My Words Trace a Path: Encounters with place through voice, performance and field recording

PHD THESIS






PREFACE:

It is late May and I am walking along the Kingston Ridge towards the last stretch of the South Downs Way, before it meets the English Channel. As I walk I am kicking myself for leaving behind my recording equipment while the wind plays tones through the metal tubes of an old gate. Even on a still day, the wind is felt high up on these hills.

I am walking to think of how to introduce the work that has formed during the last five years of my life. As it has been primarily concerned with place, a high lookout point like this seemed to be the best way to spark my ideas. Firstly, I notice my own listening up here: the different tones that pass through the gate in the wind. When I pass over the ridge and go down onto the floodplain of the river Ouse, I hear the baby cygnets calling to one another. Further along the river I hear the cars passing over the flyover above, were underneath 'to all the gangsta hikers' is graffitied on a concrete wall.

But, as I will discuss in Chapter 2 of this thesis, how I linguistically frame these sounds will affect my listening. For example, a typical framing of the sounds of the cars might be 'noisy', whereas the cygnets might be 'cute', 'delightful', or even just 'unusual'. I thought of the word 'singing' when I heard the gate, which interestingly frames this sound in relation to Chapter 3 of this thesis, which is concerned with disembodied voice.

Is the sound of the gate made more human when described as 'singing' as opposed to 'sounding'? And, if I had taken my recorder with me, I would have split this 'singing' from its source, or body, with a view to editing and processing it within the liminal state of the studio. Only then, if we apply Arnold van Gannep’s rights de passage as in Chapter 3, could it find its new 'state' in an audio work.

And how might I map this sound, or rather as Chapter 4 advocates, this listening experience? What do these gate tones tell me about where I am, and just as importantly, who I am? How does mapping my listening experience affect the listening experiences of others? If this map, or even simply a sound work, is made using my recording of the gate, it might inevitably become a memorial to that moment in time and space, as discussed in Chapter 5. This listening experience becomes frozen as a sonic relic to an ever deteriorating gate structure, and my ever deteriorating listening.

As with the places I encountered during my time on Harris, walking took me here today, and propelled my engagement with my other senses. I understand this PhD as being about all of these facets that make up our experience of being in place. But subsequently, walking here today I understand this work has been primarily, therefore, concerned with sense.

I am under the belief that there are many senses other than the widely acknowledged sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. We often speak of a 'sense of place', or a 'sense of self', and yet in Western culture, we overlook place and self as senses in themselves. In this thesis, these senses are in fact articulated by Dennis Wood’s 'whole-body' cartography, Yi Fu Tuan’s 'pause' in place, John K Wright's early identification of Geosophy and Dee Heddon's autotopography. These are all concerned with the senses of place and self. I have often found it hard to find words to describe my experience of these senses while sitting at a desk. Perhaps as I have grown and matured, in walking I have attempted to follow their unfixed and ephemeral qualities.

Here, out on the path, I can pause, reflect and follow the shifting of my mind. But I can also be removed or reframed from my gender, my age, my abilities and my failings. I can take my time to sense self, to sense place, to form these things in my mouth, and spread my words across my route. It is in these senses of self and place that I see a network and a whole of markers of thought, experience and action, that manifest both inside and outside my body and my mind. They range from the emotional to the bland, the unique to the unpleasant; and I understand that I communicate them best when my words trace a path.



Access to the full thesis can be found here >>