Stuck at home during the global pandemic, one of the things I miss the most is live music. It’s always been an important part of my life, and while I love my favorite venues, I always jump at the opportunity to hear live music in unconventional places. Living room concerts, street festivals, in-store performances, warehouses, boats, coal mines. Today I added a new experience to my live music wishlist: the Concerto Grotto, a series of sea cave concerts in the Faroe Islands.
When I told a colleague I was planning a trip to the Faroe Islands he had two questions for me: 1. Had I seen their insanely picturesque football fields? and 2. Did I know about The Faroe Islands Podcast? Both were news to me. By the time I learned about the podcast it was already nine years old, having begun in January 2009 after the journalist Matthew Workman noticed a visitor to his blog from a country he’d never heard of. It was all down the rabbit hole from there. The internet didn’t have that much content about the Faroe Islands back then, at least not in English, so Matthew started blogging and podcasting about it.
Fifty years ago, on November 12, 1969, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired The Latecomers, a sound documentary by Glenn Gould, the accomplished pianist who at that point in his career had stopped performing live in favor of studio recording. The latecomers in question are from Newfoundland, the last Canadian province, which joined the federation just twenty years earlier. It’s produced in a unique style, which Gould called “contrapuntal radio,” a reference to his favored musical approach where numerous independent melodies are played simultaneously. In this case, he interweaves the voices of thirteen Newfoundlanders into overlapping and layered stories about solitude, politics, hard work, and identity. Interspersed, and at times overpowering these stories, is the sound of the ocean beating against the rocky shoreline. The waves are an organic through-line, ushering voices in and out of this non-linear collage. In our current era of highly produced podcasts and audio stories, this experimental radio piece from five decades ago holds up extremely well.
The Fair Folk podcast, hosted by Danica Boyce, is “devoted to bringing folk tradition to life” and features numerous episodes on the traditional music of Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and other places of interest to this blog. It’s not her first, nor her latest, but as an introduction to her work I would suggest The Wailing Of The Old Timers – Tvísöngur and Iceland’s Hidden Folk Music Past as an example of the deep research Danica shares with her listeners.