An inspiring event offering many insights into the evolving individual methodologies and collective collaborations of The Landscape Quartet. Much of their work parallels my own, there are, inevitably, many points of convergence and departure. In my reflections here I would like to share some insights I have gained over the years that may be relevant to the evolution of their own practice as interrogators and performers of the environment, I offer, with respect, a number of extended techniques, both thoughts and practice, derived from my own experience, which may be useful.

As conscious beings we have custodianship of the planet. Yet it is our material father and mother, it sustains and feeds us, waters us, provides us with energy, materials for tools and dwellings, digests our waste, and our pollution – up to a point. It exists harmonically in a myriad of states in complex dynamic rhythms, vibrations and motions operating on wide-ranging time scales and including living and non-living participants. It is ancient, it is the inheritance of hydrogen and vast cosmic forces. And its musicality can be observed, felt and heard in every moment of our existence in any and in every environment, and at every scale from cosmic to atomic…

Environments of space

of matter

of conformation

conductivity

reflectivity

resonance

dissonance…

 

Environments of human resonance

internal, visceral, cranial, buccal, epidermal,

breath, vocal, external, percussive…

of mind

of imagination

of emotion

of heart and soul

of spirit

of divine and the Divine…

When considering travelling to a location, before you even start, what is the preparation? What is the purification, the meditation, the prayerful consideration?

Is the footstep light, bright, with pause and hesitation, or brisk, or slow, or stop. Do you tread with insight, and what do you carry? In finding the spot what is the significance of the journey, the Quest? How do you flow?

When performing in an environment all sounds have consequence. At proximal, distal, local, internal, external scales.

Quiet Sounds

– Whispers are for the ears of the whisperer, as is the heartbeat, the breath, the quiet aeolian string, the quiet milieu interieur of a slowly dragged resonant instrument, or object – the local environment bears silent witness, it barely responds, but as the (short duration) sound level is increased (the shout, the bang, the click, the clack, the crack, the clap…) the active wave propagates more widely before dissipation, giving rise to reflection, echo and reverberation.The environment responds.

Loud Sounds

– Excite and perform the environment. The front edge of a woodland tree line will reflect like an acoustic mirror and due to multipath reflections from tree trunks into the depth of the woods will produce a long smooth reverberant tail. A cliff face will provide a slap echo when close, extended (longer tail) echo when distant from the origin point sound source, reflective multipath being effected by the wide lateral extension of the distant reflective surface, like mountains (as opposed to the quantized depth multipath of the collective tree trunks of a nearby woodland). A curved range of cliff face, or deep valley side will act as a giant trumpet half bell and propagate sound around the curve very efficiently, and surprisingly.

Intrinsic Rhythm Randomness

And our heartbeat breath rhythm will change according to the lie of the land and the speed of travel, and with variations in the intensity of exercise and effort perspiration will ebb and flow. Electrosweat crackle can be generated by exposing skin moisture to plug-in power (not 48volt phantom power!) microphone input wires taped directly to the skin. Random crackle intensity varies with skin sweat conductivity, and this varies with movement, individual exercise rates, emotional states and experiences in the environment.

Surfaces

The sonic interrogation of surfaces is a major canon in my practice of environmental performance. There are surfaces everywhere. Surface has two and three dimensional sonic potentialities. 3-D Surface conformation, irregularity, plus texture, density, robustness, fragility offer a wide range of sonic potentiality. Stroking and percussing surfaces can be simple, as in the use of unprepared hands, head, body and limbs, or in the use of simple tools, such as found wood, stone, feather, plant leaf or frond.

Varying cavitation techniques can extend the resonant frequencies of surface interrogation. The cupped palm of the hand with a stone, for instance can allow the Initiate to vary the resonant cavity of the palm and create a different voicing of the surface due to palm cavity resonance. Altenatively if a stone is selected having a conchoidal surface, and is moved over another hard uneven surface, the varying volumes and cavity resonances will cause proportional resonance according to the relation of the two structures, and again a natural ‘voicing’ and in effect a sonic mapping, of these environmental elements will occur. On a horizontal surface, rainwater partly filling unevenness will cause even more sonic variation in the voicing, particularly if interrogating and performing between wet and dry regions.

A Quest

Many years ago, I was performing with an English digeridoo master called Simon who was in possession of a particularly striking instrument of natural origin and I asked him where it came from. He related this story, which I recall as best I can:

“I wanted to make my own authentic instrument, so I travelled to Australia and made contact with a Tribe of Aboriginies. I told them of my quest to make a traditional authentic instrument and asked if they would guide me.

“They said ‘yes’, but I would have to live with them for an indeterminate time. I agreed. They said that I would have to be made ready for such a sacred task. Over a number of weeks I learned their ways, of living, of eating, collecting and gathering food, hunting, of cooking, of making shelters, I played with them in their music, singing, chanting, drumming, living in the open and so on. But most important was their reverence for nature, for place and location, for all living things. A few months passed by. There was no mention of making a digeridoo. I asked if I was ready. They said no, I had not experienced the cycle of the seasons. I lived with these remarkable people and continued to learn from them. I never asked the question again.”

“A year passed. Eventually the tribe Elder came to me and said I was ready. It was time for me to go on walkabout and discover the location where I would be allowed to find a tree. After days of wandering and using the skills of survival that the Aborigines taught me, eventually feeling exhausted I collapsed under a tree and fell asleep. When I awoke there was the Elder and aborigines from the Tribe with me. I was told that I had found the tree. I now had to ask the tree’s permission to take a branch to create the sacred instrument and wait for a sign to show that the tree had given me permission. But they did not tell me what the sign was, they said I should report my observations and feelings to them from now on. After months had passed I returned to the tree to find three birds perched on a branch of the tree and was told that this is the sign, the tree had accepted my request I was now able to take that branch to prepare and make the digeridoo, a process that took another 6 months or so. When the instrument was completed and blessed by the Tribe, I was told that I now have a special relationship with the tree and that whenever I play the digeridoo the tree is speaking through me to the whole of Creation”

And when you leave the sacred locus of your performance place, give thanks, give praise, and as has been mentioned, leave without trace.

Dallas Simpson

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