Residency 1: Winchester Science Centre 18th.-22nd. May 2015
What an amazing five days I have had at the Observatory. Located within the grounds of Winchester Science Centre, facing south and overlooking the rolling landscape of the South Downs National Park, the Observatory buildings occupied a quiet oasis of calm away from the exuberant business and noise of the Science Centre, full of young, excited children [and adults] learning about the world around them on the centre’s displays and interactive installations and gadgets. The acoustics within the Science Centre were akin to that of a huge swimming pool filled with voices, laughter, shouts and hyperactivity; all this contained within the huge pyramidal building and separated from the Observatory by glass and aluminium doors. To the south of the Observatory were a number of very busy main roads. These roads ran below [though out of sight] and across the hills within line-of-sight, contributing a continuous traffic hum that varied in intensity according to the time of day. At times it was so loud you could not hear the sounds of birds twittering from the neighbouring trees.
The Observatory buildings themselves are quite beautiful – not large, by any means, but intimate and intricate. I had the pleasure of sharing the space [whilst I was in the structure] with the very lovely artist in residence, Isabella Martin who’s conversation enriched my experience a great deal as we shared ideas and experiences.
One of the joys of this residency is its openness to allow the artist to develop work without a preconceived idea of particular outcomes. This lack of pressure to ‘deliver’ to a plan enables a genuine relationship with the environment to grow so that the artist, me in this case, can luxuriate in the opportunity to wander around, look and listen, explore and research all manner of things related to the experience and location. By implication, all sensate experiences and thought are game for inclusion in a finished piece of work. The challenge, among others, is to experience, distill and make choices about what to include and what to exclude from any finished work, a difficult process when there is just so much, so many perspectives to choose from – I knew I was going to write a string quartet [the first of four, one from each of the residencies] and a series of paintings, all site-specifically informed but the rest was a mystery.
Day 1 saw me spending most of my time in the Observatory building, acclimating myself to the surroundings and going on a few very close by walks. The weather was not good – cold and showery and very windy. I spent some time talking to Isabella about her working process and planning where to walk on day 2. Isabella had commented on how dangerous it was to walk from the Science Centre onto the footpaths south into the countryside because of the very fast and noisy traffic and because the footpaths had no access without walking along and crossing these very busy roads. I decided to avoid this and drive a little way south, park the car and then walk, avoiding the trauma of the traffic and the noise and getting to experience what I wanted to see – the chalk plateau and download. I only had five days on location so my time was precious. I needed to focus on what was important for my research and go do it!
By the end of Day 1 had had made a few pencil sketches to capture thoughts, sights and sounds on paper as spontaneously as I could.
and a picture of some of Isabella’s work in the Observatory:
And my drawings:
I had managed to find cheap overnight accommodation at the ‘Days Inn’, a motel in the Winchester North Services area, southbound M3. It was clean, I had a family room to myself [3 beds; 1 double and 2 singles], my own bath and toilet, tea and coffee making facilities and a flat screen TV. One minute from the motel was the food mall. Mercifully there was an M&S on the premises so I could get decent fresh food to eat. This would become my ‘home’ for the next 5 days.
Walkies time. I drove to a carpark about 4 minutes south from the Science Centre to explore Fawley Down. The walk was magnificent. The panoramas wide. From here I could see southwest across to the Solent, the Isle of White and the New Forest. The weather was turbulent, heavy and frequent showers blown along by a keen, cool northwesterly gale. I was very lucky, the showers passed to the north and south of where I was walking. They passed in bands creating amazing, atmospheric and rapidly changing plays of light on the land.
I eventually found a path that turned down into a small valley, away from the high plateau. There were trees and shelter. I could hear the birds; the sun was out and it felt warm and protected. This was a great spot to make my first iPhone video diary:
Upon my return to the Observatory I decided to make some more sketches to capture the day’s experiences as spontaneously as possible, almost without any thought at all. I knew these sketches would inform later work with painting and of course, composition:
More walking, this time a little further afield. I wanted to experience some of the more immediately dramatic chalk landscapes Hampshire had to offer, the wild chalk escarpments. After looking at the map and studying contours to find where the best confluence of escarpments could be found, I settled for the area around Old Winchester Hill, south east of the Science Centre. The weather was still showery but the wind had dropped somewhat. I walked around Old Winchester Hill National Nature Reserve and further south and east into the chalk valleys.
