An Introduction to ‘The Outlaw Ocean Music Project’
Written by Kevin Coakley
A collection of music collaborations born from the field recordings gathered by one of the world’s leading investigative journalists.
Surfacing just before the life-altering lockdown hit in March, the early murmurings of a new exciting project were beginning to emerge over in Washington. The Outlaw Ocean Music Project was born early on in 2020 with the first batch of releases appearing to the world in February. Any avid electronic music fan would have been curious upon discovering this abnormally large and varied array of songs and soundscapes being released simultaneously under this new guise. All of these works seemed to have the same background soundboard and all had similar artworks associated to them. These were albums not to be sniffed at either, the artists who created them were all top drawer operators. Most of which are pretty much at the top of the electronic game.
The first batch of EP’s and albums even featured works from two artists I’ve written about on this website, Bad Tuner and Mononome. I was intrigued by what was taking place and did a bit of digging into the origins of this new interesting entity.
I was redirected off Spotify and found myself staring at the homepage of a new initiative called ‘The Outlaw Ocean Music Project’. I was taken aback by what I saw. This was something unique in it’s concept. I had just been pointed away from the streaming platforms that all musicians seem to point me towards. In the blogging industry, I’m absolutely overwhelmed with new artists sending me links to their music on Spotify and Apple. On this occasion, the ideology and aim of this project was to divert my attention away from such platforms and onto something substantial and topical in the world of journalism.
The global work that is taking place here is a new form of creative collaboration. The innovative dynamic of this project and it’s ability to attract intrigue (especially mine) is totally groundbreaking. Fusing the power of music creators and the world of journalism together – the project successfully draws the listener’s attention out of the streaming platforms and onto a larger movement outlining important global issues. In this case, the music is all derived from a collection of field recordings created by Ian Urbina. The sounds are all stemmed from the time he spent at sea writing his best selling book ‘The Outlaw Ocean‘.
The Origin and Innovation behind the Project
The organisation was set up by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and New York Times journalist, Ian Urbina. His 2019 book became a New York Times best seller. Urbina’s work is mainly focused on what he calls ‘the last untamed frontier’ – the two thirds of our planet that’s covered entirely by water. The book is centred on the investigative journalism he undertook for The Times. His life work explores a plethora of issues that were previously unreported out in the oceans.
In his time travelling around the globe, he collected a bunch of sounds and audio clips along the way. These sounds ranged from gunfire off the coast of Somalia to the chants of deckhands held captive off shore in China. These poignant sounds themselves hold such value and so does their conversion into musical form by the world’s most talented producers.
Utilizing the power of music, the sounds are preserved and the turbulent reality of their origins remain relevant eternally. The book itself became popular as it touched upon issues at sea that previously had not been reported by the mainstream media. Urbina dedicated five years of his life to compile this gripping collection of stories and reports. New ground was broken by the book as it highlighted unexplored and undocumented realms. The music project that has subsequently arisen from the book is similar as it charters new territory in itself too.
Urbina came up with a creative way of using the sounds that he accumulated throughout his often danger fraught journalistic experiences. He founded Synesthesia Media to act as a label for this project. Instead of letting the sounds fester on a USB stick, unused and underappreciated, he came up with a superb plan to use the field recordings and convert them into something more. Thus, ‘The Outlaw Ocean Music Project’ was born. He kindly made his bank of sounds and prose available for musicians to use as samples.
It wasn’t long before major electronic (mainly Downtempo and LoFi) artists took notice of this opportunity and began to get involved. Early collaborators included the likes of Ash, Mujo and Chromonicci. Their job was to create a single, EP or album using the sounds and compile a soundtrack based on the book. Urbina’s initial thought process was that journalists and writers often don’t make use of the medium of music enough. He felt that if movies had soundtracks, why couldn’t books have them too?
Since his idea became a functioning reality, over 250 artists from over 50 countries have taken part. I have to say – some of the tracks created are top drawer. I’ll be sharing a playlist of my favourite picks on the site in the coming days.
Why is The Sound Sniffer going to be writing about it?
This is the first fully formed project I’ve come across that successfully blends the world of journalism with the creative process of music-making. You may ask – why is it that I’ll be writing about this one so much? In truth, its because I admire the innovation here and couldn’t pass on the opportunity to jump in and contribute. I built this site over a year ago to write about my favourite music – I run it purely by myself and completely as a hobby. Last week, I was suffering the lockdown blues and my motivation was starting to wane a bit. Luckily, as I scrolled through my site’s overflowing inbox of submissions, an email popped up about this project and the reasoning behind it. It gave me a much needed burst of excitement. I’ve been immersed in it’s content since.
Over the next few weeks, I will be conducting some interviews with artists who have already contributed to the project. I will be asking them why they got involved and what they have taken from the experience. For me, covering and encouraging innovation is paramount to why I started my site here in the first place. Lots of musicians are donating their valuable time to create these soundscapes, I feel it’s important that someone listens and writes about their finished creations. I haven’t seen a relevant blog covering this in any real depth. I am more than happy to take on this mantle, I’m a self-confessed, serial writer and I crave a good music-based initiative.
Overall Collective Goal
The overall goal is to merge the world of journalism with music directly. The more artists that participate, the more people will be directed to pressing journalistic topics. There is still such untapped power and potential in the art of music making. This collaboration idea outlines what is achievable if artists work together towards a common goal. The common goal here is to raise awareness about the environmental threats and criminal activities out in our vast oceans. Ian Urbina’s work is valuable and this project shines a bright light on it.
There will be another batch of releases out on August 7th.
I hope you enjoy my upcoming features and have a look at the overall concept of the project for yourselves.
Linked below is the official website of the project.
You can find the complete collection of all of the tracks released so far on Ian’s Spotify playlist below.
The Sound Sniffer is a music blog which is still only a baby – Founded and run by Kevin Coakley in early 2019. He is a music writer and ghostwriter. ‘The Sound Sniffer’ also runs gigs and showcases in London since Oct 2019. The showcases are picked from artists I find in my submissions inbox.
Check out my Interviews HERE