In a recent interview, the writer Iain Sinclair spoke about how on a London Overground train journey, people prefer to sit submerged in the transient digital world of their smart phones rather than engaging with the landscape and topography they're passing through. "You are literally living in a present that is self-erasing as the days go by," was his verdict on how these devices disconnect us from the physical world around us. Yet it's also possible for the portability of sound via phone MP3 players to create an artistic, personal dialogue with what surrounds us. This is what Corinne Price explored in Do You Really Know Where You Are?, a sound installation in your own pocket. Participants were invited to download an MP3 recording and head to the large solitary oak on the edge of Epping Forest just North West of the Waterworks Roundabout where Forest Road meets the North Circular and Woodford New Road.
On a hot summer evening, as participants in a serious-looking picnic packed their cool boxes and tables into the back of a pick-up, we donned headphones to hear Price narrating the history of Epping Forest and the old windmill that was at our starting point (commemorated on a blue plaque on one of the houses that now occupies the site) before we head across the plain, and plunge beneath the tree-line.
Yet this is not just a simple historical walking tour of Epping Forest. In the other earpiece, a male voice begins to narrate an alternate history from thousands of miles away - a history of Empire, Africa, exploitation, slavery and pollution. This is a wonderful part of the forest - a jay rests on a post just ahead as the traffic's roar disappears into the distance - but the twin narration in the earpiece is a timely reminder that while the saving of Epping Forest for the people of East London was a 19th Century victory for people power over aristocracy and vested interests, for millions of others around the world, a bitter and deadly struggle for survival continues to this day.
Luke Turner is Editor of The Quietus and is planning a book on Epping Forest.
Click here to find out more about Corinne Price's Do You Really Know Where You Are? and to listen to the audio-guided tour.