Observations: Composer Martin Parker's headphone symphony

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The Independent Culture

Putting headphones on the world was a terminally divisive act: locked into their own soundscape, each person is now an island. This is the premise on which East Neuk Festival, up in Fife, an hour's drive from Edinburgh, has commissioned three new works from composer Martin Parker, for the instruments on which they will be played are, quite simply, headphones. Festival audiences will be able to rent them and mp3 players, and take the music with them to listen to, in the places that inspired them: a harbour-side bench overlooking the bay at Elie, a holy cave in Pittenweem, and a leafy dell with spiritual overtones behind a church.

Parker, who is also a sound engineer, modestly plays down the novelty: "Many visual artists generate music for headphones, as an accompaniment for walks through designed environments – this has long been emerging as an art-form in itself. This is really just a small advance." People walking around with iPods are doing this all the time, he points out: "Laying their own soundtrack over what they are seeing around them, and using the music to reinterpret it. It's essentially a cinematic experience."

St Fillan's Cave, he says, has a colourful history, but he's not trying to retell it: "I'm taking sound material from it, then changing and adding to it." He recorded birdsong at five in the morning in the dell, and those sounds – plus the sound of the trees and the stream running through it – will complement the new age ribbons and feathers that travellers have hung round it.

East Neuk Festival, 1-5 July