After walking through an enchanting [and enchanted] woodland full of Cow Parsley magically illuminated by dappled sunlight, I moved from the higher plateau area to an escarpment edge that overlooked a magnificent vista with a view of the opposite escarpments stretching away towards Petersfield and as far as the eye could see into the high ground of Sussex. I sat and looked out from this majestic vantage point, had my lunch, smoked a rollie, gathered my thoughts and made my iPhone video diary for Day 3 then completed some sketching. It rained.
I also visited the very characterful old village of East Meon and walked around some of the voluptuous hills there. The weather had improved and it became quite warm.
Day 4 saw yet more walking. I returned to an area closer to the Science Centre, Ovington Down and Gander down to the south east not far beyond day two’s walks but bearing south east as opposed to south west – a very different prospect for topography, light and vista. I also walked to the village of Cheriton, near the source of the luminous, trout-filled Itchen, then, following the Itchen way to Tichborne and back in a large circular route. I was back on the chalk’s open, rolling plateau and its gentle valleys and streams.
These days of walking were long but so enjoyable. The luxury of being able to explore with nothing but the land and one’s thoughts for company gave time to connect to the area, to absorb its ambience and structures, sights, smells and sounds. I haven’t before been on any kind of residency and certainly not one as a composer where I have the time to just be, to think without pressure. I found it most therapeutic, as if with each passing day the ‘compressions’ of daily life were slowly lifted and I could expand into the space around me. I write so much music from week to week – every day, and have frenetic spells of painting, too; I’m always doing and making, always thinking about the next project, the next piece of music, organising, planning and thinking ahead. I felt truly in the moment here, perhaps for the first time since I was last in Suffolk on holiday with my partner, staying with composer Gordon Crosse in August 2014. Only there, across a week of slow paced living have I felt that same sense of growth and freedom. I love it!
Having said that, I was aware that there was much effort and consolidation to follow with regard to creating new work and that my time here was spent like a sponge, absorbing everything, thinking about it but allowing myself not to draw any conclusion or more to the point, race to any conclusion. I could feel myself filling up with ideas, impressions and glimpses almost as if what I was aiming for; the paintings and the string quartet could be seen and heard from afar, like a shimira, almost within touching distance, but not quite. Tantalising!
I summarise my feelings in the Day 4 iPhone video diary – rounding things up on my penultimate day. I ask myself some big questions to which, as yet, I have no answers.
After making the video diary I distilled my thoughts in the now familiar way; through sketches that were this time, unconsciously more heavily landscape influenced than before – perhaps. I allowed myself no more than 30 seconds for each scribble – I was after what was essential, what was immediate in the hope I would capture something more elusive:
Consolidation. I chatted to Isabella at the Observatory about my walks and recommended places for her to go. I thought. I thought a lot, with a few cups of coffee, about the past few days and just how full my head head was of stuff – emotional, observational, experiential stuff – and I was excited, too, thinking ahead to the time this experience would settle, consolidate and result in new work. And remarkably, I still didn’t feel pressured about coming up with anything. I knew I would – I always do, but just letting this gestate, ferment away quietly out of consciousness was a strangely enjoyable and confident experience.
I want the work I produce from this first residency to surprise me. I want to develop my practice, my expression in both art forms in some way. I feel that the residency has been deeply enriching.
It is now just a matter of time
COMPOSER-IN-RESIDENCE TO THE OBSERVATORY [1B WINCHESTER SCIENCE CENTRE]
Residency 1: Winchester Science Centre 18th.-22nd. May 2015
I started with the music. Somehow, I felt this the greatest challenge of the two – of painting and composition.
