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"A time capsule of the environment": The story behind Birl of Unmap by its creators

Writer and artist Clare Archibald and ambient musician brothers Andy and Mike Truscott (Kinbrae) tell us about the background to, and their inspirations for, a new collaborative record, Birl of Unmap.

I'll start by saying this is not a typical music review of the new collaborative project between Kinbrae and Clare Archibald, which has resulted in an album, Birl of Unmap, whose concept is the evolution of land use at St Ninians in the trio’s native Fife, formerly an opencast mine, the pit village of Lassodie, and large-scale art project of the post-modern landscape architect Charles Jencks.

There are far more qualified people than me who can properly critique the album, so I’ll leave the in-depth analysis to others. But, personally, I think it’s brilliant and the best thing I’ve heard in a long time. The spoken word fits perfectly and the use of brass instruments in ambient music, together with field recordings, is a joy.

But enough of that.

Here, I’m focusing more on a conversation I had with the protagonists Clare Archibald and Kinbrae, which is the pseudonym of twin brothers Andy and Mike Truscott.

Collaborators – I love that word – any previous collaborations, anyone?

MT: Yes, me and Andy have done some before, but this is from a different angle for us with Clare joining us as a writer.

AT: On previous albums, we’ve worked with other people on art and design, but that would be towards the end of the project, so first time with someone from Clare’s writing background.

CA: Well, I’ve collaborated on lots of projects in the past with musicians and artists and on a large scale with the public, but this is the first time where the music has been kind of the bigger part. Even from a ‘writing the words’ perspective, there’s a different value to it in a way. So, yes, it was new to all of us. I had increasingly been using sound and music by myself in my work and wanted to make an album. I wanted to work with Mike and Andy as I respect their work and how they do it, love Tidal Patterns and Landforms, and so wanted to experiment with them to see what we could make together.

Clare Archibald and Kinbrae standing at the Jencks site that inspired their album

Clare Archibald and Kinbrae standing at the Jencks site that inspired their album

Possibly a clue there as to how good it is? Everyone loves new things.

AT: Our first albums were instrumental, so it was important for us to adapt to those circumstances and learn to use each other’s skills.

So they had a plan, maybe two or three, and they had to adapt and still came up with something beautiful. Lesson there is things don’t always go your way, so just crack on.

CA: We had a shared folder with ideas that we worked from cutting and splicing and building the overall loose structure of the album, then we recorded it all very quickly with a day or two each in Ben Chatwin’s studio.

MT: We would have to go in the studio and work separately then communicate via email and discuss, so not really the approach we intended.

Okay, time for Brian’s stupid question: “How did you all meet?” The two guys are twins, you idiot Brian; they met very early. Yeah, I meant Clare and the guys.

CA: I spoke with Andy for a piece I was writing for a music journal and we decided that it would be good to do something together, especially rooted in Fife as an area we’re all connected to. I had wanted to make work about the Jencks site and we got funding from Help Musicians to develop collaborative practice and so we did it. We all have a body of work that’s rooted in place and it made sense to make something together that we couldn’t have done alone, that we could all learn from in doing together. It’s a collaborative work on every level, with the other voices and words, Ben Chatwin’s input in the studio, and also in terms of cover art and layout, record labels and dual release.

Abandoned mining villages: creative gold, yes, for artistic endeavours, but also for redevelopment. What Clare and Andy and Mike have done will probably turn out to be an historic artefact to the land itself. So what are their thoughts on land such as this?

AT: Yes, there’s no denying some sort of development would be good for the area economically. The site itself is a massive area, I walked around one day doing field recordings for an hour and a half and didn’t see the end of it. In some ways it’s quite a stark landscape, but there’s also been a lot of natural regrowth so there is always the continuation of that to consider.

CA: The last time I was there was when it was in the process of being sold and I spoke to a few people. Some said the sale would be good because, with land management, maybe people would be made to pick up their dogshit and the scrambler bike noise would be stopped, but other people were saying it’s a place where I can roam freely with my dog and the unmanaged nature of it is what appeals. These things are always a delicate and complex balance of the human, the environmental, and so on, and that’s a central idea in Birl of Unmap – what makes a place and whose place is it?

AT: So if they redevelop the site? The field recordings we’ve already done are history; go back there in 10 years’ time it will be different.

CA: The whole album is like a time capsule of the environment and various bits of its history.

Birl of Unmap album art

Birl of Unmap album art

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Well said, Clare.

The rest of the interview is about ‘Brass in Ambient’ – my favourite Pretenders track, by the way – and my thoughts on every track on the Birl of Unmap album, but I’ll spare you that, as promised above. And anyway, Clare summed it up.

These are lovely creative people whose work deserves notice; I thank them for their work and time to speak.

Long live the kingdom of Fife.

Learn more

The album was released on tape and digital on 11 February 2022 via Full Spectrum Records by pre-order from the US and via The Dark Outside for posting from the UK.

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