Autumn walk: sharp oblongs of reverberation
As summer begins to amble through spring, the remaining sonic perambulations of autumn and winter within the moors are completed.
The recordings from which autumn is composed are now over a year old: the sonic remains of forgotten weather and belated days. It is always very difficult to know what sounds to include and which to leave out, especially when, as an artist working with sound I am interested in the distinct and sensuous qualities of all sounds, the abstract or concrete elements of each sonic detail. I am also interested in not only the sounds inhabiting the landscape, but also the changes and behaviours of that environment and therefore the acoustic ecology and temporality of the soundscape heard. The notion of a sound walk introduces momentum, a sense of movement and therefore narrative into the soundcape: the rhythm and succession of sounds leads the ear through place and time. Even though the seasonality of the sounds creates a palette from which the walk is composed, the strict chronology of the recordings is not allowed to determine direction or progress through the landscape: place and time are allowed to meander and mingle. The hours of walking and listening are reassembled to create a walk that never took place, a remembering movement through the sounds of a forgotten landscape. The narrative structure evolves as a non-linear movement, time and place are allowed to merge and coalesce, generating a temporal spatiality informed perhaps by that soporific listlessness which inhabits the films of Andre Tarkovsky. The sharp edit of a gate latch lifted, harshly attaches one place to another, opening and closing distance, whilst moving the listener through a permeable landscape. Slow cross fades suggest a somnambulant narrative of transition; place and time thicken as they emerge slowly within each other. This aural thickening of time and place is similar to that of the olfactory experience. In the aromatic world of the Rhinoceros this is how experience happens. With a nasal membrane the size of a human brain:
[the Rhinoceros] inhabits a universe of gradual cross-fades as other creatures fade into or out of his olfactory world. The slice of ‘present’ between past and future, which we, privileging vision over all other senses, experience as razor-thin…is for the rhino a thick juicy slab of time…’ Michael Bywater, Lost Worlds
The word ‘walking’ shares its origins in such thickening: a walker being ‘one who fulls or thickens cloth’ (Chambers Dictionary of Etymology). The composition of each sound walk also evolves through a thickening process in which each previous walk informs the content and direction of the present. Landmarks and reoccurring elements emerge, but all with a seasonal shadow. The sound of water, which flows through all the walks, changes from season to season. There is a particularity to the acoustics of autumnal water, which makes it distinct from the river and rainfall of summer. This particularity is present, not only the timpani of rainfall on dry leaves, but also perhaps in the discrete contrast of wetness seeping through the crackle of frost and drying reed-beds.
The emptiness of the autumn soundscape is palpable, especially when preceded by the fecund chorus of spring and summer. A vacant spatiality is revealed, a pallid landscape punctuated by small sonic details. Sound is intermittent, a foggy silence interrupted with the occasional Hammer Horror squeal of a water rail or the viscose chaff and spatial rent of a runner approaching and departing.
Autumn seems suited to survey and repair. A lack of procreation means that breeding animals are less likely to be disturbed and the environment can be assessed: The water vole population is at its highest and the small mammal survey is less likely to harm pregnant females. This survey introduces it’s own percussive spatiality, as the traps, laid with seeds, fly larvae and straw, offer up sharp oblongs of reverberation.
Autumn walk: air caught in a net of wire
Autumn walk: water sounds and river sculpture
The labour of repair introduces it’s own abstract qualities, extending an otherness to the spatiality and temporality of the world apprehended.
In reforming the riverbed, using shingle to improve the subaquatic landscape for breeding trout, we hear the acoustic sculpture of form and substance: a rock thrown into the river, hollows out a sudden wet baseline; the cascade of shingle provides a curtain of damp percussion, whilst the gargling diesel engine of a tractor, retreats and disappears into silence.
Emergencies repairs to a collapsed hatch, which takes water from the River Itchen into the mini-stream and out across the reed-beds, result in a temporary interruption to the soundscape. The paths are closed with wire fences placed across the boardwalk and path at the rugby-field bridge. An area of sound is temporarily shut, but by attaching contact microphones to these fences we are allowed audible access to the Musique concrète of air caught in a net of wire and the echoing gait of people walking over the bridge. Into the moors and these dark reverberations, drift the public address of Bonfire Night and the invisible static constellations of fireworks: a tiny big bang of acoustic space and an annual soundmark of autumn in the soundscape of winnall moors.