Category Archives: sound

Ghost print

My friend Jerry asked me if I’d like to do a piece for his blog, so I wrote and recorded a text and a poem.

(Plus – you know, he said nice things about me – you gotta take what you can get!)

If you click below to view the original post on Jerry’s blog, there is a Soundcloud of the whole thing as a sort of minipodcast.

My My Corona

My friend Steve Smart is one of those people who overflows with talent. He’s a photographer, filmmaker, poet and all around Mr Fix-it when it comes to media and tech things. You can see his work here. He’s brought together a number of his talents with a lovely reflective, poetic piece appropriate to our times. Feast on this (a script follows):

Ghost print

Last night I was listening to an excellent BBC podcast in which artist Norman Ackroyd talks with author Robert Macfarlane.

Both are people whose work I admire hugely, and the conversation was a treat which I recommend. Amongst many topics covered at some point they touched on a story about an ancient hand stencil. This piece of cave art, believed to be the oldest yet discovered had been dated to over 64,000 years ago. Something sparked, and I knew I would be writing a poem…

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TRAWL

TRAWL is a video poem made for Stanza 2020 (Scotland’s International Poetry Festival) as part of Scotland’s Year of Coasts & Waters 2020.

It’s a collaboration between myself, poet Matthew Caley, using text from his sixth collection Trawlerman’s Turquoise, musician and bioacoustician Alex South, and experts in marine science at the University of St Andrews.

You can see TRAWL on a screen at the Byre Theatre during the Festival, or you can watch it on my Vimeo channel, right here… (volume up to hear Alex’s amazing soundtrack!)

 

More about …

TRAWL at StAnza 2020
http://www.stanzapoetry.org/festival/events/trawl

‘Trawlerman’s Turquoise’ by Matthew Caley is published by Bloodaxe Books
https://www.bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/product/trawlerman-s-turquoise-1218

Matthew Caley will be at Stanza 2020, for further details please see
http://www.stanzapoetry.org/festival/poets-artists/caley

Alex South is a composer, performer, and bioacoustician
https://alexsouth.org/

With thanks to marine scientists at the University of St Andrews, especially:
Richard Bates, Ellen Garland, Bernie McConnell, and Luke Rendell.

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the singing ringing pole

The Singing Ringing Tree‘ (Das singende, klingende Bäumchen) was a strange East German fairy-tale film shown by the BBC in the 1960s. It is also the title of a sound sculpture in Lancashire on a hill called Crown Point above Burnley.

It’s not just the simple rhyme of the title that sticks in the imagination, especially for those who saw the uncanny film as small children, something about its odd atmosphere seemed to resonate. Apparently in a 2004 Radio Times poll it was voted “20th spookiest show ever”, even though it was a story for children.

This visual poem is about an encounter with a kind of life after death. The title is a small homage to the strangeness of that children’s film.

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the singing ringing pole

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Sea Symphonies

I don’t think I’ve written a poem inspired by a diagram before. This particular diagram came to my attention as part of my “day job” as a designer. Over the past couple of months I’ve been working on graphics and media for an exhibition at Dundee Science Centre about research studying the songs of humpback whales in the South Pacific. The study was undertaken by researchers from the Sea Mammal Research Unit of the University of St Andrews.

It’s fascinating work, and one piece of it is distilled in a diagram made by Dr Ellen Garland and her colleagues. It shows how humpback songs recorded by scientists over a 10 year period have not only travelled regularly in a west-to-east pattern over a 10,000km long stretch of the Pacific, but have changed year-on-year as humpback whales learn each new season’s “score” and sing it across the ocean. You can find out more about this remarkable, and as yet little understood observation of whale culture on Ellen’s website.

The more I thought about Ellen’s diagram, the more I came to feel how deceptively simple it was. I think that as you look more and gain a sense structure over time, you realise this is showing something genuinely astonishing, that had previously been so hard to see (or hear!) as to be effectively invisible.

So, here we are – a poem about a diagram… (who knows, maybe not the last.)

poem and reading by Steve Smart
original humpback whale photograph by Nicolas Job
original field recordings by Ellen Garland
montage by Steve Smart

 

Sea Symphonies

Ellen’s diagram is like a child’s quilt.
I turn her checkerboard about,
swap out strident Microsoft primaries
for shades that hurt me less,
and in handling the squares,
in redrafting with attention,
I accommodate their stories.

These colours are movements,
in many meanings of movement,
like impressionism, baroque, punk,
like skiffle,
shifting cribs of style from one mind there
to another even more far-out,
where we’re somewhere deep
in exotic waters,
for this all seems deeply exotic
to me.

The song square game is played
with cryptic southern ocean rules,
some tunes drawl short seasons,
just a few months drift afloat,
while others go pacific, spun for
a whole year swum on seaborne airtime.

