On a cool but otherwise unobjectionable March morning (ie it was neither blowing a gale nor raining stair-rods, and there was even a bit of something which could be called ‘sunshine’) SATSYMPH reconvened with the pupil group from Sir John Colfox School in Bridport, Dorset to, excitingly, ‘go on location’ to find out how the theoretically plotted Neolithic Soundscape would pan out in the real world. We picked up the kids at 9am in a big white Transit van, then processed in convoy round Bridport, then along the coast road, the B3157, past Burton Bradstock and along to Abbotsbury. The first view of Chesil Bank and Abbotsbury,coming over the top of the hill, with St Catherine’s Chapel perched on its knole over the hamlet, always takes my breath away. The chapel itself is dedicated to St Catherine, the patron saint of unmarried women, “and has a local tradition of ‘wishing’, which involves using the niches (one for the knee and two for the hands) in the east jamb of the south doorway to ‘post’ prayers to the saint asking for her help (you could call it Ye Olde Style Twitter’, I suppose). A traditional prayer used here says:
A husband, St Catherine,
A handsome one, St Catherine,
A rich one, St Catherine,
A nice one, St Catherine,
And soon, St Catherine.
In the local dialect version the request ends with the expression “Arn-a-one’s better than Narn-a-one”, meaning that anyone is better than ‘never a one’, I’m told”
In Abbotsbury, we branched off onto the one lane ‘Bishops Road’ and drove up the hill, parking in the lee of the Grey Mare at the top of the hill. Here we were joined by the AONB’s South Dorset Ridgeway Landscape Partnership Manager, James Sharpe, Jill Hearing from AONB and Victoria Pirie (DIVA contemporary).
After the usual ‘where’s XYZ?’, ‘when’s lunch’, ‘who’s forgotten their (raincoat/sandwiches/brain etc)’, ‘what’re we waiting for exactly?’etc we all opened the pre-downloaded app from Appfurnace
Processed up ‘the ceremonial pathway’ to the Grey Mare field, over the stile, and into the Grey Mare Field
We then wandered, assessing how the soundscape created in the studio actually worked in the real world.
Afterwards we posed with the actual stones. These two, Victoria informed me, were ‘closing stones’, placed at the entrance to the long barrow when it was ceremonially sealed. The two stones are of different material – one is aggregate (OK, all you archeo-people, now’s your opportunity to correct me!), and the other is bluestone (? the same material as at Avebury, I think). These, she said, could have incorporated ‘male’ and ‘female’ qualities.
The Crew: what do the stones say to you?
Perhaps they say ‘time for lunch’!
We then went on a wander in the neighbouring field, where sound zones had also been laid out. We couldn’t do this earlier as the field was full of sheep being herded by a dog and a man on a quad-bike, obviously the modern method of herding. A solitary GPS tracker was sighted…
Now you see him…
Now you don’t (That was SATSYMPH’s Marc Yeats, I believe)
We then retreated to the (comparatively warm and dry) tarmac lane to eat our sandwiches and have a feedback session.
FEEDBACK FROM YOUNG PEOPLE
After thoroughly testing out the soundscape participants were asked what they thought about what they had created, and how it could be made better. They responded:
“We really liked some of our sounds out in the open, such as the mud squelching; then the word ‘Rhiannon’ – the tension gets louder till you open the gates, then it stops. That’s really good. The humming in the Grey Mare field was good, then the different words which came up. The ‘electric fence’ noise was ace! We did think that it was very different in the studio and out here ‘on location’ – iIn the studio it worked because you were concentrating on the music whereas here you were thinking about where you were going (SATSYMPH:this is an interesting discovery and one which is always made by those using ‘locative media’: what it sounds like in the studio is NOT what it sounds like actually ‘on the ground’. Hence the need for continual studio/location; studio/location testing to get that right!).
The sounds outside the Grey Mare field were going to more connected than they were .. there wasn’t that abrupt change which is what we wanted. It didn’t quite flow because there were some big gaps. In the actual Grey Mare field it worked quite well, except you could walk quite far out of a boundary and not know where it ended. We’re all agreed that this area needs to be connected up … to overlap – we need to experiment with on/off boundaries, so you can walk thru’, you walk thru that immediate change of material to contrast the blending on the way in, so that there aren’t any silent areas here.
In the field outside the Grey Mare, well, it was all jumbled and I didn’t really know what was going on; this field needs to be reworked in some way … so that it holds the tension, I mean, it starts off, you start to get the idea that there’s something … spooky, you start to get near it and then … the silence isn’t the scary silence we wanted.
Hmm – when we made it (the soundscape) we were trying to create a story, but it’s hard to follow a story … if you miss out one part of the story it breaks up the story. The ‘leading up’ experience (walking up to the Grey Mare from the farm road) needs to better conjure up images of the Neolithic. It might help if some context is provided, that is to say, the actual story attached to the Grey Mare and Her Colts, the story of Rhiannon ( from the 14th century Welsh collection, the Mabinogion) is narrated here. In the actual Grey Mare field the soundscape works quite well, conjuring up a mystical atmosphere which stimulates your ideas for what would’ve happened here.
We think it would be good if a good recording of story is made, then put the story (of Rhiannon) on the path in the lead-up, then come into field where everything overlaps.”
Following up the children’s conclusions, SATSYMPH edited a version of the story of Rhiannon and placed it on location. The original tale is HERE – read it, it’s a very old, striking and beautiful tale of a strong woman and the man she loved!
EXCERPT from Pwyll, Prince of Dyved (pronounced, I am told [PUISH PEN DA-VYD]:
“Lady,” asked he [Pwyll], “whence comest thou, and whereunto dost thou journey?” “I journey on mine own errand,” said she, “and right glad am I to see thee.” “My greeting be unto thee,” said he. Then he thought that the beauty of all the maidens, and all the ladies that he had ever seen, was as nothing compared to her beauty. “Lady,” he said, “wilt thou tell me aught concerning thy purpose?” “I will tell thee,” said she. “My chief quest was to seek thee.” “Behold,” said Pwyll, “this is to me the most pleasing quest on which thou couldst have come; and wilt thou tell me who thou art?” “I will tell thee, Lord,” said she. “I am Rhiannon, the daughter of Heveydd Hên, and they sought to give me to a husband against my will. But no husband would I have, and that because of my love for thee, neither will I yet have one unless thou reject me. And hither have I come to hear thy answer.” “By Heaven,” said Pwyll, “behold this is my answer. If I might choose among all the ladies and damsels in the world, thee would I choose.”