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spudWORKS x National Parks Authority Artist-in-Residence

Impending Arrival 


When embarking on my residency at spud, I was not only venturing on my first real exploration of the New Forest but also my first experience as an artist-in-residence. Driving headlong into an area of the U.K I did not know at all (towed the last 20 miles by an AA van after an exploding clutch), and into a period of time I did not have exact plans for was a daunting prospect. Luckily, I was met on all sides by supportive figures offering mentoring, advice and support in so many different forms - from suggestions for locations to explore, to stories to read and artists to investigate. 

The main themes that were brought to my attention by the wonderful Robbie (nature lover, storyteller and artist) were to do with the local mythology and folklore of the New Forest. By introducing me to the work of Brice Stratford, and telling me his own variations of local stories and folklore on our walks, Robbie was immediately helping me scratch at the surface of this vast place’s history - real, fictionalised and modern. 

With the help of all the team at spud, and its trusty electric bicycle, I was off and lost in different parts of the Forest from my first morning in residence. Seeking out locations from stories, historical sites and recommendations from people I’d spoken with, I went out with my audio recorder slung around my shoulders and many layers of waterproofs. From my journal: ‘Last night Storm Cioran hit Sway and boy did I know it…’ but I would not be deterred from making the most of my time! 


Lost in the Forest 


From my adventures through the forest, over heath and hill, and my walks with Robbie, I started to see the extremely codependent and precarious relationship between nature and the inhabitants of the forest. From this I began my investigation into how this relationship could be explored, captured and represented most effectively through sound. My inspiration when I first planned my time in residence was the work of David Monacchi, eco-acoustic composer and sound artist. His project, Fragments of Extinction, focuses on capturing the incredible soundscapes of ecosystems throughout the world - ‘eco-symphonies’. Part of me, knowing how diverse the wildlife within the New Forest is, wanted to attempt my own audio documentary process within the New Forest, but very quickly I knew I had neither the appropriate biological/geographical knowledge, nor the time, equipment and recording skills. So I took a different route, one that combined the exploration of a specific space within the forest, with extracts of different environments (wetlands, woods, farmland) from areas throughout the forest. The space that became the focus for much of my recording was a tunnel under a bridleway, previously a railway track, ten minutes walk from Setthorns Wood. I became very interested in this tunnel not only for its sonic potential, as it had an almighty echo, but also as a physical representation of a boundary and a threshold, one imposed by humans on the land of the New Forest, but now used by people and animals alike to traverse the landscape. The echo as a concept also really appealed to me - a phenomenon that augmented whatever sound was made in the tunnel, especially sounds generated from movement. Each day I returned to the tunnel, attempting to investigate the acoustic qualities of the space, how the spatial relationships between intentional and accidental movement affected sound in the tunnel, and how the space changed each day (with water running through in small streams for example, or the ground being disturbed by the horses/people passing through the tunnel). Through hours of recording I gathered a bank of sounds. 


In addition to being a link between two areas this tunnel came to represent lots of things for me, acting as an anchor in a huge area that I was only just beginning to explore. It came to represent (perhaps necessary) human intervention in the forest, as well as a threshold between past and present. My recordings in the tunnel are made up of a huge range of intentional activation - running, stamping, scraping, skipping, singing, coughing, burping, howling, splashing water, the repetition of a spoken word piece, using sticks to hit and tap every square foot, even dragging fallen branches through the tunnel. This experimentation with movement was a very exciting process for me, as I was more used to using activators (drum sticks or hand tools) to create interesting sounds with objects, treating my whole body as a tool to activate the space - this inspiration came from discussions with Tom Hall about my parents who are both dancers and choreographers. There was also a lot of accidental sound generated - like rainfall, bird song, dogs, horses - which was accentuated by the echo if in close enough proximity to the tunnel.

Investigating such a specifically architectural structure was also an intriguing prospect and I took great inspiration from one of my all time favourite sound artists, Bill Fontana. His piece Harmonic Bridge, where he reveals ‘the musicality of sounds hidden within the structure of the London Millennium Foot Bridge’ made me consider in what ways I could consider the tunnel as a sound sculpture rather than a piece of architecture. This opened up my perception of the space as one where I could apply much of my practice in percussively activating an object - treating it as a sound sculpture rather than disused train bridge. This reorientation allowed me to develop the use of techniques I had not previously thought applicable. For me the most exciting part of this recording process came in this development and extension of my current practice combined with this new venture of ecological sound recording. 


Moving Forward 


From my reflection on this recording process, I keep being drawn back to ideas of fragmentation - in my memory of processes, types of sounds, areas I visited - and I plan for the installation of my work to engage with this theme as closely as possible, be this through the randomisation of the short pieces that make up the whole soundscape or by asking the listeners to move in and out the space as quickly as possible to break up their listening experience. This constant crossing of the threshold of the space also really intrigues me, as the significance of boundaries throughout the forest and as a representation of the tunnel space were central to much of my thinking during my residency. Another aspect of the installation that I intend to develop is a visual and textural accompaniment to the soundscapes in the form a mound of debris and forest floor, with refuse littered throughout, aiming to connect the audience’s awareness of both the physical and sonic man-made refuse represented in the segment of landscape and soundscape. Audiences will be encouraged to place their hands in the debris, experiencing the tactility of the forest floor and perhaps choosing to intervene with the installation by removing the refuse or by leaving it. 


I’m so excited to return to spud and the New Forest, to bring to life as much of my experience as possible. I’ve already learnt so much from the Forest, the people who work and live there and can’t wait to learn even more from this installation and sound design process. 

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