My imagination was full of impressions and ideas following the residency and I had a large collection of photographs, sketches and videos to draw upon [seeComposer-in-Residence to the Observatory 1a]. These were external things – props, if you like – physical outcomes of my research into the site. Alongside these items was a vast soup of internal impressions, noises and intentions – all swimming around in my imagination like a bag of frogs, wriggling and seething and very difficult to hold onto. Together they comprised the evidence that I had experienced the wonderful chalk landscapes around Winchester but the prospect of starting a string quartet from scratch based upon these impressions – breaking the silence of the page with my little marks, dots and lines was a daunting prospect. Bringing something out of nothing always is.
My approach is to break my way in – charge through the door with bluster and see what happens on the other side. It’s a way of breaking the ice – and the fear!
With painting I just throw stuff about with abandon and masses of kinetic energy in the hope that something will emerge. Invariably it does, as this almost violent act serves to break the virginity of the page and take away its power to immobilise; you can stare at the page or manuscript and feel intimidated by its whiteness or emptiness. It takes a mighty leap of faith to start.
I take the same view to starting a piece of music, but it’s not so easy to just throw stuff around spontaneously when you’re dealing with notes. Some of my sketches from the residency were precursors to scores, undoubtedly, but they were not the final notation – they remained as frozen kinetics, sound suspended in line, and this sound needed to be reformatted into a more standardised notation to serve my purposes, a process that takes time and unfortunately, time is the enemy of spontaneity – deliberation kills it.
My paintings are all about spontaneity, their surfaces and mark-making reflect this and it is this roughness and speed of mark-making and design through assimilation that imbues them with whatever dynamic qualities they posses.
I have two methods that I hope enable me to develop spontaneity in my compositions baring in mind the limitations around real-time kinetic and gestural capture [I can’t notate as fast as I think but I can draw and paint very fast as there is a direct relationship between my thoughts, translation into movement on paper and the end result of the painting. For music this may apply in forms of graphic notation, which are repurposed forms of drawing, but for more standard forms of notation there is a degree of meticulous scribing that destroys spontaneity of gesture].
I labour this point because my remedy has led me to approach composition in very particular ways.
There are two aspects [at the very least] to the character of a finished piece of music as well as the way it is perceived by performer and audience, again from different perspectives; one is the ‘look and feel’ of the notation itself – what’s on the page, how it was put together, the sounds the notation implies etc., and the manner in which the music is performed or delivered to the listener. It is the combination of these two factors that combine to create the nature of the finished piece. Concept, notation and delivery become the same thing in aural terms – it’s the stuff we listen to! There is of course a whole other layer on top of this around how the music is perceived by the listener, but such reactions are way beyond my control – they remain the responsibility of the listener, so I will leave that well alone.
So, what are these two approaches I use to try and imbue spontaneity into my music?
The first involves me building any new pieces out of materials I already have – afound object is as good a term as any. This found object can be for any other instrument[s] and be a solo or ensemble piece. It is almost always a completed piece [as opposed to a sketch]. I choose the pre-existing piece I feel has some of the qualities I’m looking for in the new music I want to create. I then take that material and build onto it, destroy areas of it, distort it, lengthen, shorten, randomise pitches, cut up, amalgamate and mix up the original structures. I execute this process as quickly as I can. I don’t want to think or calculate outcomes at this stage – I’m trying to remove certain aspects of my decision making to allow chance and speed into the process [like the painting and drawing, I am hacking my way through material in a process of assimilation trusting that the rough edges I produce will bring a freshness, unpredictability and kinetic mobility to the notation].
Throwing around this found object material ensures that I very quickly get over the blank page syndrome as the page is immediately covered with notation. My processes of transformation move the material I am working away from the original although there is invariably a genetic ghost remaining of the former piece. I don’t mind this at all – it brings a consistency of voice to my compositions, as they are all linked in real terms no matter how destructive the transformative process is. In rather loose terms, this process is a form of transduction – the changing of material from one state to another. I rather like the idea of being a notational alchemist as the processes I use at this stage are intuitive, responsive and reactionary.
