Coastal heathlands are a type of ecosystem that I often think of in musical terms. Possessing a high diversity of compact shrubs arranged in a tapestry of very similar hues and textures, a glance across the landscape often seems analogous to certain styles of music, where notes blur into each other, forming an indistinct mass of tones and timbres.
At times, the compositions of Steve Reich come to mind, where instruments are layered upon each other in an abstract, repetitive and swirling mass. Other times I am reminded of the woozy, billowing character of My Bloody Valentine’s impressionist masterpiece Loveless. The musical aesthetic of the latter is driven by a heavy use of glissando where an instrument or voice glides continuously from one note to another, and also their own form of vibrato (or something thereabouts). There are many other words for to describe glissando in the music world: bend, slide, sweep, smear, rip – some of these being specific to a type of instrument or style of playing, but all of them being highly visual metaphors. My Bloody Valentine’s style of ‘glide-guitar’ and deliberately vague production is the perfect soundtrack to heathland. The fuzzy, subdued hues of these compact shrubs blend, meld and slide in to each other.
Sometimes the plants do still register as distinct tones (as if played in standard legato), however the level of proximity between tones is not separate enough to be analogous to any western music at all, to my eyes at least. Instead, they remind me of the ‘microtonal’ scales of the Middle-East and Central Asia. Melody systems such as makam (maqam) include quarter tones, doubling the number of potential tones per octave to twenty-four (when compared to western music’s 12).
1. Emergent Allocasuarina distyla within Darwinia fascicularis and other species
2. A single Banksia serrata punctures a subtly varied mass of male and female Allocasuarina distyla
3. Allocasuarina distyla, Baeckea imbricata, Hakea teretifolia, Melaleuca sp.
4. Many species, including Baeckea imbricata, Darwinia fascicularis, Melaleuca armillaris, Hakea teretifolia, Westringia fruticosa
5. Unidentified species shimmering through a mass of Baekea imbricata
6. Allocasuarina distyla
7. Phebalium squamulosum ssp. argenteum
8. Tight, shifting mounds of heathland species, including Baeckea imbricata in the foreground
9. Hakea teretifolia and Baeckea imbricata
10. Epacris longiflora
11. Many species, including Baeckea imbricata, Darwinia fascicularis, Melaleuca armillaris, Hakea teretifolia
12. Seepages and damp areas within heathland result in rushes and sedges within an otherwise shrub-dominated ecosystem
 Vibrato normally describes changes in pitch that are fast and regularly pulsating; neither of these characteristics are found in Kevin Shields’ guitar techniques on Loveless.