In a world of constant sharing and promoting, the concept of a one-time music broadcast that nobody is ever allowed to listen to again is either refreshing or insane. Either way, this month marks the third year for Dark. Outside., the annual event (or non-event, perhaps) in which brand new songs are played into a remote part of the woods and then completely erased forever.
The never-before-heard tracks will be stored on a hard drive and released only once into the cool night air on September 27th-28th in Scotland’s Galloway Forest Dark Skies Park. It will also air live on a local radio broadcast entitled “24 Hours of Unheard Sound,” over a frequency that is virtually inaccessible beyond the edge of the woods. This particular part of the forest is so far from civilization that it has actually been designated in UK’s Dark Sky Discovery program as one of the absolute darkest regions, an ideal destination for stargazing. After the one-time transmission, all of the contents on the hard drive will be obliterated according to the Gutmann Method of permanent data deletion.
The fleeting nature of the event is extremely thought-provoking in such a digital age. The public response has been deeply inspired, wildly frustrated, and everywhere in between. Which is exactly the kind of contemplation founder Stuart McLean was hoping for. He launched the event to explore how we currently share music, and explains that the main objective is “to get listeners willing to leave the comfort of their own homes to travel into a forest, clamber up a hill and listen to music they’ve never heard before.” Last year, over 600 people did just that.
“There’s no real goal apart from seeing if people will turn up to listen to music they’ve never heard before by some artists they haven’t heard before and some that they have,” McLean explains. “In some cases it literally is the only place, bar breaking and entering [and] stealing hard drives out of musicians houses and studios, where you would ever hear them.”
But what artist would go to the trouble to write new music only to have it almost immediately destroyed? Imogen Heap, East India Youth, and Phil Hartnoll of Orbital, just to name a few. In fact, this year’s lineup is massive, despite the broadcast being so rigidly ephemeral.
“I had the idea to play music that nobody had heard before in a place where nobody would hear it,” McLean says of his initial concept. “To be honest, I didn’t think anyone would say yes when I asked if they would send some music they had that nobody had heard. Why would they? There’d be nobody listening, apart from me.” But as of 2014, Dark.Outside is anticipating another huge crowd in light of last year’s high attendance.
The world may never know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, but Dark. Outside. may help us answer one age-old riddle. If music plays in a forest and no one is there to record it, does it still make a sound?