A Score In Land

In preparing many of the compositions for World Fair, I have adopted multiple solutions to capture and fix time, place and space, and embed these within the recordings. The hope is that listening to the work years from now will transport me to a sensually rich impression of a past time, fixed within and around the musical content.

When I listen to my old records, random elements that I drew upon on account of their lending narrative or abstract elements to help the music move, hit me with a sharp and powerful nostalgia. There are the voices of my children growing up. There are fragments, glitches, errors that take me back to the rooms where I wrestled with the waveforms. (see also this post for using field recording to train ones hearing and fix one more securely in the moment at hand – http://michaelbegg.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/recall-moment-at-hand.html)
I wanted to expand upon the capacity of capturing time and containing it within music. I was also keen to fix familiar, ethereal, ambient drifts into a more tangible, grounded setting. The compositions come from inside me. Some of the outside musical influences informing the compositions are transparent, some not so much. I am seeking to fix the external non-musical influences coming from the immediate environment in and around my home, and utilise them as contributing elements to the compositions – the external, ambient influence made manifest within the work.

The processes include capturing field recordings, both through sound waves and vibrations, condenser and contact microphones. Another proposal however was to draw the horizons around my home – the Garlton and Lammermuir hills to the south, Kingdom of Fife to the north – and use the undulating hills to suggest where notes should be placed on staff paper. Similarly, I use the great number of fences in the area, as these, placed appropriately in the foreground suggest the stave lines of notation paper. Again, it comes to me to place the dots at the appropriate points where the fence wire (already having contributed to contact mic recordings) crosses horizon points, tree lines, and so forth.

These dual strategies capture the physicality and the terrain in which the compositions – the interior terrain and complete lack of physicality – arise.

Susan Stenger, who I had the pleasure of meeting last year in the wilds of West Cork, has prepared a commission for the 2014 AV Festival in Northumbria.

Sound Strata of Coastal Northumberland http://www.avfestival.co.uk/programme/2014/events-and-exhibitions/susan-stenger-sound-strata-of-coastal-northumberland
She has co-incidentally taken the notion of scoring music directly from the landscape, using as a source a cross-section diagram of the Northumberland coastline running up to the Scottish Border. 

Rather than use the form and structure of the land to situate a composition, she seems to have allowed a composition to arise fully from elements associated with the region – traditional instruments, rhythms and melodic patterns associated with the north east, geological layers being attributed signature sounds, and even the names of places.

This is space and place as inspiration. This is to do with a response, a reaction, a study, whereas my own endeavours are to do with situating a piece of my own work, and in situating it in a particular place at a particular time seeking to uncover some kind of evidence of the influence of me in my time and in this particular place -and what it has inferred onto the compositions.

Underlying this is something congruent with the body under stress. The mind feels calm and in control, but the body, erupting in eczema, chest pains, weakness, vomiting and shaking – would suggest that there is something that the physical, the elemental, the corporeal can tell the mind that it doesn’t know about itself. This is me. My time. My place. My work. Within me and without me. The extended me, reaching across the home, the studio and the landscape I inhabit at the time of nurturing the compositions from black bedrock.

Musicians and theorists have, in the past, come from a number of angles to focus on the relationship between land, geography, geology and music, whether it be vocal styling informed by the natural reverberations of particular spaces (see, for example the call and response of Hebridean Gaelic free heterophonic psalm singing – featuring the call of a preceptor and the response of the congregation, and the sound of waves rolling along shale and shingle island shores), or the tracing across continents of melodic lines and rhythms that suggest how musical form has traveled with nomadic tribes out from India, out from Africa and into the folk traditions of Western Europe and America. (In fact, the illustration from the first example – psalms echoing the rolling of Hebridean waves – is also proposed to form a foundation root of Black American music)

It is, I think, a more difficult task, and here I have Susan in mind, to reach back into time and draw forth evidence of musical tradition, its contribution to its time, its connection to its own landscape, and, more abstractly, its purpose in being brought forward from the past. One has to take special care in sidestepping the sentimentality that invariably sweetens the ineffable qualities of nostalgia. I am curious to learn whether she has any attachment to the region beyond her regular associations with the AV Festival, or whether there is just purely objective curiosity looking for source material from which to allow her own internalised compositions to crystallize and grow.
We have only been able to capture and fix sonic prints of time and place for little over 100 years – a century which seems, co-incidentally to be perceived as a time when traditions in music and performance are swiftly eroding inline with our broader cultural and social drive towards virtualising ourselves. 

Archivists are concerned with the past, ensuring that evidence remains intact for as long a time as possible, and establishing the mechanisms whereby the lessons learned, thoughts sparked, subsequent consequences can maintain a voice at the table of contemporary concerns. My concern, achievable only through inventions established relatively recently (well within my lifetime if we restrict the definition of recording to portable, digital, consumer level), is to fix the present, know the present more thoroughly, and send an accurate representation of the present back in time – or perhaps more accurately fix it to the ground so that it remains fixed as time and entropy continue with their business.