Once I have generated new material and in the case of a string quartet, I take individual lines of music and start to work on those.
This brings me onto the second method I use to engender spontaneity in my work that involves notation and notational process but is even more concerned with performance and delivery techniques – asynchronicity.
The first part of this process involves working up the material for all four instruments of the quartet in isolation and without reference to each other using the material as comes out of the first-stage process. I do this because I want each instrumental voice to feel like an independent entity with its own nature, dynamic, gestural and structural logic and strategic role to play. I don’t view these individual instruments as playing a supporting role in any harmonic sense to any other instrument – such supporting as arises is incidental and a perceived relationship by the listener rather than an intentioned one [in most instances, at least].
Each part has independent tempi, different bar structures and material occurring at different times. All of these ingredients will run similarly through all four parts but not necessarily simultaneously in real time when the parts are stacked vertically in performance.
This brings me onto an interesting outcome. As the four instrumental parts of the quartet are running at different speeds to each other [this is why the music is asynchronous] I cannot and do not produce scores, that is, I do not attempt to display the vertical alignment of materials in a printed, notational format as it would be a lie, it would attempt to fix something on the page that is not intended to be [so] fixed in real life and real time. A score, whilst being very pretty and very complicated to look at would give the wrong psychological message about what the music is and how it should be approached in performance and sound. A vertical score at some level implies fixed elements – totally fixed, even if the score attempts to mitigate against this using different devices and explanations – the reader will still approach it as a vertically aligned concept which they then have to break to get an impression of what’s really intended. For me this is a bit like putting a square peg into a round hole. It doesn’t work and should be avoided. So, I avoid it. No score.
There is a consequence to this. As there is no score, no one knows what the piece is like. It cannot be presented in standard terms to be read. The music exists in parts only. These are fully notated, but an understanding of what the music is, as a total sound concept can only be realised in performance – that’s when it reveals itself to the listeners [and performers who up until that point of coming together only have the perspective of their own part without contextual reference to a ‘total’ score of the piece they are playing in].
It’s easy to think that the asynchronous nature of this music could result in a total free-for-all, but it doesn’t as I use a cunning device to hold everything flexibly together, structurally, the way I want it to be. Time-code.
Time code is synchronised at the beginning of the piece by each player, all starting at 0.00” on their mobile phone stopwatch apps and runs through each part and acts as a net to prevent temporal drift throughout the piece.
What’s temporal drift? Temporal drift is a term I have developed to describe what occurs when performers imagine the various tempi markings of their music a little incorrectly – too fast or too slow – which, over the duration of the performance of the piece can cause the intended structures of the music to drift apart and change the musical outcomes dramatically due to the accumulation of slower or faster playing. The time code runs in seconds and is in every bar of music in each part. The time code acts as a check to the player’s position in the music at any given point and allows them to reference where they should be in accordance to the time code and adjust their tempi accordingly, speeding up or slowing down to be in approximately the right place at the right time along with everyone else. The time code is not a click track nor is it a straight jacket. First and foremost tempi are intended to be interpreted, to be felt, and the resultant human error is built in as an outcome to the asynchronous nature of the music; the time code just prevents the major temporal drift I referred to earlier.
So why am I bothered about structure if it’s all asynchronous and the processes I have mentioned previously seem to work against fixed structures?
The final stage when I bring all the lines that have been created independently together, is to work with them through another process of assimilation and see what I find, what the connections and contradictions are [both potentially good], what I want to keep, what I want to modify, highlight, recess etc., and undergo the final stages of sculpting the notation [sound] to what I want. It is in this final stage that I work with all layers of the materials as a vertical concept for the first time. It’s like the big reveal!
The beauty of using the materials that have been created through these processes is that they maintain their found object status, they rub up against each other in ways I hadn’t predicted and present me with a rich array of options and choices with what to keep or throw out, with the spontaneity and unpredictability, kinetic freedom, gestural fluidity inherent in the material and the combinations of material largely intact – at least I hope so – and, add to this the flexibility in performance and the constant variables of ideas aligning in somewhat different ways with each iteration of the music and you can see that the idea of spontaneity pervades the methods of building the music and as well as its execution through performance.
