In February 2015, I revisited Stoney Littleton Long Barrow.
From my note book:
Writing while sitting in a field below the barrow. I am sitting exactly where I ate before, to what sounds like gun shots. Lambs now. See the wrong path up to the peak I took last time. Now I know where Stoney Littleton is I saw if from afar, all along the small roads here. It holds a commanding position yet it lies so close to the ground, hugging the peak. The sun is breaking through thick cloud, picking the barrow out from the rest of the landscape, strangely, shining in a single patch right on it. It’s a funny thought, but its like it’s saying ‘hi’. Theres nobody else around.
I walk down to where I recorded the bees last time, by the stream. Those flowers are lying dead and brown on the bank, it still looks bare from winter. No bees, just a cold fast stream, on its way, not looking back, passing me by.
I feel oddly nervous, like on a date. It feels good to come back, having thought about this place so much. The way is known but I am still finding and trying different walking routes here. A fair bit of walking along and through fields, thick sticky soil and some rotten vegetables. I got really shocked by a pheasant clucking loudly and flapping into flight. Potatoes I think, that have rotted in the soil. To come in a car would involve none of this, but this is what I am doing.
A third gun shot. This time I got the train to Bath and got a bus to Peasdown St John, so I could orientate myself by the high street. When I arrived before I came in through a section of very uniform housing and go so lost. This village is even shaped like a triangle, a Bermuda triangle. But I think I am getting a handle on it. I got off the bus near a kennels and walked along to the junction at the bottom right of the outskirt of the village. Having come in via the high street (the top right corner) at least I know which way up I am. Anyway, that’s just thinking aloud – back to where I am.
Its not Spring yet, but I can see the early signs; snowdrops, catkins. A cold wind though. Again I get a wave of nerves at meeting Stoney Littleton again, to show it the work I have done. I have brought the sound sketches on an ipod to play at, around, in the barrow, I am not sure, I will see how it feels. Will it feel wrong to listen to it on headphones in the barrow? To bring that stuff in there?
I brought a bigger lunch box this time. I found I got hungry before. The thought of walking back in the dark is strange, across those fields, or on those lanes. I should keep track of time but when I am here I just cant.
There are people up there, going up to the barrow. I will hang back.
Later, having listened to the sound sketch from my last visit through headphones inside the barrow: That was moving. I feel different, that was hard to describe. Listening to my track, with its left and right panning matching the chambers where I recorded the sound, I advanced into the barrow. The stones that I can hear moving in the track are still exactly where I left them. This works, it really felt like it worked. Hearing the voice that was sung here, I forget its mine, I lose that self-consciousness. I felt a strong relationship between the body and being there, it felt personal, with each distinctive chamber having its own sound, its own feel. Like they are singing at you. By the time I got to the end the opening out of the voice felt just right, and directly related to how I felt, where I was. Then the track ended, and I was just left there. Do I need to bring the visitor back out with the voice too?
Walking away from the site: I feel the sound sketch I made, and the way it unfolds in relation to the left and right chambers as you go deeper into the barrow, is a valid response, in essence I think it works. This is a great feeling. And a relief. It especially works as the space is so constricted, you can only go in face first, in that way, and so if everyone has to move in the same way when inside, the sound work can really use that, unlike in spaces like the Tithe Barn or Over Bridge, where peoples movements are less predictable, less restricted.
Listening through headphones in the barrow felt very intimate, it really makes the imagination go, and makes me feel that people have been there before. That people have been there and felt this place is important, and that’s the main thing to feel and understand. I feel I need to convey a dignity and a gravitas, to respect this as a burial site, even if the bones are gone. It’s a space that is not only about Neolithic history, its here now, and people don’t change so much that this place has no meaning or purpose any more, even if its just individual or personal meaning. After doing that today, I feel closer to the site than ever.
Note: these tracks have some fairly quiet layers within them, and are spatially arranged, so for the best experience use headphones.
Both tracks are composite arrangements of field recordings, or as I call them, ‘sound-sketches’.
Track 1: (0.44 min) CA
It being winter / early spring this time, the barrow is different – wetness has seeped into the earth and it is dripping inside the barrow in a steady drip. I recorded this wonderful sound, and overlaid seven versions (one for each chamber).
Track 2: (2.10 min) CA
This sound sketch combines a single track of drips, and layerings of voice, in which i was experimenting with my lower range (thinking about the baritone range of resonance and archeo-acoustic findings, see previous blog entry). I sang low enough that my whole chest, and even my upper arms, had strong vibrations in them, and i let this guide me. I moved near and far from the recorder, so the variations in volume are all about the physicality and size of the interior of the barrow, not about editing the volume. I did however put the voice tracks all equally low in the mix, to give them a generally distant feel.
Next post: returning to Bradford On Avon Tithe Barn