To celebrate the winter solstice I will be playing a four hour, four-channel, sound piece in The Arches on the campus of Newcastle University. It will play continuously from 09:00 on Saturday 21st December until 09:00 on Monday 23rd December.
In 1977 John Cage delivered “49 Waltzes for the Five Boroughs” as his contribution to “Waltzes by 25 Contemporary Composers”. Cage’s score was a listing of 147 New York City street locations, selected and aggregated by the play of chance into 49 groups of three (reflecting the waltz’s 3/4 time signature). Cage’s view was that what could be seen and heard at these chance locations, the apparently humdrum, the everyday, was as interesting and as worthy of attention, as any formal musical composition.
Taking inspiration from Cage’s methods I applied it to a sonic exploration of place, time, distance and movement on an imaginary island (3 miles by 2 miles) in the foothills of the Cheviots. As a musical motif I took a traditional Northumberland folk tune, the rant, and its 4/4 time signature.
I randomly identified and arranged 16 locations on the island into four sets of four locations – each set of four comprised one rant. Walking on the summer solstice, I recorded my movement between the locations and at each I recorded the sounds of the place for a randomly determined time of up to 4 minutes. A walk and a place make a step; a rant is four steps; steps are of differing distances and durations.
The rants play from the four speakers, in the sequence they were walked; the four rants last for four hours. There are silences.
Each place has its own sounds – sound that occur and recur as I tread the fields, paths and roads of the island – birdsong, sheep, gates; there are machines and dogs – yet few people … Whilst these places are tangible they are both real – there is obvious and real walking occurring – and also unreal – they are defined by their locations on an imagined island.
Dimensions of time play through the work. The 4/4 musical time signature of the rant offers a tempo which can be played into the rhythm of my footfall. But time is not always what it seems … there is time within each rant – time at the places themselves and the time of walking from place to place – but this is time condensed as you hear four steps together from the four speakers – you listen across time within one rant. Over four rants you are listening to the changing time of a day – my walks took12 hours.; you hear early morning, midday and evening. And there is a slower, longer, time – the time of the year – as you listen to this on a winter solstice yet I walked on a summer solstice – you are listening back across time, across seasons.
I am walking in summer and, here and now, in wintertime Newcastle, you are far removed from where I am walking. You are moving through The Arches; I am moving from place to place in the steady criss-crossing of my island as I go from place to place, rant to rant. Individual steps vary from a few hundred yards to a few miles but, taken together, as you move the 10 yards through The Arches, you listening across 24 miles.
Listen … listen to the rants … listen to the memories of your own walks, your own experiences, your own seasons … hear something unique.
The St John’s Harbour Symphony (http://www.soundsymposium.com/about/harbour-symphony/) (played on 1st July this year (2019)) is a striking sonic event. A composition for ship’s horns it takes place in, and resonates around, the natural amphitheatre of St John’s Harbour, Newfoundland. In a response to the live performance I walked a route in the immediate harbour area.
As well as the pair of microphones that travelled with me on my walk, a third microphone remained on the quayside (for which my grateful thanks to Jeremy Grimshaw). Heard from the quayside, the natural bowl of the harbour produces the obvious echo of the cannon shot that are giving percussive punctuation to the horns’ drones. Although initially synchronous, as I walk away from the quayside the ‘distance between the recordings’ increases, the architecture changes, and the sounds of the symphony become more complex – less apparent in the horns, the cannon shots eventually separate into complex quadruple sounds. A Walk with Horns “plays the symphony” making audible the shifting sounds of walked streets, people, traffic and the echoing buildings of downtown St John’s.
With the recent conclusion of the Beàrnaraigh series on Resonance EXTRA it was a pleasure to have the complete 24h version accepted for broadcast by Radiophrenia 2019 (26th May 2019 11:59 pm – 27th May 2019 11:59 pm).
Radiophrenia is a temporary art radio station – a two-week exploration into current trends in sound and transmission arts. Broadcast live from Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts, the station aims to promote radio as an art form, encouraging challenging and radical new approaches to the medium. This May was its fourth year (previously in 2015, 2016 and 2017).
The ideas behind Beàrnaraigh are the same as before (in a blog post from October, below) but here the piece was an extended whole, broadcast as the final, internet only, work of the two week programme.
