Arrival – Monday Dec 10th

Coffee with Bennett and Sabine. Talked about my thoughts to then: (i) idea of ‘nature’, Wicken Fen – a highly constructed place, plenty of human intervention, there isn’t anywhere that’s ‘pure’, assumed and nostalgic idea based on a separation between humans and nature, we are nature. (ii) tension between my sense of the past, some nostalgia for it, and the impossibility of a return, the places I grew up are now completely transformed (links to (i)), same for Bennett. (iii) tension re the demand to ‘make something’, previous works about allowing the space to speak with as little intervention as possible (similarly dubious idea in itself), now more about dialogue, finding a way of interacting, recognising the connection and interrelatedness, and allowing forms of expression to emerge.

Spent time showing my portable electronic improvisation set-up to Sabine while Meri worked out her readings from Cage’s Indeterminacy for the evening performance.

Three days of fieldwork – Tuesday 11th, Wednesday 12th, Thursday 13th map

Spent three days walking along a section of the Wansbeck River, East of Morpeth, a short walk from Bennett’s house. Informed by my ‘rule’ that whatever you use should be ‘at hand’, a ready-mades hangover or plain laziness?, I was happy with this and felt happily smug / justified.

Day 1. Initially we visited the place where BH had made Aeolian harps. I was not happy with the sense of space, and SV with the aggressive presence of the road. Some discussion about acceptance of traces of human activity – counter acoustic ecology, but it was still too noisy for us. Have been thinking that SV and I are in some ways attuned to some of same values and priorities of acoustic ecology (we need to be able to listen in very particular ways and in consciousness-raising ways), however, our agenda / ideology / approach is distinct (in line with the project, it is about the working out of our embedded interrelatedness, exploring / discovering and understanding what that relationship is and says). In short, it didn’t feel right.

BH knowing exactly what we’re like it seems suggested the walk along the river. Straight away felt better. We were concerned to find a place to work on the first day. It seems before starting work we both had to wait to start hearing the voice of the place. (Note: I say ‘we’, this is my account but SV and I, after only spending a little time over the summer and at the start of this walk talking about parallels between Shamanistic and Sufic outlooks – our ‘getting to know you’ process, quickly found a way of working without much conversation and then reviewing our experiences and establishing parallels. Hence the joint account, but of course ultimately it is mine). We spent the whole of that day walking and basically attuning ourselves to the spirit of the place, for SV this is probably more literally the spirits of the place, for me it is about the transmission (in terms of feel and varying qualities) of the place.

The place suggested its own structure. We were interested to find the Lady Chapel, a ritual site going back to at least the 15th century (‘9’ on the map above). There were a number of ancient wells/springs that we were also looking out for. But really the process that dominated was tuning into the location, the qualities of place, their variations and structure, and what it was they were about for us. What was the location saying? How did it speak? As we moved through it, what kinds of meaning did it evoke and bring to us?

After this the first day, we concurred that there was a uniquely interesting aspect to the path after crossing under the viaduct up to the site of the chapel. [map] When returning it felt that the path after the viaduct provided a transition ‘back’ to where we had come from (back to the ‘dunya’). There was a strong sense of entering a heightened state of consciousness, an otherworldliness that had to be returned from. Certainly reflecting our heightened concentration and meditative approach during this phase. sealskin whaleskin

The tree trunks were all very wet and seeped out a fleshy earthiness that was vividly alive. Bark became sealskin and one especially large pitted black trunk the body of a whale. The place started to speak, its ancient witness turned towards us. Along the route clear sections emerged, each with their own qualities and transmission, we started to discern ways of connecting, hearing, listening and understanding the place. We did no recording, but had found ourselves in place.

Day 2. Began the day optimistically ready to start recording and exploring new ways (for me at least) of connecting. Independently of each other, experienced a strong sense of being greeted and welcomed back. The weather, although not dramatically different, rendered the place as almost entirely new.

Writing this I am struck the power of the word ‘place’. I am reminded of Roni Horn’s comment that place as a noun, for her, became meaningless. The second day here highlighted the truth of this, in particular, again with reference to Horn, through the weather’s power to profoundly alter and remake place.

