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waterpoppies
waterpoppies2
Earlier this year I was asked by Anna Cady if I would be interested in contributing to Water, the next film from her ‘co-creative’ project, Elemental Dialogues. In 2015 I had contributed to the previous dialogue based on the film, Air, by Cady and Pauline Thomas. Pauline who had began work on this new project, very sadly died before its completion. In many ways this new film, Water, feels like a lament, a quiet lamentation on loss and absence.

As in the previous project, I received a link to a muted version of Water and was asked to use my own practice to ‘interpret or translate’. And again I felt the best way to translate, was to watch the film a few times, then to look away and let my memory work upon it. It was important not to simply create a new soundtrack, but to work with the film (or the memory of it) to develop a sonic landscape in which it may occur.

water_film projection_mottisfont pantry
waterpantry
Pantry Recording:   from water recorded in the 13th century Cellarium at Mottisfont.

There is something in the evasiveness of water, its ‘insubstantial nothingness’ (Bachelard), which we can feel but not necessarily touch, that equates to our experience of memory and the unconscious. For Bachelard, ‘[Water] is a substance full of reminiscence and prescient reveries.’ For the film director, Andrei Tarkovsky, whose films are soaked in the continual drip and drop of time escaping and returning, ‘[water is] a mysterious element, [which] can convey movement and a sense of change and flux…[water] has subconscious echoes…’

It is this temporality of water, coupled with the sense of depth and distance created as images submerge and emerge in the surface tension of the film, which persisted in my remembering and which informed my translation. There is a sense of cyclical progression, but, as I have stated previously, the composition is not intended as a synchronised soundtrack, fixed to the film, but rather a work from water and memory, a coincidence for sound and image to coalesce and discord.

In October Anna created an installation at Mottisfont House using the film and it’s interpretation by poets, visual artists and musicians. The installation occupied the 13th century cellarium: a storehouse or pantry belonging to the Monastery which once stood at Mottisfont. This architecture is temporal in intent, creating a space and atmosphere, that privileges stasis and inhibits decay. The cold arch of the pantry, offered an elegant  architectural shell in which we could hear the wet soundscapes of sound and poetry, repeat and recur. We could walk through the atmosphere of the film and its dispersed soundscape to find sounds collecting in corners and clinging to the pantry ceiling.

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Anna Cady will be present A Balancing Act, an interactive event in the cellarium at Mottisfont House, which will combine projections of the film with the recorded sonic translations, live poetry readings by Joan McGavin, Camilla Nelson and Briony Bennet, and live ‘tacit’ drawings by Mel Rose

On the 12th November the four films from the Elemental Dialogue series will also be screened in the Vintage Mobile Cinema as part of Southampton Film Week.

 

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Silence lost: the english channel
Silence lost in the English Channel
The second ‘release’ of a silence lost took place on Tuesday 5th April 2016. A 10” vinyl record, cut with a silent groove was thrown into the English Channel at Hengistbury Head, Dorset (50. 42. 7767″ N, 1. 45. 1813 W).
The first silence was lost in The North Sea at Cley, Norfolk, on the 27th August 2015. As with that release, this loss was documented (and instructed) by an announcement placed in the Lost and Found section of The Times newspaper, appearing on the day of release. Each issue of The Times newspaper is held in the archives of the British Library and should they ever be found, each record is engraved with the return address of The British Library Sound Archive.

The Times: Silence lost
Announcement in The Times: 05/04/16
The existence of the silent record and its disappearance, rely solely upon the circumstantial evidence of,  the announcement in The Times, a label on an empty record sleeve and a digital image of the sea at the site of release (tagged with the coordinates of meta data). Neither the record nor its physical release are recorded or photographed. The record, like the silence it withholds, exists between the real and the imagined, the present and absent, lost and forgotten.

silence lost: record sleeve
coast guard drip
Sheltered from the rain

At the site of each loss, I have made a short field-recording corresponding to the duration of silence on the record: at Cley, the electrical hum of the sea breeze passing through a wire fence , and at Hengistbury Head the sheltered drips of rain falling from the roof of a decommissioned Coastguard Station.

