Twitches, turns and tangles (Cryptic-Cove Park Residency)


Weather report

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.

Wrangling tangles

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.”[1]

[1] 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.




Thoughts restless as Scottish weather (Cryptic-Cove Park Residency)


The sun blows in on gusts of wind,
followed by the rain.
A different weather in every window.

I can’t see the far shore for the fog
and then I can.
Where does all that fog go?


Thinking around ideas.
Trying not to spook the all-elusive creative moment.
Hoping to catch answers by stealth,
by sneaking up on them from a different direction,
defocusing the eyes,
glimpsing shadows from slitted corners.

Like Perseus I use a mirror
to look at something of which I am afraid.
A mirror is not a left-right reversal,
but one of in and out—
a forwards direction
bounced backwards.
My image enters the mirror
and is rejected.

I think my image is rejected/reflected
at the same size as it is,
but in fact it has been diminished.
I am only half of what I am.
Try it.
Measure it.
Your essence has been reduced
in the translation.
Some people think the soul is kept in a mirror—
is my soul half my size?

All the while I should be listening—
listening speculatively to what I want to hear.
Up until now I’ve been listening to the source
and it’s too pragmatic and full of words.
I need to be listening for the echoes.

Echoes are hard to find out here
I need a room at least 17metres long
to slap me back a sound
beyond my mind’s memory
so I hear it anew.
I had high-hopes for the toolshed
but it serves it purpose as named.

So I play with my digital emulations
my favourite filters and manipulations.
How much can a voice be reflected,
artificially laid over and pleated, folded,
until it becomes a song it didn’t know it sang.

In an attempt find the sound of the work
I get Echo to start the conversation.
But she’s all chokes and stops and stutters.
So I try to summon the mourning songs of
wood and water nymphs,
by baying at the shadowed full moon.
But so far their tunes are lost on the wind,
or drowned out by my mind’s hungry chatter.

My mind grazing greedily on Malouf and
Montaigne and Merleau-Ponty.
(Next week we move on to ‘N’s.)
And it’s Maurice who tells me to keep it real:

“When I begin to reflect my reflection bears upon an unreflective experience; moreover my reflection cannot be unaware of itself as an event, and so it appears to itself in the light of a truly creative act, of a changed structure of consciousness, and yet it has to recognize, as having priority over its own operations, the world which is given to the subject because the subject is given to himself.”[1]

When I look a little baffled and scratch my head, he continues, in an urgent whisper:

“Reflection does not withdraw from the world towards the unity of consciousness as the world’s basis; it steps back to watch the forms of transcendence fly up like sparks from a fire; it slackens the intentional threads which attach us to the world and thus brings them to our notice; it alone is consciousness of the world because it reveals that world as strange and paradoxical. [2]

As I reflect on that,
hoping for the light of that truly creative act,
watching for the sparks of transcendence
to shine through the fog and rain,
I notice that in the night,
on the opposite mountain
that watches over Ardentinny,
has fallen a fine dusting of early spring snow.

[1] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception, (London, New York: Routledge, 2005), xi

[2] ibid, xv

My participation in the Cryptic-Cove Park residency program is supported by The SUBSTATION.



Reflecting on Reflections (Cryptic-Cove Park Residency)

Supported by The Substation.

A brief postcard/progress report.

I’ve found myself drawn to the ponds as they reflect the relentless progress of weather across the highland heavens.

I’ve been pondering Narcissus and Echo – each with their own afflicted reflections.

I’ve realised the Ancient Greeks were so very transdisciplinary explaining physics in neat metaphoric narratives.


I’ve been revising high school physics to understand the poetry of properties.

I’ve been imbibing the erudite episodes of W. G. Sebald in the pursuit of form.


I’ve been rambling, just a little, over hillocks and down to the loch shore, that hides not sea monsters but navy submarines.

And all the while I’m listening to tiny birds I can’t yet identify, to the donkey that sounds like a squeaking gate, and the holy trinity of wookie cattle who snuffle-munch on the Pod pathway.

And I go to sleep to the soft weeping rain, sometimes the wild whipping wind, followed by the deep, deep silence of the fog.


PS – Pop-quiz courtesy of the Physics Room

My participation in the Cryptic-Cove Park residency program is supported by The SUBSTATION.



Narrative as pressure wave (Cryptic-Cove Park Residency)

Supported by The Substation.

On Sebald

A few years ago I undertook a few subjects of creative writing degree, in order to see if I could get from the idea of writing to the actuality of writing. I write a lot for myself (endless self-deprecating versus self-motivational blather) as well as words describing other people’s work in the form of art commentary, but I had an inkling I wanted to, maybe could, write more comprehensively, more creatively (I’m desperately trying to avoid the word narratively because the skill still eludes me).

In Week 5 of the terrifyingly titled subject, Narrative Writing, we were assigned a reading that was the first 23 pages of W.G Sebald’s Rings Of Saturn. I wasn’t sold but I was intrigued. Not sold because of the sepia dryness, but intrigued because of the meandering style seamlessly blurring “personal biography” and fetishistic academic research. I sensed or attributed to Sebald a melancholic urge to embed himself in much older, more ambiguous narratives — to write himself a hiding place from whence he could wearily watch the world. For this reason, he was a little bent triangle on the edge of a page in my mind. I suspected there would be a time when I would “get him”. This sense that the things that don’t work for me at first but just might make sense later is perhaps the closest thing I can call wisdom accumulated over my 46 years.

