Sweden, Kenya and Australia. Field recordings included everything from bees in Huddersfield, a Leeds dawn chorus, wind turbines in County Antrim, sounds from a Berlin courtyard, an inner-city cat fight, sedge-warblers, seascapes, rain..and much more. From these he has composed Lockdown Patchwork a crowd-sourced musical artwork that explores the important role nature and access to green spaces have played for many of us during this uniquely challenging year.

Into this evocative mosaic of sounds Leafcutter John has woven a series of nine moving personal testimonies from artists, writers and nature lovers, including poet Ian McMillan, beat boxer/sound artist Jason Singh, nature writer Zakiya McKenzie and musician Ally Craig. Overlaid with a haunting, sometimes mournful, yet always eloquent, electronic soundtrack – Lockdown Patchwork reflects people’s personal experiences of nature as a means of escape from a COVID-19 reality.

Lockdown Patchwork is part of Leeds Art Gallery’s current Natural Encounters exhibition, which explores how artists have responded to nature.

Speaking about the commission, Leafcutter John said: “Getting out into nature has been very important to me during the pandemic, so I’m really chuffed that this commission has enabled me to create a piece of music exploring the sounds and use of green spaces during such unsettling times.

“People were very forthcoming in providing personal backstories for the sounds they sent me. This meant I could find beauty in all of the sounds, whether they were made on a high-end recorder or just a phone. It’s the context and personal reflection that makes each piece magical. From the turn of wind turbines to a New Forest walk or birdsong, it is hard to pick a favourite.”

Poet and broadcaster Ian McMillan has spent lockdown on a walking voyage of discovery close to his home in South Yorkshire. In Lockdown Patchwork he shares his thoughts on fungus “with massive elephant ears, and fairy toadstools” and describes his daily strolls as opportunities to “recapture my lost youth and pick up the mythical mandrake and hear it scream”. His overwhelming sonic memory of lockdown is the mysterious sound of a drone in the distance: “..sometimes it was there and sometimes it wasn’t, and then occasionally it would be mingled with the unusual sound of a passing car.”

Nature writer and journalist Zakiya McKenzie describes the joy of experiencing spring in a new home with her own garden. What follows is a cacophony of rainfall, storms and birdsong with the sound of traffic playing in the distance. “Lockdown meant life slowed down, watching things happen, learning the cycles of all the plants and the birds, discovering quince, cherry trees and grapes.”

Musician Ally Craig, shielding since March 2020 for health reasons, hasn’t been able to experience physical green spaces. He says: “The tops of the trees from my back door – that’s about as about much green as I can see. A lot of what I’m reading and listening to is set in imaginary, rural spaces.” In his commentary Ally reads a series of haikus which he wrote especially for Lockdown Patchwork, which express the personal challenges he continues to face during lockdown.

For beatboxer and sound artist Jason Singh, a walk in the woods is an opportunity to “be among the trees, just listening to song thrush, blackbird and wren.” Even with the constant hum of the M60 in the distance “hearing the wings of moths was incredible”, allowing external sounds to shift focus away from himself.

Leafcutter John’s piece isn’t a solution to anyone’s lockdown problems, but what it does provide is a fascinating time capsule, documenting the sounds and feelings of lockdown. In a moment of quiet happiness, a warm metallic guitar chord provides the accompaniment. In a moment of uncertainty and doubt, he forges a motoric rhythm, so that others can find themselves in the story. “In a way, my part of the music is just listening to what people are saying. I hope it helps.”

Sarah Brown, Principal Keeper, Leeds Art Gallery, said: “We are delighted to present a new joint commission by Leafcutter John in collaboration with Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. The commission responds brilliantly to themes in the current exhibition, drawn from Leeds Art Gallery’s Collection, Natural Encounters, which explores the different strategies artists have used to respond to nature.”

Graham McKenzie, Artistic Director of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival comments: “hcmf// is pleased to partner with Leeds Art Gallery in commissioning this new work – Lockdown Patchwork – from Leafcutter John. Our relationship to nature and environment has become so important to so many over the past 12 months, and my thanks go to all those who shared their moments and sounds to make this work possible, and to Leafcutter John for bringing everything together, to create this wonderful piece!”

Lockdown Patchwork features spoken contributions from

Zakiya McKenzie – nature writer, Bristol

Ian McMillan – poet / broadcaster, Barnsley

Ally Craig – guitarist / singer / songwriter, Oxford

Bella Gonshorovitz – fashion designer / writer / allotment-holder, London

Luke Turner – artist / writer, London/Manchester

Bex Burch – percussionist / composer, Northern Ireland

Jason Singh – beat boxer / sound artist, Manchester

Maria Vodovosoff – allotment-holder, Sweden

Bishi Bhattacharya – singer songwriter / DJ / multi-instrumentalist, London

and field recordings from 86 members of the public.