Frequent Traveller - Real Life (Music for Headphones)

Frequent Traveller – Real Life (Music for Headphones)

With Lockdown 2: Judgment Day in full effect in England, there will be many that miss the thrilling experience of travelling. Well there’s a temporary solution. Like how Roísín Murphy’s Roísín Machine ingeniously transported the nightclub-starved back to the disco scene, the latest Frequent Traveller album is here to help travelholics deal with their movement restrictions.

Real Life is the follow up to the self-titled 2011 Frequent Traveller album, which had tracks predominantly named after railway stations, and meticulously maps the whole travelling experience by capturing all the noises that a traveller may hear. Not just the street and crowd noises but the tanoy announcements and elevator automated voices heard prior to leaving one’s country.

Steve Spiro – the British producer behind Frequent Traveller – uses a modern binaural recording method (two microphones are used to create a 3-D stereo sound) to capture the field recordings and from the beginning of the album (the start of the journey) to the end of the record (the return home) it feels like it’s from the point of view of an open-minded yet cautious Londoner. Leaving the comfort of their home and feeling a little overwhelmed by the places they visit.

The frequent traveller begins his vacation at London Victoria train station taking a train to Gatwick Airport (‘Trains’) before taking a flight to his first overseas destination (‘Planes‘). The mood is hopeful yet calm. We hear little details such the wheels on his suitcase, the train doors closing and the other passengers chatting around him. Mellow piano dance is accompanied by restrained saxophone. It’s as if this is the theme of home because when the frequent traveller supposedly returns back to his home city at the end of the journey (we hear “C10 to Tate Britain”) in ‘Here Inside Me’, the soothing piano returns.

What’s sandwiched inbetween those tracks is a riveting audio equivalent of NHK’s Somewhere Street. Over the course of 18 months Steve Spiro ventured in different corners of the globe and he experienced those countries’ more local environments, including the quirky characters that colour them. The atmospherics are paired with danceable music styles that represent the country.

Some are expected: ‘A Maze of Snakes and Shadows‘ is transparently Marrakech. Anyone who’s been to that city would have experienced snake-charmers’ cunning attempts to drain tourist money: “Photo photo madam, just a picture with a friend,” as Ney and traditional sufi music is performed. It’s just like walking through the Jemaa el-Fnna medina square. Furthermore, Jamaica-situated track ‘Liquid Sunshine’ uses the island’s well-known genre of dub to take listeners to its location; along with car horns and men shouting outside their cars.

On the other hand, ‘From The Ashes‘ takes place in Mumbai but avoids the stereotypical styles of Indian music in favour of a subtle spiritual touch, recorded near Pushkar Lake, a sacred lake for Hindus. ‘Three Bells’ also takes us to a small community, this time to Merida in Mexico and features a good set of examples where Steve Spiro reverberates field recordings well for a mysterious exotic effect, as well uses reoccurring motifs such as the church bells and whistles.

Crowd noises make listeners feel part of the local party, as ‘The Brazilian’ uses trumpets and celebratory Sao Paulo football crowds to paint its vibrant community spirit. A feeling also felt in ‘Le Croisette’ , as it takes place at the Cannes Lions Advertising Festival, located near a beach, and hears accordion swaying over both the waves and the muttering of voices. The glamour of the party is contrasted with the reality of prostitution as the frequent traveller, like he was in Morocco, is targeting as a naïve tourist by a desperate money-maker.

To make the journey feel less random, as well as giving listeners a clue to the city they are visiting next, each new location is preceded by a captain or flight attendant announcing the destination. New York (‘In My Head‘) is initially represented at night with sirens, gang turf altercations, a singing busker and the subway (supposedly hopped on by the traveller) before harmonic-sax-hiphop that wouldn’t sound out of place in a 1990’s soundtrack takes over. ‘The Devil’s Trying To Break Us Down’ is another interesting alternative take on hiphop (with a lounge ethereal twist), as well as also being situated in another city in America. It adds observational insight to its soundclips, as you can hear a preacher claiming that “The lord created the gay to be destroyed.”

Real Life is the perfect antidote to lockdown 2 blues. An escapism travelogue that contains recorded clips and an array of enjoyable culturally-associated genres that are successful at being equally immersive. Its one step away from being simulated virtual reality.



God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.