I woke up on the 22nd of January 2017, having completed a 6-week contract job and thus ready to embark on my own projects, with the urge to finally tackle Sebald. I scanned the descriptions of each of his books available on Australian Amazon Kindle, and once again the dusty classicness of the subject matter didn’t appeal (I have, it should be noted, spent the last three years researching science fiction), but decided to recommence with Rings of Saturn. So on a 40-degree Sydney summer day, I traipsed with Sebald around the cold and decaying British countryside, finding a surprising happiness, verging on excitement, in this muted misery.

On the ficto-critical

Two months later and I am “residing” on a seemingly remote Scottish property (although a handful of towns are but an hour walk away), with the opportunity to pursue my passion for making sound art that incorporates my writing aspirations, and I am immersing myself in Sebald[1]. I realise now his writing appeals to me because it’s a kind of proto-hypertext, written in lead pencil on lined paper, from back before the internet was our alternate brain[2].

When information became readily clickable my fast-talking mind found its native format—it was, and still is, a hypertext generator, spitting out packets of associated (or not so associated) information, nigh on simultaneously. I have channelled this into interactive projects, choice-based art sci-fi art adventures, but now I’m looking to the linear because sound takes time, plays out over time. Sound demands sequence, and sequence implies line. And really this is all about sound.

On listening

Its about sound and my subject is listening — more specifically the listening subject. Listening being a moment of complete absorption, immersion, how do we register ourselves within this act of listening? What is our listening self? I propose the state of listening is one of hearing the source then listening to the mind understanding and translating it. And if so, how much of that translation involves words, secret murmured words, an inner voice — a language of listening.

From here I need props[3]—tools to assist in this registering of these subtleties of perception and meta-perception (perception squared — the perception of the act of perception). For the project I’m working on at Cove Park this “prop” is a mirror, a two-way mirror, that will allow the listener to watch themself in the act of listening, while sound is manifested in visual form, gradually dissolving the reflected image — a vision of self slowly eaten by sound.

So now I’m thinking on mirrors and properties of light and specular reflection, light rays bouncing at neat matching angles, rearranging themselves as their opposite, an unheimlich duplicate. And reflecting on reflections brings me to sound and its double, the imperfect repetition of an echo, more than 0.1seconds delayed, the extent of our ear’s short term memory.

And who better to narrativise these properties of physics than those Ancient Greeks with their transdisciplinary turn. Handsome Narcissus and his irresistible reflection that blinds him to his very sense of self — cursed to be both subject and object simultaneously. And the witness of his demise, sweet infuriating Echo, pre-afflicted by Juno with impaired mimicry (-cry… -cry… -cry…).

Narcissus and Echo bring with them their biographer Ovid, erotic poet exiled for reasons even he didn’t understand. Sent to a Beckettian lunar landscape as described in An Imaginary Life by David Malouf, transposing his Antipodean sensibility to an alien Ancient land. And these things run amok in my mind, as I try to arrange them into a line, that can look back on itself as a circle — a circle that brings me back to Max (Sebald’s preference over Winfreid).

I could move on to circles as concentric ripples made from a dropped stone in a smooth pond, but the fog rolls in and words are running out, and I’m left enshrouded in my derivative conceit. But what is derivativeness if not admiration plus echo?

[1] From my January reading I’ve decided I will conclude my UK residency time with my own Sebald-like tour of the south east coast of England, driving a rental Kia rather than hoofing it, to look at the abandoned Acoustic Sound Mirrors built between the wars to try to hear the enemy approaching.

[2] There is only internet at the main complex at Cove Park which means when sitting in my pod-studio with no easy google-fix I realise how much I’ve handed my mind over to the hive.

[3] On a brisk walk up the hill past the tidy town to Lochview — two rows of semidetached 1970s boxes and an utterly misplaced apartment block — you come to a farm comprising a small collection of stone buildings, all except the main house that has gaping holes in walls and roofs like missing teeth. In the yard a decaying trailor, the kind with two servers windows for hotdogs and chips. A little further in a broken beige 1960s caravan. Large gnarled tree trunks in chunks are piled in the driveway. I overlay a sense of carnie or show people over the scene. Then I notice the van on the other side of the road painted with signage for Propped Up Scotland and I imagine that in these dilapidated sheds are piles of props from TV shows like Taggart that have come here to die. Though it’s later suggested to me that the “propping” might refer to building reinforcement.

This project has been supported by The SUBSTATION.


Borrowing a beginning

Where to start.
Once it’s begun it’s begun
things are set in motion.

What if they are the wrong things.
Knocking onto
jangling against
making the wrong kinds of wordsounds.

What if the the initial direction taken
leads away from the real ideas
Circuitous routes and detours…

“the peripheral – accidents of hearing, detours of thought”
Daniela Cascella, p24 F.M.R.L

Cascella is my guide – for a while she will feature here reminding me, encouraging me that this is an activity… it is something, even if it is a peripheral.

So at the beginning I will let her speak for me, in the way she wants others to speak for her…

“lists of thinking through listening into reading”

“I cannot read and not write. I cannot write and not read. The two are conjoined and necessary to each other…”

“Annotations have no longer any room around a text, hence they move onto another page into a new beginning. What once would have been marginalia migrate from the margins to the core of some new writing.”

“It reinstates now, every now, what is urgent: not always new and original, but urgent.”

“The references within a text are not birds to recognise but voices in the forest, to be heard before knowing what they are…”

“My medium is listening onto writing and back, writing onto listening: there I connect. Medium is also illusion, and trick, and risk. Is it listening to, or listening through? Illusion, or understanding?”

Daniela Cascella, 2015, F.M.R.L: Footnotes, Mirages, Refrains and Leftovers of Writing Sound, Zero Books, Winchester UK, Washington USA