journeys into haunted landscapes for voices and sound
(page in progress)
Some years back, I was invited to contribute to a nationwide multi-media project, featuring diverse locations of each contributor's choice. Its working title was Re-enchantment, and its guiding principle was to awaken the visitor to some deeper dimension of each place. My earliest thought was to compose a soundscape for each of my chosen sites, to be digitally stored for use rather as the audio-guide we find at a museum of a castle. Each button would touch into hearing a distinct track of sounds and voices from a different aspect of that location's past: an audio version of the fleeting 'place-print' some people see - the18th century maidservant passing through a modern wall, and the like.
The project didn't materialise, but I had begun my part of it, and I worked on alone. Gradually ten distinct locations chose themselves, starting from the centre of England and tracing a roughly elliptical path sunwise out through Wessex, Cornwall, Wales, Ireland, Scotland... to return southward to the river on whose bank it had begun. I originally imagined them as a set of miniatures, my own 'late Brahms intermezzi', but they grew to symphonic scale. The audio-guide principle remained - strictly 'audio' therefore, rather than radio - but each piece uses the medium in its own technically distinct way. They are:
1. River, of Course
An invisible presence haunts a world-famous river-crossing, bound there these past two thousand years by guilt and shame for a dreadful betrayal he has done. Layer by historical layer, the celebrated name of the locatio9n 8is brought into the light.
2. Off the Motorway
A lonely 11th century church, on a hill overlooking the M40 in Warwickshire, draws us into a dreamlike audio-tour of her increasingly disquieting interior... and a transgressive secret is revealed.
Josie Lawrence Toby Jones
3. Grims Ditch
The affronted demon of an ancient Wessex earthwork tells us how she has deconstructed a superficial and arrogant academic who has taken her name in vain.
Juliet Stevenson Toby Jones Jack Wilkinson
4. From the Stone Age
On the South Downs, in what some call a 'thin' place, a young student on a field project falls 'through' into a Stone Age time and identity from which she cannot escape.
This Neolithic place-print is itself haunted by sounds from a parallel place-print from 1919: an aging composer, despised by modernist critics as 'from the Stone Age', rehearsing an elegiac new work in his night garden.
In far West Cornwall, a hidden path guids us through its midsummer vegetation to a remote pagan 'sacred site -- a nemeton, in the Ancient British Celtic language.
6. These Clouded Hills
The feelings and thoughts of 16-years-old Mary Jones as, in September 1800, she walks mostly barefoot 25 miles over Cadair Idris to Bala to buy a copy of the newly translated Welsh Bible.
This is given also in a Weldh translation by Gweneira Raw-Rees.
7. To the Waters and the Wild
An adolescent boy 'between two worlds', half English half Irish, happens on a lonely Ulster mountain lough, and falls in thrall to the spirit that dwells there, beguiling, merciless..
Frances Tomelty Stephen Rea
8. Where There is No More Sea
In May 1665, for refusing to swear the loyal oath 'God save the King', to them a blasphemy, two Covenanter women are roped to stakes out on the estuary sands to await drowning by the incoming tide. The thoughts and feelings of the younger of them, Margaret Wilson.
9. Here We Stay
To the Derbyshire hill-village of Eyam, brought from plague-smitten London in a consignment of cloth, the deadly bacillus has come. In a startling act of civic responsibility and self-sacrifice, the villagers quarantine themselves to contain the infection and save the wider sommunity.
Charlotte Cornwell Jack Wilkinson
10. Poison Cross
A Polish long-distance lorry-driver is on the last leg of a run from from Krakow to a Warwickshire retail park. His satnav begins to pick up signals -- and soon, atrocious images -- from a savage conflict in Roman British times. Gradually his vehicle and he himself are drawn into that murderous warscape...
The original commissioner of what was to become this sequence was Gareth Evans, currently Film Curator at the Whitechapel Gallery. Around 2015, their cause began to be taken up by Jack McNamara, then Artistic Director of the New Perspectives touring theatre company, of Nottingham, when he produced #9 in 'oratorio' presentation at the Parish Church in Eyam itself. In 2016 he introduced ##1, 2, 3 and 7 in prepared public reading at the Print Room Theatre, London; and in June 2017 #8 at the National Film Theatre. Subsequently, recording of the entire series was completed, with consummate soundscaping by Adam McReady, and stellar performers, and with a hauinting film-dimension by Grant Gee. . .