In 2011 I composed a short soundscape of Hengistbury Head for BBC Radio Solent and on Tuesday, Steve Harris from Radio Solent (Dorset), braved the rain and hail to come and hear silence getting lost in the English Channel. His short interview was broadcast on the Wednesday edition of his Dorset, breakfast show.

Interview with Steve Harris for BBC Radio Solent Dorset.

 

 

sebastiane hegarty: a line with four arcs

I recently composed a new soundwork for Sonospace, the online sound art gallery, curated by Harry Sumner. The piece is based on field-recordings made on a short walk through the water meadows near St Cross Hospital in Winchester. This path follows the River Itchen and is part of Keats Walk, which retraces the steps of the poet who visited Winchester in 1819. On the 19th September 1819, Keats traced the river, through the meadow and along the desire line of this footpath. Returning from his walk he composed Ode To Autumn, a poem of three stanzas in which language pronounces a landscape trembling with sound:

Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

I did not choose my route for its association with Keats, although, like him I was drawn to the soundscape of the meadow. I have walked the trail many times, although only recently have I noticed a particular note hanging in the landscape. As I approached St Cross, a distant and quiet whine appeared, a ‘treble soft’, on the cusp of audition, intermittent yet regular. Approaching closer, the whine was joined by others in a phased pattern of plaintive cries, at once near and at a distance. The sound, as fragile as swallows and reminiscent of the electronic whistle of radio tuning, seemed to possess a form; an acoustic arc, that begins, curves and closes. The arc turned out to be the sound of people moving through the landscape, opening and closing the four kissing gates[1], which interrupt the path. As I meet the first gate and perform the choreography of its action, lifting the latch and swinging the kiss of its arc, I hear space opening and feel the vibration of its close in my hand. The sound trembling through my body causes a blurring of the distinction between the materiality of my body, the gate, and the landscape. In the sounding of our ‘vibrant matter’, the material and immaterial are hinged.

a line with four arcs: sebastiane Hegarty
Kissing Gates
The physicality of the gesture and the vibration it creates, directs attention away from the surface and toward the interior, the whine being only the audible tip of a soundscape detained in substance: a ‘Music, slumbering’ (Coleridge) inside the gates metallic arch.
In a line with four arcs, contact microphones are used to record and listen to this internal soundscape. Recording each gate in succession, a line of movement is mapped through a landscape, and the abstract terrain beneath the visible uncovered. Distinct from the ‘soft floating witchery of sound’ present in Coleridge’s Eolian Harp, this micro-phonic contact reveals a ‘wailful choir’, a mournful howl of space rent open. Awoken from its slumber we can hear substance singing as it disappears.

The exhibition in Sonospace allows images to be used with the sound exhibited. I wanted to emphasise the abstract qualities of the work, so rather than simply using imagery from the walk, I decided to appropriate images from other sources: images e from other places, but which seemed to correspond with the sound of the arc.

a line with four arcs in Sonospace

[1] A ‘half-round, rectangular, trapezoidal or V-shaped enclosure with a hinged gate trapped between its arms’, a kissing gate is so named because of the gentle collision of its close: ‘to kiss, to caress, to ‘touch gently’. The word ‘kiss’ is onomatopoeic in origin: ‘an imitation of the sound of the thing meant.’

 

John Hull: Peter Middleton & James Spinney
Notes on Blindness: Middleton & James Spinney
Notes on Blindness: Peter Middleton & James Spinney

John M. Hull 1935 – 2015

I am so very sad to hear of the death of John M. Hull, who, following a fall at home, died in hospital on the 28th July. Emeritus Professor of Religious Education at the University of Birmingham and Honorary Professor of Practical Theology at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education, John Hull was widely published on the subjects of religion and blindness. Born in 1935, John developed cataracts in his youth, losing his sight completely in 1983.
I first came across his writing in Oliver Sack’s book An Anthropologist on Mars. Sacks’ books and bibliographies have introduced me to so many fascinating texts, from Luria’s The Man With A Shattered World to Penfield & Perot’s epic paper The Brain’s Record Of Auditory And Visual Experience and of course Hull’s Touching the Rock. In the book Hull describes and reflects upon his own journey into blindness. The writing maintains the honesty and intimacy of the cassette diaries from which it was transcribed, but it is much more than an autobiography of someone else’s experience. As Sack’s writes in his forward to the book: ‘The observation is minute, and it is also profound. The incisiveness of Hull’s observation, the beauty of his language, make this book poetry […] Hull reveals a world in which every human experience […] is transformed’.
I own two versions, the original, Touching the Rock and the later On Sight and Insight, both now full of marginalia and words underlined in reverential pencil. There is so much I would quote: the description of how he and his son learned to wave goodbye at the school gates, shouting ‘bye’ until neither could hear the other; or listening to church bells: ‘To me the very air I was breathing was bell-shaped’.

