sound walk through summer (edit): sounds now no longer here
sound walk through summer (edit): the teeth of a grass cutter hover over summer’s path
The sound walk through summer in the moors is now complete. Opening with dawn of summer solstice in 2010, the walk accompanies the listener over the reed beds and out into the working landscape of the northern moors. Through this acoustic trespass, admittance is provided to an area of the moors, normally off limits to even the most robustly booted public foot. In this farmed landscape, volunteers meet under the shelter of a barns corrugated roof, whilst outside rain pours down from blocked gutters. The sound (or noise if you prefer) of work is an inherent part of the moors soundscape: this is a maintained environment and has been so for hundreds of years. The spatial percussion of hammers arriving simultaneously distant and close, as clips are driven into wooden posts, opens up a sound field, which remains in perpetual flux. It is perhaps fittingly ironic that the sound of people fencing in space, should conjure up notions of place as emergent and impermanent: ‘Acoustic space has no favoured focus. It’s a sphere without fixed boundaries, a space made by the thing itself, not space containing the thing. It’s not pictorial space, boxed-in, but dynamic, always in flux, creating its own dimensions moment by moment’ (Edmund Carpenter, Eskimo. 1959). In the sonic landscape, things that are there are always close to not being there, disappearance is a constant companion to audition. For this reason, I sometimes feel the word soundscape, with its allusion to landscape, introduces a sense of the concrete and fixed where there is none. I think the word sound field may be a more appropriate term, introducing as it does, a fuzzy edged notion of place, which remains adequately open and unfixed. According to my beloved Chambers Dictionary of Etymology the word ‘field’ is developed from the Old English folde, and the Old Saxon folda, meaning ‘earth, land’ therefore relating to the substance of place rather than its edges. Other dictionaries reference ‘open land’; place that is boundless and unfilled; although there is later reference to field as ‘a parcel of land marked off and used for pasture or tillage’. If we consider other notions of field we find: the ‘electromagnetic field’; the ‘field of gravity’, and Mark Rothko’s colour field paintings. For these fields edges are blurred and substance appears vague and immersive. Is this not like our experience of the acoustic world surrounding us: edgeless and immersive with an un-favoured focus? Walking through this summer field, there are sounds that appear to disappear and return, whilst others are lost to any coming summer.
The intermittent and abrasive electrical static of grasshoppers produce points and clusters of noise, like pins on an empty map. This noise will fade with autumn, but reappear next year. A tree branch split and fallen over a wooden fence however, introduces a transient creak, which was there last summer, but, with the removal of the branch, has now disappeared completely from the present field of sound. The use of contact microphones not only uncovers the field beneath the threshold of audition, allowing us to hear the insides of trees or the delicate gnaw of wasp mandibles on a wooden fence, it also brings into presence the ghost of sounds now no longer here.
In a perfect abrasive counterpoint to the electrical static of grasshoppers and gnaw of wasp mandibles, the mechanical teeth of a grass cutter also hover over summer’s path. These approaching jaws rent open the sound field. As they close in, the oily mastication is perceptibly tactile and sound brims over into touch. The summer sound walk ends with the roll of a river’s tongue and an electrical cloud* of Pipistrelles (‘cloud’ being the collective noun for bats in flight).