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Urusla Le Guin - Kesh
L to R: Ursula K. Le Guin, Todd Barton, Debra Barton, Anne HodgkinsonPhotography Brian Attebery

Watch a short film soundtracked by Ursula K. Le Guin’s musical recordings

The meditative ‘Kesh’ video is set to recordings that the late science fiction author made with composer Todd Barton in the 1980s

Ursula K. Le Guin was a force to be reckoned with in science fiction writing. Her classic books were not only notable for how searingly they commented on the politics of our actual world, but also for the nuance and detail with which they created brand new worlds. For her 1985 novel Always Coming Home, she invented a Pacific Coast peoples named the Kesh – and not content with simply writing a novel about them, she also produced a 500-page book about their lives, alphabet, recipes, and literature. Along with this, she released recordings of their indigenous music, which in reality she created with her friend, composer Todd Barton. The recordings consisted of music made by “instruments” of the Kesh (designed on a synthesiser by Barton), intermingled with field recordings.

This March, experimental independent label Freedom to Spend (part of RVNG Intl.) re-released their compositions as an album, two months after Ursula sadly passed away at the age of 88. Music and Poetry of the Kesh is an enthralling, earthy listen, as innovative now as it must have sounded in the 1980s. In the exclusive video for “Kesh” (directed by Vanessa Renwick, below), we see nature through an eerie monochromatic lens – just as the music itself is somehow both organic and out of this world. For Barton, listening back is a reminder of what a rigorous sonic archaeologist Ursula was.

“With all these interviews and releasing of the music, I’ve been poring back through our notes. It’s been fun going through that,” Barton told Dazed on the phone from his home in Oregon. “The way Ursula wanted to approach it, it was as if we were both ethnologists – she would go hunting and gathering in the Kesh culture, and send me, either on a handwritten postcard or a letter, a poem she found, or some interesting artefacts. And then eventually stories and sections from the book. She asked me to do the same thing, so I would go on an imaginary journey into the Kesh.”

But as well as admiration for her imagination and work ethic, the album also brings back recollections for Barton of Ursula as a dear friend. Her very life is woven into the fabric of the record. During the recording process, he remembers, “throughout the day I’d wake up at four in the morning, and go sit the meadow and turn the tape recorder on, and be quiet for two hours as the world woke up and sound started evolving. Then one night Ursula and I and Charles, her husband, sat around the campfire and talked more about what the Kesh should be like. At that point I said, ‘Why don’t we record the campfire?’ So we were silent, just recording the campfire, which later became the background for one of Ursula’s poems.”

Watch “Kesh” below.