Fiona Soe Paing: Sand, Silt, Flint review – startling Scottish balladry with a global scope

The Scottish-Burmese singer evokes history, folk tales and atmospheres in this nicely uncanny set blending electronics and field recordings

Sand, Silt, Flint is a fascinating ballad map of north-eastern Scotland by Scottish-Burmese singer, writer and producer Fiona Soe Paing, who has performed in all-female punk bands, released a bilingual album about heritage and identity, and experimented wildly with vocal improvisation. She recently discovered she was related through her mother to Aberdeenshire bothy ballad singer John Strachan, which deepened her fascination with local songs. She then turned to electronic textures and atmospheres to conjure vivid impressions of their settings and landscapes.

The artwork for Sand, Silt, Flint.
The artwork for Sand, Silt, Flint Photograph: Music PR handout

The result is an album that Paing also turned into a sound-walk app, where a listener’s GPS location triggers audio, allowing them to be immersed in the environments that inspired the songs – often decades or even centuries earlier. A coastal village lost in a storm in medieval times shudders into sight through a mesh of field recordings, birdsong, whispered voices and bell-like guitars on Forvie. Lass o’ the Lecht, the tale of a teenage girl in 1860 who mistakenly followed a river upstream in a blizzard, to her death, is fittingly chilling, while Paing even duets with her ancestor on an arrangement of Bonny Udny.

Fiona Soe Paing: Fisher’s Lullaby – video

Although Paing’s Scottish inflections trickle through her autotuned delivery, the album’s sound is more global in scope, and more beguiling for it. She claims local heroes Boards of Canada as an influence and was mentored by Beth Orton, but shades of Broadcast and Bróna McVittie also haunt this album. The overall effect is startling, unusual and nicely uncanny.

• This article was amended on 21 December 2022. Fiona Soe Paing is related to John Strachan through her mother, not her father as previously stated.


Jude Rogers

The GuardianTramp

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