Supported by THE SUBSTATION
On Tuesday we awoke to snow on all the mountaintops. Not the fine dusting I seemed so excited about last week, but thick, frosted topping snow on all the surrounding ridges. This was followed by a two-hour hailstorm — tiny pearls of ice that built up in the corners and on the windows sounding like an ASMR dream. It covered surfaces in a blanket of white and I decided it was close enough to count as snow.
As if this were a final cosmic battle between winter and spring, the sun has shone ever since; something I had begun to believe was not actually a reality in this part of Scotland. And with this strange yellow light falling over the land, and the ground drying a little from boggy sludge to merely mud, it was high time for a few small jaunts into the countryside.
Wild life watching
On Wednesday Kathy (Hinde) mentioned that there were skylarks up at the Beckett bench and I would be able to identify them because they sounded like Roland 303s. Armed with this knowledge I headed up the hill and saw first-hand the origin of the term “skylarking about” as these gregarious birds performed high dives, loop-the-loops like crazy WWII fighter pilots, all the while issue machinegun sputters of electronic zapping.
On the way up the hill, I walked a while with a crow who hopped along a little ahead of me. A short while later I noticed another or the same, sitting on the rump of a sheep pulling out tufts of fleece, like a teenager throwing clothes out of a messy wardrobe. I wondered how this seemingly mutually agreeable relationship came about.
A little later I was yelled at repeatedly by a Great Tit (identified in Kathy’s Collins Bird Guide), plus a whole other array of what I’m told are referred to as LBJs — Little Brown Jobs. In amongst all this the whine and drone of tractor engines and diggers, as every farmer gave their mechanical offerings to the re-born sun. And, as if in a strange dialogue with the twitter chatter of the small birds there was a persistent staccatto ratter-tat of munitions practice from the surrounding military bases. Everyone had indeed come out to play.
But this was merely the beginning of the twitching adventure. On Friday I asked Kathy to take the walk to Rosneath so that I could draw upon her accumulating knowledge of all the LBJs along the route. Over our two-hour ramble we saw chaffinches, robins (robins and more robins), wrens, sparrows, black birds, song thrushes, magpies, wood pigeons, doves, grand tits… and perhaps best of all heard an invisible woodpecker. And in just the blink of an eye we caught the snow-white behind of a deer as its bounced away in the distance into darkness of the pines.
Even though I had said to myself this residency was not about field recording (that was the last one — see Songmapping Ólafsfjör∂ur), I couldn’t resist the lure of the glorious Saturday spring morning to do another little sonic fishing trip. After trekking through the Garelochhead Forest (and seeing an identified scampering rodent) and back up into the forest on the way to Rosneath, I captured my best recording — ie with no wind, cars or aeroplanes — back in the entrance to Cove Park. Field recording is frustrating because the perfect recording is forever an impossibility (how many times do you pull out the recorder just in time for the great noise to stop?), but also strangely addictive because in the framing of the moment — pressing record and stop — you are are utterly present, bearing witness to this wonderful, once-only, instant reality.
While not watching and listening to the season turning I’ve been writing my piece Watching Listening (or maybe Drowning Echoes or Echo Drownings), which after three-weeks of reading, dreaming, drafting, pond filming, and sound swatch making, is perhaps approaching a “thing.”
The first stages always feel so amorphous, with endless self-doubt as to whether I’m doing anything at all, but I’ve come to realise that it is a process of immersing in a range of ideas and creative approaches and then introducing them to each other to see what relationship they somehow forge for themselves. Then staying close to home, loitering and waiting for the elusive moment when it’s all going to pour back out again in a reconfigured knotted lump. This mess then requires much delicate untangling and brushing smooth and some bits are just too impossible and require the hack of a Swiss Army Knife, but gradually, the ropey strands begin to form an interesting braid, and perhaps there is something there to share.
There is always in my mind, the overarching doubt, or fear rather, that what I do is an utterly privileged folly. Who needs my hybrid media artwork that asks the visitor to be in the moment, contemplating themselves and their relation to looking and listening? Voicing these doubts to Kathy, she mentioned the Oscar Wilde quote that “all art is quite useless” — another one of those conversational connections (one of many that has occurred in our Oak Pod co-habitation) because I had just downloaded Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray for of its exploration of Narcissism. Later turning to the preface I read the both brutal and comforting words:
“All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors…We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.”
 Oscar Wilde (1890), The Picture of Dorian Gray, Kindle book – public domain
My participation in the Cryptic-Cove Park residency program is supported by The SUBSTATION.