So now, full circle – back to the landscape. How have I managed to capture what I set out to in this music; the open landscapes, the sights and sounds, the structures, the very ambience of the places I visited? How is it site-specific?
The simple answer is I don’t know!
I have selected motivic shapes, gestures and kinetic qualities I observed and sketched and translated these into notation – I have been mindful of qualities of sound-environments’ I listened to when out on the chalk – I am aware of that intuitive reaction to place that we describe as ambience, but has all or any of this gone into the music?
There is no way to copy what we see with our eyes directly into music – to make a literal transformation that actually represents one to the other. And even if there were, there’s absolutely no guarantee that any two people would read the same messages from the music, such is the diversity of our perceptions and processing.
This music has no narrative – it tells no story – has no climax, no melody and harmony in the usual sense [neither does a landscape – any such qualities are things we impose upon the land; the land ‘just is!’
And so it is with this string quartet, observation one [ovington down] – it is what it is.
For me as creator of the quartet I can hear, intuit and relive certain aspects of what I experienced on my residency – sort of – there’s also a whole lot more that I just can’t fix in words. Additionally, my perceptions of the piece are now formed around a degree of familiarity with it [as I wrote it] but that doesn’t mean to say the quartet will relate or convey a sense of the chalk landscape for anyone else, most certainly not if they know nothing of the work’s title or origin and it certainly doesn’t make reference to embedded and familiar types of landscape music cliches now culturally accepted by those familiar with the idiom. You may hear larks, bird song; sense the open plains, the tumult of clouds running around the escarpments, the luminescence of sky-blue pungently counterpointed by the white of the chalk – the vistas, perspectives – the movement of air. If you do, that’s great – you’ve brought your story and I have succeeded in facilitating that process.
As with all music, what you hear is up to you, the listener.
And to round off, a little about the paintings.
observatory 1c Acrylic & pencil on paper 420 x 594mm
All the paintings featured here are acrylic on paper, 59.4 x 42.0cm or 23.39 x 16.53 inches [unmounted] and were created in July 2015.
So much of what I have said above about the spontaneity of the process of assimilation, found objects, kinetic and gestural outbursts in composition applies to my approach to painting.
Of course, painting is a 2D process and is not temporal so is very different to composition – and, unlike my asynchronous music that is only revealed when it is performed, across time, the paintings are visible in their entirety and immediacy with all relationships ‘graspable’ from the very first brushstroke and initial mark-making to the last.
These paintings have no linear narrative, they contain many elements of experience all presented simultaneously to the viewer – they are a composite of all my sensual and emotional experiences offered at once, intuitively translated through gesture onto paper – a summation of many places, many times and many feelings presented superimposed, one onto the other in each painting.
The paintings are a subjective reaction to the places I visited and simultaneously, a subjective reaction to the actual surfaces I have created whilst engaged in the act of painting – of making, so much so that the painting becomes the thing – the experience – as it moves further and further away from the actual physical location. My relationship with the painting deepens as I search for a resonance within it that echoes something of my experiences on the residency. The picture is finished [I stop the process of assimilation] when I detect an ambience within it that connects me to the original experience [a wholly intuitive process] and when the physical structure of the painting; colour, form, texture, dynamic etc., reach a point that feels suitably balanced [be it a balance of equality or a balance of inequality]. These judgements are once again instinctual but founded in years of experience that has contributed to, and is currently developing a particular aesthetic.
There is of course no literal relationship between any of this work and the locations I visited, nor should there be; a place is a place, a painting a painting – they are radically different things. As for the music, you will have to form your own opinions about it when it is performed and recorded and you have listened.
The paintings are here to see.
The rest is up to you!