after the rain: sebastiane hegarty
Perhaps because of my own field-recordings and sound work, the words I return to most concern his experience of rainfall. John writes about rain and thunder several times in his books. There is also a beautiful recording of him describing a thunder storm in an episode of Blind Man’s Beauty, Peter White’s series for Radio 4. Like his writing, John’s voice has a rhythm and tonality, which seem to bring the words closer to ear. He returns to the rain in Sound: An Enrichment or State, an interview for Soundsacpe: The Journal of Acoustic Ecology:

I can remember times when, in my study at home, I would become conscious that there was a storm going on. I would forget about my disorientated and vacated interior and would become aware of the wind, thundering upon the corner of the house, whistling through the eaves. And then I would become aware of the rain, splattering on the windowpane. I would stand up. I would press my nose hard against the window. And gradually it was as if the glass disappeared, because now my consciousness extended out from my nose pressed upon a panel of glass until it became un-conscious […] The rain had turned the light on […] And as I listened…I realized I was no longer listening, because the rain was not falling into my ears, it was falling into my heart.’

This capacity for the sound of rain to dissolve the borders between the body and the world it senses, is perfectly expressed in Touching The Rock, when Hull writes:

‘As I listen to the rain, I am the image of the rain, and I am one with it’.

To See and Not See, the chapter in Sack’s book where first I read John’s words, was concerned with the case of Virgil, a man virtually blind since childhood, who had his sight restored. Having been without vision for over forty-five years, Virgil could see, but was unsure of ‘what seeing means’. ‘He saw, but what he saw had no coherence’; he could see individual letters but not the words they created. ‘He found himself between worlds, and at home in neither’. Virgil would have to learn to see. Sacks writes: ‘When we open our eyes each morning, it is upon a world we have spent a lifetime learning to see. We are not given a world; we make our world…’

Through his writing John Hull offers a moving and profound account of sight-loss, he not only builds a bridge between the worlds of the sighted and blind, he enhances our senses and remakes the world we see and hear.

Notes on Blindness:Peter Middleton & James Spinney

Last year John very kindly accepted an invitation to be the Keynote speaker at Chalk: time, sense and landscape, an interdisciplinary symposium I am organising in Winchester this October. The symposium, now dedicated to the memory of John, will begin with a showing of the short documentary Notes On Blindness, directed by Peter Middleton and James Spinney and based on the cassette diaries from which Touching the Rock was formed. This beautiful documentary is now being made into a feature length film.

KPhoPoster_BL

out: sebastiane hegarty

Curious listeners are invited to Kinokophonography, an evening of curated sound cinema at The British Library on Wednesday 27th May 2015. Organised by Kinokophone, the evening will include one of my recordings as part of a themed programme of ‘disappearing sounds’. Inspired by the British Library’s Save our Sounds project the event will feature sounds which are perhaps becoming closer to silence than audience: sounds going out slowly.

With a title from adapted from the safety instructions on a box of Swan Vesta matches (‘Strike gently away from the body’), air struck gently (slowly going out) concentrates attention upon the momentary illumination of a match struck in air. Like the quiet choreography of the gesture that accompanies it, the sound of a match is gradually disappearing from audition and memory. Condemned to extinction by the demise of smoking and the convenient, controlled ignition of the disposable lighter, the chemical reaction of a match offers a brief, obsolete and fragile soundscape of undetermined duration. In the vulnerable brevity of its flame we can listen to light appearing and sound going slowly out.

closer out: sebastiane hegarty

closer out / 03:52 / mp3

In closer out (2015) one of a series of ‘match’ recordings has been slowed down, bringing the flame closer to our ear, prolonging and amplifying the sonic details of its narrative: a roar of ignition followed by a gaseous cackle of flame and a last creaking gasp of extinction as the match goes out.
The hysterical (pathological) juxtaposition of a flame struck in the quiet, dark paginated archive of The British Library is not lost on me. I am strangely drawn to the casual poetic threat that the heat of this endangered sound creates amongst the  libraries preserved manuscripts of silent language.