She’s charting trends of alien voices,
the whales’ just discovered folksong,
sung to some purpose still unknown,
and sung untold, in all this time.
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The exhibition at Dundee Science Centre was supported by the Royal Society, the University of St Andrews, and Dundee Science Centre. It’s aimed at children, but there is lots for anyone to enjoy and find out. It launched on Saturday 28th September, and will be open for several months.


A piano, falling

I made this sound piece as a competition entry a little while ago. The competition said entries without sound effects, so I made a version like that. It didn’t get anywhere. I also made a mix with additional audio – which was what I really had in mind when I first saw the competition title (which I think is a great title!)

The full mix with additional audio is what I’m posting just now on Soundcloud and here. Text also below. Let me know what you think.

The picture is a CG image I made a bundle of years ago that seemed to fit – no performers or pianos were harmed in the making.

Thanks to: ERH at Freesound and huggy13ear at Freesound for piano and wind audio samples.

 

A piano, falling

Fourth floor. My music still unsung.
Uncertain how I got here. I know
all falls begin when yawning gravity
blackjack twists our real potential.

Third floor. Know me. Know who I am.
Half my soul’s piano – so play me sol-la softly,
Softly, Softly like old tv policemen nee-naw zed-cars,
catchee monkeys all so black-and-white.

Second floor. Coming into Grace land, Brothers,
carpets, travel goods, and bedding material.
Getting closer, the world’s air rising, our throats
fear-parched, croak, are we really going down?

First floor. Time dilates when falling, one beat
sheds sixty easy, squeezes out all our years,
flowing slowly like silk on serpentine.
Pray for a shiny handle – pray for a ripcord to pull.

Ground floor. Wo-ho-hoh! They call it ground rush,
tell virgin parachutists, not to anticipate
when you’re about come in to land because
that’s how bones end up really screwed.

Bargain Basement! An unexpected coda,
plunging beer traps left by lorry-men, we’ll pay
just a pound now, we’ll pay the ferryman,
so play my forte strong now. Play, to make us brave.

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a post by the road to Craigowl


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A friend recently suggested that many of the things I make have something of the spirit of the Japanese idea of wabi-sabi – had I had the term? I had, but I wasn’t sure exactly what it meant so I looked it up.

Wabi-sabi is a term rich with many layers of meaning, but could be summed up as an aesthetic celebrating the beauty in transience, impermanence, and imperfection. Well, yes, I thought, many of my photographs are about looking for beauty in moments embodying much of this.

I’ve been intending to do some more work with found audio for a while, and this post has a little sample. Ironically, it is just that – a post! In this case – a metal gate post beside the road up to Craigowl hill in the Sidlaws. I’ve often noticed that when the wind is in the right direction, this particular post has a lot to say. I suppose this is not surprising, the post is basically a meter high metal tube with a couple of holes placed rather like those on a flute.

As I set out on a windy afternoon to see if I could capture some of this sound, it did cross my mind that a slightly baleful, but (to my ears) resonant and interesting sound encountered only when the wind blows a certain way in a particular place in the middle of field usually occupied by at most some sheep or cattle was definitely a stab at finding a fairly transient and imperfect fragment of beauty: wabi-sabi.

Bashō on the Path to Hanging Bridge
by Hokusai

If there is a poet of the idea it must surely be the great seventeenth century traveller and haiku pioneer, Matsuo Bashō. A master whose work sometimes makes me think of photographic ways of seeing, although written long before the invention of photography.

The wind is mentioned often in Bashō’s haiku. Here is one to consider, with some alternative translations, perhaps while you listen the piece of sound I made (lower down) using the plaintive voice I heard calling from a post by the road to Craigowl.

 

蜘何と 音をなにと鳴 秋の風
Kumo nan to ne wo nani to naku aki no kaze
Matsuo Bashō

Spider, say again!
It’s so hard to hear your voice
in the autumn wind.

Spider, I say!
In what voice do you chirp?
An autumn wind
(Tr. Makoto Ueda)

Old spider! What is your 
song? How do you cry
to the autumn wind 
(Tr. Sam Hamill)

source: http://matsuobasho-wkd.blogspot.jp/

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More: A history of wabi-sabi (YouTube)

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En route

En route

I tripped on some kindly light,
where fallen cones eroded by birds
echoed the labyrinth.

From site A to building B
busy at work passing directly
through Kinburn Park.

Light prefers straight line shadows,
though 
indirect paths, still and  cool,
might enlighten more.

Hand scored benches keep the goal:

George Fox 1658
‘Be still and cool in thy own mind and spirit’

In spirit my fingers follow the spiral sign,
tracing the miniature way, and
I stop to think that I would like to be that.

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