COMPOSER-IN-RESIDENCE TO THE OBSERVATORY [1A WINCHESTER SCIENCE CENTRE]
COMPOSER-IN-RESIDENCE TO THE OBSERVATORY [2A LYMINGTON SALT MARSHES]
Residency 2: Lymington Salt Marshes 12th.- 16th. August 2015
The Lymington Salt Marshes were, in some ways at least, what I expected to see in a low-lying coastal hinterland that was a cross between natural salt marsh and a managed, drained coastal wetland. This was an entirely man-made landscape – in fact, a post-industrial hinterland between the Solent and New Forest, glorious in former times for its salt production through the evaporation of seawater. It is what remains of these industrial workings that gives this landscape its distinctive feel, structure and ambience.
The area itself is bounded between the Solent and across from that, the Isle of White, and to the north, a little inland, the rising contour of the New Forest.
The Observatory buildings were situated on the sea wall about five minutes from the nearest road access at Eight Acre Pond, a spectacular position affording 360º views across the area. The sea wall is regularly walked and part of the Solent Way; additionally, Lymington is a holiday destination for many resulting in a huge footfall from passers by around the Observatory buildings exploring these much-loved walks. I had just arrived on site, unpacking and settling in and found myself immediately inundated with passers by investigating the buildings, looking in and wanting to talk. I’ve never experienced such an instantaneous level of engagement from the public in an arts project. Naturally, the Observatory structures were a new and notable addition to this otherwise flat landscape due to their scale and their position directly to one side of the coastal path. They were not easy to overlook. I spent the first 40 minutes in the Observatory talking to passers by who were interested in who I was, what I was doing there and what the project was about. I must have spoken to about 20 different people in that short time!
This was all very well and good but I really wanted to explore and get a feel for the general area: talking to people wasn’t going to achieve that. I was also mindful that the weather report for the next few days was for torrential rain and thunderstorms and I only had five days to complete my research for the work that was to come. My first day on-site was sunny so I needed to get out and make the most of it.
Mark Drury of SPUD told me about a little private beach on the Solent that was about 10 minutes walk from the Observatory buildings so I headed for that, walking across the salt marshes to reach it.
I liked this little beach – it was unusual inasmuch as it was formed in a man-made curvature of the coastal defences in the sea wall where, over time, shingle and shells had built up to colonise the curve. The rest of this coastline was either seawall with a 30º incline towards the sea or slat marsh, mud or shingle – but none of it particularly suitable to just sit on in the traditional beach fashion. Additionally, the indentation in the sea wall had caused a few shingle banks to form just slightly offshore from the beach itself that encouraged the most hypnotic dance of cross-currents and tidal eddies that were always in motion at the various states of the tide. The surges of water driven through the narrow channel of the Solent with each rise and fall of the tide were fast and powerful making the little beach feel very static in comparison.
Onwards I ventured to the endpoint of my walk today – to the small harbour-like inlet of Keyhaven – pretty, sheltered and full of yachts – and visitors, it made a natural barrier to end the salt marshes, snuggling as it does under the huge shingle arm of Hurst Spit – gatekeeper to the west Solent. The distance between the Observatory buildings and Keyhaven along the coast path was about 3.5 – 4 miles. This walk took in virtually the entire length of the slat marsh area and was a great introduction to the overall structure and fee of the place. I walked back to the Observatory from Keyhaven along a different route to understand the salt marshes from a different perspective.
Upon arriving back and opening up the studio Observatory I was again inundated with people so spent the best part of an hour talking to passers by. It was great to have so may people interested in what was going on and I could have talked non-stop for some considerable time, but, I needed to some head space to digest and reflect upon what I had seen today and how this would influence my approach to future site-specific work based on these experiences.
I headed of for the little beach and some quiet time. I also produced a few ‘summation’ sketches that caught the sites and sounds I had experienced in the simplest, fastest way possible.
Day 1 was completed. I headed back ‘commuted’ to Boscombe where my friend Victoria had allowed me to stay in her house while she was away. The journey took an hour and the traffic was always bad. After the walking and the traffic I was exhausted so bought some food, watched TV, edited my photos from the day, posted on social media and went to bed.
