~ incidental art by Eph ~
A Year In The Country is a set of year long explorations of an otherly pastoralism, the undercurrents and flipside of bucolic dreams. It is a wandering amongst work that takes inspiration from the hidden and underlying tales of the land, the further reaches of folk music and culture and where such things meet and intertwine with the lost futures, spectral histories and parallel worlds of what has come to be known as hauntology. Those explorations take the form of a website hosting essays, discussion and artworks, as well as music and book releases.
In the recently released second book from A Year In The Country: Straying from the Pathways, Stephen Prince explores the wider realm of “otherly pastoralism” and its intertwining with the lost futures and parallel worlds of hauntology. It examines such varied and curiously interconnected topics as the faded modernity and “future ruins” of British road travel; apocalyptic “empty city” films; dark fairy tales; the political undercurrents of the 1980s; idyllic villages gone rogue; photographic countercultural festival archives and experiments in “temporary autonomous zones”
– (introduction from the A Year In The Country website).
What is “otherly pastoralism”?
I tend to use the phrase “otherly pastoralism” to refer to an atmosphere, work etc that explores the undercurrents or flipside of more conventional views of rural and pastoral areas, folk culture etc. It refers in part to a sense of alternatives to bucolic views of the countryside, although related work can sit alongside and at points intertwine with such more idyllic work.
There isn’t really one overarching name for the loosely interconnected subculture that has flourished since around 2010 which explores such things. “Otherly pastoral” is a phrase that I have used to try and convey a particular related atmosphere – a sense of the hidden or underlying tales of the landscape. In some ways I use it in a similar manner that the word “wyrd” is sometimes used.
What motivated you to begin A Year in the Country?
For quite a number of years I had lived and/or worked in often quite central, busy urban places and worked in subculture and left-of-centre pop culture. A lot of urban orientated subculture etc had started to feel as though it had been very thoroughly explored and harvested and I found myself being drawn to more rural/folk orientated culture and accidentally came across (or sometimes revisited) its more subcultural aspects. At that time there seemed to be more space within such work, more overlooked nooks and crannies.
Also there wasn’t so much work that explored such areas and I found myself essentially thinking about and planning a website, project, music releases etc that I would want to find and explore myself.
You explore a strange confluence of interests that may initially seem disparate to a curious observer. Even within a single explored medium there is a diversity of style. Have you come close to a divining and defining a common spark that binds and guides this confluence?
I think one of the underlying things that connects say the initially disparate seeming areas of otherly pastoral/wyrd folkloric culture and that of a hauntological nature is a sense of loss; in hauntological culture that is often a sense of post-war lost progressive futures, within otherly pastoral/wyrd folkloric culture that may be a sense of a form of lost Arcadian utopias or idylls.
The two areas may have quite different surface aesthetics but they appear to be connected by a similar exploratory, visionary or utopian spirit and, as I say in the A Year In The Country: Straying From The Pathways book, they have come to “shadow and inform one another’s journey’s within an alternative cultural landscape”.
There is also a sense in both of allowing space for the hidden, semi-hidden or not fully explained – which I think can be appealing in contemporary times when that is often not the case.
What are some of your favourite discourses and discoveries from Straying from the Pathways?
I don’t know if I strictly speaking I have favourites, although there are certain things that have particularly stuck with me.
One of those is Andy Beckett and Roger Luckhurst’s observations in The Disturbance (a booklet published by Texte und Toné in which they discuss The Changes television series) in which they draw comparisons between the mid-1970s and the state of flux that British society was in at that time and contemporary unsettled times in Britain. They suggest that because of these similarities the worries, catastrophes etc in the likes of television dramas such as The Changes, The Survivors and the final Quatermass series, the spectral supernatural occurrences of The Stone Tape and films which have been retrospectively labelled as folk horror such as The Wicker Man fit our times much better than they might have done previously.
To be honest, the majority of the things I write about in Straying from the Pathways could be considered favourites; that’s why I wanted to put them in the book (!)
From the phantasmagoric tales of Prince of Darkness and Halloween III to the beautifully produced Texte und Toné releases, via considerations of the faded modernity of British road travel in the book In the Company of Ghosts: The Poetics of the Motorway, the hidden subterfuges of Edge of Darkness and the spectral audio of The Ghost in the MP3 and much more – I find it all intriguing and inspiring work.
The first year of A Year in the Country in particular felt like a ritualistic experience, with a new blog post every day, and regular physical releases in the form of prints, badges, stickers and CD’s. How much of the first year was planned, and how did this ritual effect you?
I had a loose plan in place before I started the first year, although I left space within it so that, for example, if I came across something that I found particularly interesting I could write about it.
How did it effect me? I think by the end of that year I was physically and mentally somewhat tired (! again).
At the same time, I was glad to have completed it, to have been able to see it through. I had written about most of the subjects I wanted to at that time and much of what I thought of back then as my core areas of interest and inspiration in this loosely connected culture, which had been one of the aims of that year.
The A Year in the Country musical releases are often collaborative concept albums. Tell us about the idea and evolution of these wonders.
Sometimes with the themes/concepts of the albums they will come to me very quickly and largely fully formed. Sometimes it’s just an inkling of an idea and they will slowly develop over time.
It’s similar with the artwork and packaging design. At times it will all fall into place quickly, other times it will slowly evolve and be honed down over quite a period of time, with the atmospheres of the music by the different people often influencing the artwork that I create for them.
The themes of the concepts draw from quite a wide area but at their core they are generally inspired by the intertwining of otherly pastoral and spectral hauntological ideas.
In terms of the other people music which featured on the albums, their previous work is often something that I have discovered and found myself returning to over time, people who’s work I appreciate and would like to hear more of – which is one of the things the albums do, they help to put such work out into the world.
A Year in the Country is now approaching the end of its fifth year. Did you expect to be still wandering spectral paths at this stage?
Ah, good question. I think initially I just thought about the first year of A Year In The Country but then once that was done I realised that there was much more in this “otherly” cultural landscape that I wanted to explore – the ongoing years of A Year In The Country give me space to do that.
A Year In The Country: Straying from the Pathways
more about the book and where it is available
The new album by A Year In The Country
Released December 6th—more details here