Callanais Walks 5th September 2015

What is commonly referred to as The Callanais Standing Stones are a late-neolithic era stone circle and avenue, situated on a low hill above East Loch Roag in the west of the outer Hebridean island of Lewis. However, there are several other, presumed related, stone circles in the locale which is thought to have been an important site of religious activity over a period of 1500 years. In a response to the area I created a 4.25 mile route in four steps between five of the sets of stones. I walked from the smallest, a set of standing stones, to the largest, a complex arrangement of stones in circles and avenues:
Step 1: Callanais VI (Cùl a’ Chleit) to Callanais IV (Ceann Hulavig)
Step 2: Callanais IV (Ceann Hulavig) to Callanais III (Cnoc Filibhir Bheag)
Step 3: Callanais III (Cnoc Filibhir Bheag) to Callanais II (Cnoc Ceann a’ Ghàraidh)
Step 4: Callanais II (Cnoc Ceann a’ Ghàraidh) to Callanais I (Tursachan Chalanais)
I recorded the walks (with a pair of DPA 4060 microphones and a SD702T recorder), recorded the walk as a drawn trace and made a 12-page concertina fold book containing a copper plate etching.

The walk is across a contemporary landscape starting on moorland, it transitions in and out of seashore through sheep pasture and grassland. The land holds a framework of fences, bridges and roads, one small community and a scatter of used and unused buildings. In thinking about the people who raised these stones and the area as it was then, none of the current landscape is relevant and I can imagine much of it away – though modernity’s sonic presence – a motorbike, a strimmer – is a little harder to remove.
My walk starts at Callanais VI. Naming can be problematic – always a process of claiming the land, we have no knowledge of the topographical names used when the stone circles were extant so I have chosen to avoid current names, in either Gaelic or English, wherever I can, preferring to describe what would be experienced by a walker on the ground.
I stand on a low, 40-metre-high hill that forms the high point of the north bank of a small river that is draining moorland lochs into the sea loch that I can see a mile and a half away to the north west. The stones have fallen so there is no longer anything above the ground though there are the nearby remains of a croft and marks on the land of an associated ridge and furrow cultivation system. These came after the stones.
I walk away from the top of the bluff and pick a way down a steep slope into a boggy basin alongside the river. I use one of the trout fisherman’s bridges to cross – the river is not large but is wide and deep enough to rule out jumping as an option. I continue across unmarked moorland stepping through variously deep heather as the land begins to rise towards the second site. I climb a roadside fence and cross the road to a short, marked path on up the hill to the first stone circle. A ring of stones, each taller than me, set on the shoulder of a hill; low hills to the south and north channel my view so my lines of sight are back to my starting point and west to the sea loch below me.
Knowing I have to cross the river as it drains into the sea loch, I head for the point at which the road bridge provides a dry crossing. Perhaps the stones’ architects meant the route to go down to the shore and around, though this would not have afforded views of the other three sites as, like Callanais IV each is, to some extent, hidden by a shoulder of a hillside. Down the hillside I am crossing rough pasture, fenced with barbed wire, pulling open rusting gates, then stepping off the bridge and onto the foreshore. With the tide low, the shore offers a simple path, but I still have to climb low cliff edges strung with more barbed wire, swing round low promontories, and jump short gaps in low cliff edges. Having passed an area of fenced fields, the way is then up a sequence of undulating fields with no view of the next site. Eventually, cresting a rise the third site is below me. A loose oval of standing stones, all relatively small, with the suggestion of a double circle, the site is set back from the edge of a hill. The fourth site is clearly visible, as is the fifth and final site. From now on I can see my final destination most of the time.
I walk down the side of the hill and cross wet grassland, bridged with boardwalks, to reach the next circle. Set on flat ground above a small inlet the stones are much larger than those remaining in the circle I have just left.
Down to the shore of the inlet and along to its head. The direct route is now through an impenetrable hedge and across someone’s garden, so I detour around the edge of their property. Past this, and, for the first time, walking along a road, it is a short distance up a steep hill to the largest of the sites – Callanais I.
Any specific relationship between the circles can only be speculative. Callanais I, the largest of the five with a burial chamber, a stone circle and an avenue of stones is set on the top of a low ridge, in the absence of some of the modern vegetation, the stones would have offered a skyline from the shore below, though from many other places there isn’t an open backdrop that makes them stand out – from many directions they are set against distant hills. So, whilst it is visible from both Callanais II and III, it is surprisingly difficult to pick out. Similarly, Callanais IV and VI are each visible from the other but are hidden from the others by a low hill. However they were used, being able to see all five circles at once doesn’t seem to have been part of the process but, whatever the intent behind their design and use, people would have walked the land between them.
To listen to the recordings whilst looking at an aerial presentation of the local you can visit radio aporee https://aporee.org/maps/projects/callanaiswk

A Walk with Horns: “playing” the St John’s Harbour Symphony

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.
My walk was:

from a wooden bollard
at the water’s edge
cross Harbourside Park to Water

cross Water
up stone steps to Duckworth
south west to Holloway

north west to Prospect
north east to Kings
south east to Duckworth

north east to Cochrane
south east to Water
south west to Harbourside

cross Harbourside Park
to a wooden bollard
at the water’s edge

“Beàrnaraigh” – a 24h art radio show on Radiophrenia

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 pm27th 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 –

Búðahraun

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 two hour radio work: Flux #2 Búðahraun

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 ideas
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.

“Beàrnaraigh” – a body of work as a 24 episode art radio show

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.

My Allenbanks Renga

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

grassheads dance
to a chainsaw’s tune

branches sway
trunks creak
above dropped leaves

the canopy pours green
onto the path

uphill
tripping on roots
my breathing quickens

on the gorge edge
the updraft lifts the sky

leaf needle twig
strewn stone
steps down to the pond

sedge reed and lily
the tarn lies still

light shades
from bending leaves
pollen blown as rain

a dragonfly
hunts the glade

pheasants creep away
through bracken
a plant of an earlier time

fallen trees
soften into earth

swallows skim
the edge of autumn
rain mists the meadow

around over along
the Allen sings.

A 14-verse Renga at Allen Banks,
Morralee Wood,
on 6th September 2017,
by Martin P Eccles.