I decided to make a binaural recording walking the path from the viaduct to the chapel, in part as a way of mapping / documenting the sections we had noted from the day before. I struggled with the sense of being finely attuned and ’embedded’ from within the contrasting state of ‘making a recording’, I battled between conscious attention being removed and out of connection with being embedded and ‘attuned’. Having sensed at the beginning I should check the recording set-up, I arrived at the Chapel and listened back to discover a fault in one channel. Although aware of the necessity to accept this it coloured my state. It contributed to an overall sense of the day – returning to the comment about Horn and the weather, that depending on one’s inner state and other more ‘external’ factors the same place can be in essence entirely new. It felt like I was in a completely different place or the same place on the same day but some how having moved to a parallel world (this was born out by the third visit). I had a general sense this day (2) of the place as serious, heavy, and demanding of respect.

At the same time SV did her own binaural version of the path. SV seemed to remain more ‘in the zone’ and followed sound and intuition, with regular departures from the path itself. It took her 1’15 (in contrast to my ‘straight’ walk of 25min).

Before SV arrived I spent time exploring and ‘interacting’. Still in a state of dissatisfaction I found it hard to enter a playful state and refused all my ideas as either derivative of BH or Andy Goldsworthy (!!).

After lunch (note: interestingly on day one neither of us ate nor felt hungry), I spent a little time running whilst making video and audio recordings. I was thinking of Stefan simultaneously making his running videos with BH. It was at last a playful diversion and gave me the idea of making a video walking the path whilst filming vertically – tracing the path according to the treetops above it. This idea felt and still feels very good. (One key area I’ve been thinking about for the last few months has been the use of video as a vehicle for presenting field recordings, and this idea connects with some of the work I’ve done in this area.) I walked the path back doing just this and close-mic recorded my feet at the same time. So I had my mapping of the path at the end of the day and what feels a strong idea to start working with. Also thinking about (Islamic) cosmology here – the juxtaposition of horizontal / vertical dimensions, movement through manifestation and ascent toward the Manifest.

Back home fixed binaural set-up. Everyone fell asleep. BH snoring on floor in front of raging fire woke up rather sweaty and hot.

Day 3. Having watched the video back, which worked really well and after some discussion with SV and Meri, decided to make another video using same method but more slowly and whilst making a binaural recording. It was a brighter day, again changing the reality of the place. The main work today was for me to map the sections and to investigate the possibility of working more directly with sound and place.

I had limited success in working more directly. The imperative I seem to be imposing on myself is that what ever is there has to be worked with and must leave no or little trace – this is connected with one of the project’s overall themes (particularly so for BH), that of affordance. Two attempts remain with me: a small frozen plant (pretty much all the foliage and plants remained frozen all day yielding delightful crispiness), I threaded a small branch between its leaves and gently agitated them. Couldn’t help thinking about Dallas Simpson, ‘releasing the spiritual’ (sound/spirit vs silence/material). Second, the hanging branch instrument. Spend ten minutes working with it (the photo is of SV demonstrating) to considerable delight and became thoroughly lost and forgetful of painfully raw frozen hands.

Got a detailed sense of the various sections of the walk. Made voice annotations and video mainly. The sectional idea is, also, I think key. It represents a deeper engagement with notions of travel, walking, paths, and also the cosmological resonances (referred to earlier).

Fourth day of fieldwork – Saturday December 15th, Howick

Finally we set off as a team, the LQ family reunited in the field and returning to our location of birth, Howick. [map] seaAt the beach we were greeted with an amazing scene. One of the highest tides of the year and still coming in. Storm-like waves but with not a breath of wind. Uncanny and not something I’ve ever experienced to my memory. We all spent some time just enjoying the intensity and power of the sea. I went on to make a number of videos and audio recordings, SO made use his head-mounted camera, SV communed with the sea, eventually with flute in hand.

The weather provided an opportunity for a little empirical investigation into the Romantic sublime. When facing the sea, the sense of animalistic fear and majestic awe was overwhelming. Turning to face the land, shrouded in a weird orangey wash the emotion left. It all felt rather highly un-culturally constructed and natural… bh1

BH got busy with fishing wire and violin. SO made a solo improvisation with guitar and boulder, SV communed, and I got my solo set-up rigged (incorporating a spare violin). SO and I, joined later by SV, made a group improvisation. And I made a solo piece. More documentation and reflection to follow. But in the meantime here’s a video of my solo. Will make a separate entry to discuss in more detail soon.

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