As predicted, day two was wet – very wet. Mercifully the alarmist forecasts for rampant thunderstorms were not fulfilled. I heard only two distant rumbles. That was it. I was relieved; I had misgivings about being hauled up in the largest, tallest structure around in a radius of about half a mile of a very flat and exposed landscape, sporting a small metal chimney and standing on a very large metal base, in a biblical thunderstorm. So I mostly sat inside with the door open, looking out and listening to the sounds of rain falling on the sea, falling on the building and falling onto the ground and the salt marsh lakes; all rather beautiful and delicate. Visitor numbers were understandably down so I was mainly alone apart from the occasional ardent and suitably attired dog-walker who stopped by. The open Observatory building was used very much as a rain shelter by walkers and provided some very welcome protection.
The rain eased off later in the afternoon. I felt a little cabin feverish having been in the Observatory for some hours so ventured to the little beach once again and sat there, cogitated further and sketched a little.
Day 2 was complete. The softness that descended on the landscape through the rain and low cloud muffled sounds, created strange and distant echo’s for seabird-cries and passing ships and made the salt marshes feel contained, close and claustrophobic; a haunting and private world very different from my bright and breezy arrival.
String quartet sketch – incomplete
Torrential rain all night in Boscombe; I thought I was in for a very wet day with little opportunity for exploring. Mercifully, by the time I arrived in Lymington at the Observatory buildings the rain had virtually stopped. It was touch and go whether the dry phase would hold or not but I decided to take a chance and walk out to Hurst Castle, across the 1.5 mile gravel spit that runs between Keyhaven and Milford-on-sea out into the Solent and toward the Isle of Wight. I drove to Keyhaven and walked from there to the castle with my trusty cagoule and compact umbrella, just in case I got caught in a downpour. As it happened, the weather remained dry throughout.
The walking was arduous as only walking on gravel can be. The journey from one end of the spit to the other seemed endless and although my legs were working well I seemed to be walking forwards but going nowhere. The views from the spit were good as it was well elevated above the Keyhaven marshes and the Solent. On my right [on the walk out] I could see the rampant, unrelenting, soulless and hideous development along the south coast stretching from Milford-on-Sea away towards Highcliffe and Bournemouth with cliff-top building dating from the 40s, 50s, and 60s to recent times and on my left, the complex interplay of slat marshes, sea walls and New Forest hinterland beyond – heavily populated with yachts and small boating craft but largely devoid of significant building development. The contrast between the two couldn’t have been more marked. It set a wider context for me to comprehend the salt marshes around Keyhaven and Lymington.
On my way out to Hurst Castle I passed by the yacht park to the west of Keyhaven. Here, the rigging of the many ‘parked’ vessels was rattling, banging, tinkling and generally thrashing about in the breeze making the most wonderful sounds – really musical sounds with varied pitches, multi-layered rhythms, whistlings and hums all rather like the composer Ligeti’s mechanisms but without the musical refinement – the sounds were accelerated in speed and pitch according to the wind speed and gust strength. The aural results were quietly symphonic and certainly sparked off [and consolidated] a whole range of ideas that had been in my head about the new string quartet, its structures and sounds. I had already sketched out some structural ideas for composition in day 1 – 3 along with some ideas of contextual sounds but there were gaps in this thinking. The journey past the yacht club here in Keyhaven had filled in the gap!
Hurst Castle was a very interesting structure [I only explored it externally] but I was more drawn to the natural spit it was built upon and the desolate landscape this shingle and sea shaped world had constructed, especially around the lighthouse and lighthouse keepers cottages. It reminded me a little of the beautiful and unique bleakness of the Dungeness beach area of Kent.
Of particular interest was the graffiti I discovered on the lower walls of a few parts of the castle that were scraped into the soft concrete plastering here and there on the west facing walls [the rest of the castle was constructed with a very hard granite, unsuitable for such scratch-writing] and finding these layers of mark-making beautiful to look at and entertaining to read. A bit like a dog pissing on a lamppost, people had obviously felt the need to mark the spot or their time here in this ‘permanent’ way, year upon year creating many layers of comment and memory.