Kinokophonography at the British library is free, but places are limited and should be booked online via the British Library website.

 

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air: acoustic match / mp3 / 01:01

I was recently invited to take part in Elemental Dialogues: air, an interdisciplinary research project by the artist filmmakers, Anna Cady and Pauline Thomas. The project involves artists from an array of disciplines, writers, musicians, poets and dancers, all of who were invited to create their own ‘interpretation’ of the short film Air by Cady & Thomas. The resulting interpretations would then be ‘re-embedded into the film’, creating new, pluridisciplinary artworks, each of which tells a different and sometimes radically unexpected story’. It seems inherent to the project that the contributors interpret not only the film, but also the meaning of interpretation.

Perhaps because of my use of field-recording and an educational diet of 1970’s conceptual art and avant-garde film, I have an inherent suspicion of interpretation. As a word it suggests a concern with the subjective and considered. In her essay Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag describes interpretation as “a conscious act of the mind [illustrating] a certain code”. This description is augmented by the Oxford English Dictionary, whose definition combines the austerity of ‘explaining’, ‘understanding’ and ‘defining’ with the superficiality of ‘stylistic representation’.

Whilst field-recording I attempt to be as transparent as possible in order to let the sound through, allowing the unrecorded present to become a recorded past with as little interference (or interpretation) as possible: in the words of John Cage: ‘let sounds be themselves’. I am of course aware that Cage was not a fan of recorded sound (see David Grubbs book, Records Ruin the landscape) and I accept that the fluff of my blimp and bent of my microphone will find and amplify certain noises, whilst excluding others, thereby interfering with the sound recorded. But an inclination toward absence remains, whilst in my practice I accept and often celebrate the flaw, blemish and failure inherent in the act of recording.

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air: wire wool and battery / mp3 / 01:10


dialogue with air: composed interpretation / mp3 / 03:56

For my contribution to the project I wanted a dialogue with ‘air’ that would avoid subjective, analytical, or emotional ‘responses’, preferring an ‘interpretation’ focused upon the sensual and temporal qualities of the film. I was drawn to the ephemerality of the imagery, and began listening for moments of air when its presence drifts between the audible and silent. I was interested in listening for these temporal qualities, more than the sonic consequence of its visibility: such as the rustle of leaves in a breeze. I began exploring chemical reactions that required air to occur, moments where air is used up and sound goes out. These field-recordings included the flameless chemistry of wire wool kindled by electricity and the designed illumination of a match struck gently[1].

I used these recordings to ‘compose’ a soundscape in retrospect: it was important not to watch the film whilst recording or composing, to look away in order to allow the sensual and temporal qualities to be filtered through my memory. This also helped me to avoid the temptation to synchronise sound to imagery, although a simple graphic score was created, to map the geography of the composition. I also used the fixed length of the film to set the duration of composition. Subsequently, it occurred to me that this almost intuitive inclination to synchronisation created a restriction that would be neither required nor applied to an interpretation in words or drawing. It seemed more appropriate to interpret the film holistically rather than breaking it up into a code of synchronised fragments.

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air struck gently (away from the body) / mp3 / 05:05

Listening to the soundscape and the original field-recordings I found the austere narrative of a match struck, was the most transparent and eloquent interpretation of the film. The temporality of each match was innate, unique and complete, whilst in the composed soundscape time was fragmented. I concluded that the interpretation should preference performance to re-composition, allowing the unique sound of each match to occur and disappear like a breath, unformed by the voice of aesthetic decisions.

I found the stillness and temporal shifts in the film, reminiscent of Yoko Ono’s Flux Film No. 14: One (1966), in which the muted strike of a match is filmed at 2000fr/sec, extending and pausing the moment of illumination. Free of a prescribed duration, I applied this process to one of the match recordings, prolonging and amplifying the sonic details of its narrative, from the rush of chemical ignition to the gaseous cackle of flame and the final intermittent creek of exhalation as the match curls up in the silent darkness of light and air exhausted: ‘Then there begins a silence that breathes’ (Gaston Bachelard)

[1] The safety instruction on boxes of Swan Vesta matches advises the user to: Strike gently away from the body’.

