SQUARE ONE


During summer 2020, post-lockdown, I experimented with a short text score I had written. The score asks the performer to visit rural locations and introduce pink and white noise using a bluetooth speaker, keeping a journal of what happens. Below are some excerpts from mine.


- Score
- The Copse On Kelston Round Hill
- Field nr. Yoxter, Above Cheddar Gorge
- Severn Way, Between Oldbury and Littleton


Score


EQUIPMENT:

1. Portable speaker (I use a Bose Colour II Soundlink, but any with a reasonable volume will do)
2. A playback device with a pink noise file and a white noise file, both of which are at least 15 mins long.

METHOD:

1. Remain in, or travel to, to a recognisably rural location.
2. Play one of the noise files using the playback device and portable speaker, noting down where you put the speaker, how far away you stood, the volume setting and so on.
3. Write down what you do, what you hear, and what happens.


The Copse On Kelston Round Hill



i - Notes prior to playing either file


I have come to a place that was expecting me, and has prepared itself somehow. Perhaps it overheard me reading the score out loud to my girlfriend one evening when I was thinking it through.

I walk once around the hill when I first arrive: a perfectly balanced clump of trees, bushes and grasses, and a clean consistent wind, conspire in generating the purest pink noise I have ever heard in nature. It is constant and it is loud. It is a trick and a gift in equal measure.

A diffident bee.

An anonymous disturber of leaves.

A distant gate tethers the present to the hill.

ii - Pink noise - 1/3 vol. - 1m behind me (seated).

I have created a smallish ghost, a sphere that shrinks and swells in inverse proportion to the wind, but always with a clear and distinct edge.

Here it can be heard, but move just here, or tilt the head, and it cannot - it disappears into the sound of from the copse. Now it is gone for a while, but the wind dies down and it swells and absorbs me. I am trying to become accustomed to it, and not seek its attention.

iii - 2/3 vol. - among the grass.

I have created a smallish black hole. At first just a place, neither temporary nor permanent but outside time. Then, slowly becoming a located absence, as the noise settles into its spot, and burns a hole in the rattle, chatter and shush of the undergrowth.

iv - Full vol. - behind a tree.

This is now an intervention, its locations not sitting with the noise but with its effects.

As I walk to the right, a note created by the interference of another tree rises slowly in pitch, as I walk left it drops back down. It is echoing, changing, reaching out and manipulating. I no longer hear the noise in the world but hear the world through it.

I back away, the wind rises to meet it, and I am outside its influence.


Field nr. Yoxter, Above Cheddar Gorge



i - Notes prior to playing either file

I am half a mile up a public bridle path, leading off the road to Cheddar Gorge. In the distance, to the west, a low tone creates an edge to the audible. It may be farm machinery, the motorway, or the bustle of Cheddar, I can't tell. I sit on a knoll of chalky soil surrounded on all sides by long grass which throws up the pleasingly distributed chk chk chk chk of hundreds of insects. It places me on a sort of island.

On the track behind me, a Land Rover arrives and the driver starts sounding the horn in rapid sequences - signalling, I thin, to the cows in the field beyond that it is breakfast time. I wonder what rhythms and intensities are reserved for this. Then comes the distant gate, then a woodpigeon flies low overhead, each downbeat of its wings making a whistling, squeaking sound.

ii - Pink Noise - a little under 1/3 vol. - 3m behind me.

Now there is nothing behind me - the low tone, gone. My sense of hearing now only functions in front of me and to the sides. Within this field I can still hear things I cannot see, but my hearing has a periphery as does my vision.

In this peripheral zone, sounds take on a human quality: they are indistinct, but my ears push the possibility that they are of human origin to the front of the list of potential sources. A fly a few metres away, one or two farm animals calling out rhythmically, the distant gate - all at first are voices, and then somewhow revealed not to be.

A large, low, white cloud approaches below a distant sky. It brings the noise back into presence by endorsing it - it could too easily be the sound of the cloud, distant, barrelling, churning but without parts. The noise becomes the cloud's inverse, and the fact of the cloud's silence is accentuated and made anomalous.

iii - White Noise - full vol. - between two bushes, hidden in the grass.



I simply stand and try to think through its incongruity. To my ear it has a speed to it that sets it apart - too much motion, too much energy to adhere to the landscape, and so it plunges a hole in the floor, with far more force than it did at Kelston.


Severn Way, between Oldbury and Littleton.



i - Pink Noise - 1/3 vol. - 8m away on a long straight levee.

At this distance, this noise kicks and hisses and pulses, knocked about by the wind. The volume, tone and timbre are all sculpted into jaunty rhythms on the edge of hearing.

If I walk another metre away, the sound is lost altogether, if I move closer it settles into a constant. I must sit here.

Two things happen as the wind rises above a certain threshold: the sound from the speaker is disrupted and degraded further into bitty bursts, and as it degrades the wind also brings into voice a nearby cornfield, which creates an almost indistinguishable noise to one the lost. Pink noise leaps through the air from the speaker to the cornfield and back, and from the speaker to the cornfield and back.

ii - White Noise - full vol. - 1m away.


I can now be among the trees and the fields in silence.

I can't hear the roar of the Severn Bridge.
I can't hear the tractor's pushy engine.
I can't hear the swarms of flies that dance around the cowshit.

All is still.










Copyright 2020, Hector MacInnes. All Rights Reserved.