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New podcast project to explore plastic pollution at sea

Academics at Leeds Beckett and Liverpool John Moores Universities are using sound - and the short stories of Merseyside writer, Malcolm Lowry (1909-1957) - to bring to life the magnitude of plastic pollution in our seas.

Malcolm Lowry in front of a lighthouse

Over three years, academics, environmentalists, musicians and retired seafarers will make six return ferry crossings between Malcolm Lowry’s birthplace, Wirral and neighbouring Liverpool, and his favourite location, the Isle of Man.

Sound recordings from the journeys, including short interviews, re-tellings of passages from Malcolm Lowry’s short stories, and abstract sounds, will be used to create a series of podcasts, with the help of ‘Frozen Planet’ sound recordist, Chris Watson. The podcasts will be showcased in a new display at the Merseyside Maritime Museum.

The project is led by Dr Alan Dunn, Reader at Leeds Beckett’s Leeds School of Arts, with Dr Helen Tookey, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the Liverpool Screen School, Liverpool John Moores University, in collaboration with Liverpool’s Centre for Contemporary Art, Bluecoat, and Mariner’s Park, a retirement facility for those with maritime experience.

Dr Dunn explained: “My grandad and dad designed and built ships and hovercrafts on the River Clyde. When I read an article claiming that plastics from the oceans had entered the human food chain and that our seas are being polluted with eight million metric tons of plastic every year, I started to think about bringing together creative people to make new content in response to this unfathomable situation.”

Malcolm Lowry's passport photo

Dr Helen Tookey said: “Lowry was prescient in his love and respect for the natural world and his fear for its destruction by capitalist industrial development, both articulated in his collection of short stories ‘Hear Us O Lord From Heaven Thy Dwelling Place’. This proto-ecological angle to his work, coupled with his lifelong love of the sea, makes him a fascinating writer to draw on in thinking about our current relationship to our oceans and the threats of plastic pollution and global warming.”

The work will be carried out under the guidance of one of the world's leading sound recordists - Chris Watson. His award-winning natural history work with David Attenborough, including BBC series ‘Frozen Planet,’ has given Chris a unique insight into the relationship between the environment and sound. Chris was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Leeds Beckett University in 2018 in recognition of his successful career in sound engineering.

The project has been funded by a £29,000 grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Dr Dunn added: ”Students often create work addressing plastic pollution, but their references are primarily visual. Students at Leeds Beckett will have the chance to contribute to this research project, which will use sound and the power of listening to generate new content to showcase pollution.”

Dr Alan Dunn studied at Glasgow School of Art and School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His research explores new ways of curating content for non-gallery audiences and his recent PhD considered the relationship between sound art and the everyday.

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