I took a lot of photos of theses surfaces – very inspirational – by not for this project as they were a little outside the experience of the saltmarsh site-specific area I was looking to work within.
I undertook the long walk back to Keyhaven. I then drove into Lymington. By this time the rain had largely returned. I was in Lymington to explore venues for the premiere of both year one string quartets in the early spring of 2016. I settled upon St. Thomas’ Church in Lymington as a good venue. The first string quartet from this Observatory series, ‘ovington down’ is complete – the next quartet based on my experiences on residency here, yet to be conceived and written.
I returned to the Observatory for a few hours – spoke to some passers by and then went to my [I now felt a sense of ownership] little beach for a few sketches and quiet thoughts and to make my video diary. The rain had eased off again pretty much so I went on my first walk east along the sea wall towards Lymington itself [as opposed to west towards Keyhaven]. The salt marshes are not so impressive in this area and the further one walks east from the Observatory buildings the closer one gets to Lymington and civilisation, but I was pleased to have now walked the entire length of the salt marshes and sea wall.
I completed a lot of walking that day despite the weather being so changeable and was ready to face the traffic and drive back to Boscombe to eat, rest and sleep.
The sun came out! The warmth and brightness was a welcome change to the previous few days of gloomy light levels and repressed activity on the salt marshes so I resolved to stay outside as much as possible. I paid my morning visit to the Observatory building, met a range of people who were passing by and had a number of interesting conversations. I then moved to my little beach, as I wanted to think or at least draw some conclusion to a few questions I had been asking myself. As the weather was good I was not alone at the beach but no one knew who I was so I could inhabit my own space whilst being among others.
The questions I wanted to answer were:
What is so different about this particular landscape to the rolling chalk downland around Winchester?
What are the unique and defining forces and structures that combine to give this landscape its identity, function and ambience?
These may seem obvious and easy questions to answer but a true understanding of the differences would lead to a fundamentally different outcome in the work I would produce for Lymington in comparison to Winchester. For me, part of the measure of success for this residency series is to create work that within my comprehension at least, is truly site-specific. The simple questions – the obviousquestions and conclusions can often be overlooked by more superficial distractions that while symptomatic of the various residency locations will not address the causation of those distinctions.
I have answered these questions in my day 4 and 5 video diaries, but in short, I realised that the dynamic between the still managed waters of the salt marshes was in direct opposition to the tidal and dynamic movement of the Solent itself and although these waterways were connected by an intricate drainage and water control system, the salt marshes were places of complete stillness and the Solent a place of complete movement – and all of this separated from each other by the merest slither of a sea wall, a membrane that separated two dynamically opposed systems, the co-existence of which is the unique environment of the salt marshes.
And the second question of difference – perhaps more to do with the assimilation of an area is related to the confined nature of the salt marshes [it is a relatively small, defined area between the Solent, Lymington and Keyhaven sea walls and slightly higher ground inland] and the unbounded nature of the chalk downland around Winchester that stretched out across the huge area of the South Downs National Park for many miles. Exploring the salt marshes and acquiring a mental map of their structure was a more readily assimilated task then the same for the chalk uplands of Hampshire. Consequently, my sense of getting to know the salt marsh area formed more quickly than the chalk downland as it was clear where the boundaries of this experience existed.
A warm and sunny day.
I enacted my usual routine of heading to the Observatory, opening up for a while and chatting to people then moving away to my beach for final thoughts and reflection on my time at the Observatory.
The conclusions expressed in Day 4 were really formed across the whole residency period. It’s difficult to surgically excise particular thought processes, conclusions and realisations into a daily dissection and appropriately allocate a time-line to those events. The process is organic and evolutionary. Thoughts, notions and ideas are with one all the time and come to the fore or recess accordingly as experience is acquired to reinforce or make redundant such notions.
The experience of being on residency and the ‘opening up’ that is necessitated to fully absorb the experience means that no preconceptions can be held as sacred and everything is up for grabs. There is an intimacy in this process; a deep communication between self and environment. When it is complete it is time to leave.
That time is now.