An ‘exploration’ of the interpretations by artists, writers and dancers have been ’embedded’ in a site-specific collaboration at The Manor, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire next weekend. More details here: https://talkthinkmake.wordpress.com/book/

Another collaboration will take place in London on the 7th May.

INVITE the Manor copy

 

drop lobster
galerie_dira Prague

rain choir: the prague variation
galerie dira / Školská ul. 28 / Praha 1 / Prague
26.10.14 – 07.11.14

rain choir: the prague variation (edit) / 2014 / mp3

A variation of the sound installation rain choir, originally created for the crypt of Winchester Cathedral, is now in ‘exhibition’ at the Galerie Dira, Prague. The prague variation was recomposed in response to the particularity of this new situation: a headphone socket in the external wall of the gallery, where visitors are invited to bring their own headphones, ‘plug into the hole…and listen’.

In his excellent book Paraphernalia, Steven Connor discusses plugs as a situation of pause; a ‘lingering’ hesitation in a world more normally inclined to speed and continuous movement. This is why, Connor argues, sinks in airport bathrooms have no plugs and the electric sockets are hidden from the desperate prongs and low battery life of passengers. Running a tap and filling a sink or recharging your phone or laptop would suggest rest and intermission, an absence of progress, when the momentum of the airport requires you to proceed and go.
‘Plugs’ writes Connor, ‘plug you in to a particular locality and lifespan’, at one level this is cultural, the three prongs of British plugs are unique: an individuality that requires every UK citizen to keep an unused international plug adaptor in the back of some forgotten draw.’ But it is also a physical attachment. When visitors plug in at Galerie Dira, they tether themselves (and their listening) to a place, to this particular hole in place; whilst through this hole pours another place, an acoustic space spilling what was once here, now there. Just as the gutters of Winchester Cathedral, organise and disperse the rain falling upon its canopy, so too this anonymous hollow in Prague, transports a choir of rain from the drains of its source, through the wires of headphones to the plugholes of the plugged in listener.

Holy Trinity Church
rain through the drain of holy trinity

Sound, pipes, wires and plugs share a tangled history with place, time and substance and our attempted escape from them. There is definitely something of the H.G. Wells in the piped ‘hydraulics’ of the time travel and wet clairaudience that the rain choir in Prague presents. ‘Pipes are old-new’, writes Connor, they have an alliance with the ghosts of voice and presence. We hear voices lurking in the whispering throat of pipes just as our listening organises the chaos of rainfall into patterns of rhythm. Connor identifies the drain as a vocal space, a gullet for hidden voices: ‘The drain introduces the most striking feature of the pipe, namely its clamorous crypto-vocality.’
The delicate distinctions and rhythms of rain falling through the cloistered drainpipes of Winchester Cathedral, were some of the voices that inspired and composed the rain choir. But the voices of pipes are not always so subtle. On a dank and damp Sabbath, I took my ears to the gutters of the Holy Trinity Church. Due to the conspicuous wired dawdling of my field-recording, I was accosted as a potential gutter thief. Able to prove my lack of form and malevolent intent, I was allowed to continue getting totally drenched only to discover that the collected voice of a heavy downpour through the canopy of Holy Trinity, can transform the wet epiglottal delicacy of rain into a swirling rant of potty-mouthed vernacular.

rain fenced in

rain through a wire fence / 2014 / mp3

On my damp way home I noticed the rain falling through a wire fence. Listening to fences allows the audible to erase the fixed and limited space of vision, we can hear place dissolve and disappear. As Gaston Bachelard writes  ‘The first to be dissolved is a landscape in the rain; lines and forms melt away’.
The  rain colours the choir with a meteorological spatiality and time, a colour augmented by its reappearance in Prague. The choir becomes an acoustic cloud drifting across Europe and dissolving the solid borders of geography as it precipitates. In this precipitation of place,  water is let in through the hole of the gallery wall and the wired plugholes of listeners.

the rain choir
continues to fall in Prague until November 7th 2014. If you are near, plug in and downpour.

 

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