During the broadcast I hosted a three-hour, 8-channel surround sound version – thanks to everyone who came, it was great to see you all. If you missed any of it then it is now available on my SoundCloud account –
I start at the back of the wooden church. In the evening light, a family wanders the graveyard but at dawn I am alone. Along the narrow path the back-of-the-beach grass transitions into the ridges, fissures and clefts of the Búðahraun lava field. Marram grass yields to rock – lichen crusted, rounded with moss – a surface razed of vegetation of any meaningful height.
from across black lava
I hear fluty chatter,
song of redwings.
I step, stride, walk the path
to the solstice turn
dusk to dawn, dawn to dusk
A slightly different opportunity to broadcast work with Resonance Extra. ‘Flux’is a monthly radio show (curated by James Davoll) that explores themes of liminal space, temporality and boundaries, whether physical or theoretical. This exploration is carried out through field recording and sound design. The next show, Búðahraun, is brought to you by me (scheduled for broadcast (https://extra.resonance.fm) on Sunday January 6th2019, 16:00 – 18:00). My thanks to James and to everyone at Resonance Extra.
The work examines distance, time, movement and place from replicated walks into the remote, coastal, Icelandic lava field of Búðahraun. I walked a ‘there-and-back’ route twice, once at dawn and once at dusk; distance is the distance of the walk, the accumulated distance of the two walks as well as the distance heard across the lava field.
As well as the elapsed time of the walks themselves, temporality is present as the time of day but also the time between the walks – the time of a day – and, as the walks took place around the summer solstice, the time of year. You also hear across time. The structure of the two recordings was the same – walk in, rest, walk out. In order to present listening across time the composition runs as follows: walk one walk-in; walk 2 rest; walk one walk-out; walk two walk-in; walk 1 rest; walk 2 walk-out. Both ‘rests’ overlap the walks at either end, so at any point in time you are listening to recordings that are presented as simultaneous but are 12 hours apart and across the piece as a whole these are two different 12-hour intervals.
Movement comes directly from my footfall, my embodied movement across the rock, but also from the comings and goings of the birds as they, and their calls, songs, and displays move over the lava field. Together these elements contribute to a sonic portrait of a place but they also create a space to allow a listener to hear a place of their own.
I have a great opportunity to present a body of work as a 24 episode art radio show – “Beàrnaraigh” – starts Friday 2nd November (09.00-10.00) and runs at the same time every Friday until mid-April (https://extra.resonance.fm/series/bearnaraigh). It is broadcast by Resonance EXTRA (https://extra.resonance.fm).
You can listen live at each Friday morning or listen to an archived version on MixCloud (there’s a link on the Resonance EXTRA web page).
Beàrnaraigh is a body of work recorded in June 2018 on a small island in the Outer Hebrides.
A small island is a tangible, coherent whole. It can be walked around, much of it can be seen from a single strategic vantage point and in an archipelago, as Beàrnaraigh is, it forms one part of a larger whole. Prompted by any circumnavigation of an island being either clockwise or anti-clockwise, horology parallels emerge – the shape of the island and the shape of a clock face, the movement of hands across the face of a clock and the clockwise circumnavigating walker, archipelagos of minutes grouped into hours, themselves grouped into days … and so on … and so on …
… and so … each episode presents one of the series of the 24 hours of the day; 12 present (one or more) walks from a complete, clockwise, circumnavigation of Beàrnaraigh and 12 present the island alone. Each episode is recorded in its allocated hour. Some are in immediate succession from one hour to its next; others are a span of days away from their juxtaposed neighbour.
Beàrnaraigh offers thoughts of time and distance
time is perhaps …
the passing 60 minutes of listening
the transition from one hour to the next, sometimes sequential, as when a hand crosses a clock’s face … but sometimes not
the apparent “24 hours of a day” composed from the 20 days over which the recordings were made
then there is distance …
the distance walked in one hour
the distance within a walk across hours
the distance of a circumnavigation of the island
the distance walked …
Thanks to all at Resonance EXTRA.
Having talked about the writing process in a previous post, here is the Renga that I wrote.
The edge of autumn
Today’s truth –
the seventh month is our ninth
white river brown
to a chainsaw’s tune
above dropped leaves
the canopy pours green
onto the path
tripping on roots
my breathing quickens
on the gorge edge
the updraft lifts the sky
leaf needle twig
steps down to the pond
sedge reed and lily
the tarn lies still
from bending leaves
pollen blown as rain
hunts the glade
pheasants creep away
a plant of an earlier time
soften into earth
the edge of autumn
rain mists the meadow
around over along
the Allen sings.
A 14-verse Renga at Allen Banks,
on 6th September 2017,
by Martin P Eccles.