7th December 2015 (…this has been a bit of a ‘lost’ fieldtrip, now found and restored).
The morning of the field trip I am distracted by life-admin, some stressful elements to being a rental tenant, and trying to do something about the disempowering and precarious nature of it. So I do enough, for today, and look up the Site Singing blog. I read the previous article for Over Bridge, and I am united with my memories of first discovering the bridge. I feel a thirst to visit it again. Adrenalin kicks in and I get ready quickly. I take my bicycle this time, and as I leave the flat I am very conscious of these being the first steps that will take me to that site, a place so vivid in my imagination its easy to forget it’s a physical place that can be reached one step after another. Its not just a dream-like place. I take a moment with these thoughts, smile, and set off.
I ride to Temple Meads station, and on the train I get my sketchbook out to capture the feel of the moment. Strange how I always feel a little nervous setting out on a field trip. What if the day is about to be special? What if nothing will come of it? Nervous either way. It will be what it is, and I can just be who I am. Its rare, settle into it.
I realise I have forgotten the pencil case with my charcoal pencil in, the one that’s been on every field trip so far. So many little rituals make up life and practice, and I suddenly felt a bit unsure of the trip without it. I noted the feeling, and thought, ok I will just work with what I have. Today I have to use colour. There it is. Out of my comfort zone. Fine. (Another smile).
It is very un-wintery for December, there is a bright blue sky but in fact there has been rain and flooding, and a death, a drowning. I change trains. It has got colder, the air is cold with water. Its greying. I wait 42 minutes on a platform in Cheltenham to change trains, the warmth of the jacket has a delicious self sufficiency. On the train, I pass through Cam and Dursley station, the stop for Uley long barrow (known locally as Hetty Pegler’s Tump). I say hi.
I ride from Gloucester station and feel the freedom that cycling brings. It has turned colder still. I notice that my knees are sore from over-working at a miserable money-job that I am trying to work my way out of. My back is sore too, and riding to the bridge feels increasingly like looking after myself, being myself, feeling free. The warmth of my jacket again helps me settle into the pleasure of that. All I need to think about was is field trip, exploring site and sound, using my voice which always reassures and nourishes me. No need to paint on a happy face and just get through. This is about experiencing, seeing what it brings on this, my only full day off in weeks. I can be the Site Singing person all day. To be the artist I am.
Cycling the now familiar route, through the shopping centre in Gloucester, past the Cathedral that I have still never been in (note: I did correct this eventually, see the blog entry for Gloucster Cathedral and Over Bridge here). Past an old customs house, I have read that Gloucester, though inland, has basically a port history, due to the hundreds of years of river traffic and trade. I enjoy the curves and many loops and bridges of the cycle path. Overlaps, parallel paths, the very first colours of a setting winter sun, a pearly amber colour breathing itself into the sky above me and colouring the hairs that stray and blow in front of my face. Free. I love getting blinded by light shafts every now and then as I follow the signs to Over. I start to say out loud “over and over and over and over…”.
I get to the heavy modern road, so busy and anonymously droning that its calming, and then there it is. Its dramatic, it hasn’t diminished in that. Silent and lonely but still dramatic. I stand and watch it for a while. Impressed. And smitten. The river is fast, and its high. Dangerous. Fatal. The storms have gone up to a D this year, Desmond. The roof in our flat has been leaking, rain pouring in, and it’s been distressing. I reach the bridge, there as before, like a neglected friend. It feels protective today, a wind break, raising me above the treacherous current. I turn and the wind whips my face, fills my ears with sound. I walk across and down beside the bridge, past leafless trees. The whole place looks monochrome, bare and colourless. I think of my coloured pencils. Doesn’t feel like I have the right tools. The bridge and its surroundings seem to blend, like its something huge in hiding. Camouflage. Or maybe it’s just becoming its environment. A sleeping stone giant, indistinguishable. The vanishing skeleton of a huge beast of the ages.
It feels barren here, stone and rotting plants. Brambles and teasel.
Its sad here today, I mean I am sad here today. I can feel my sadness here today. I can be in it, nestle into it. Tell the bridge about it. This sad lonely bridge. It’s also strangely calm. The cold wind and the high water. The rain starts and falls in fat drops, tear-like. Bridges and rivers appear in many songs and stories as places of tragedy. The drops of rain are so loud, louder than the road it seems. It cuts me off from those speeding by in cars, draws a curtain around me. The scent of moulding earth is heady. I move into the alcove and short tunnel of the bridge and look out.
It really is calm. There’s an odd atmosphere. The birds have stopped making sound. The sky is going from amber to orange, a pearly opaque orange. It’s changing every second in front of my eyes. Can it rain any harder? Yes it can, like a switch turning up. I look out the other side of the alcove, towards the railway bridge, and feel physically overwhelmed by sadness. The strange light is intensifying. I turn back and walk to the other end of the alcove, and my eyes widen as in front of me… in those few seconds, the brightest rainbow possible has formed in an arc right across my field of vision. It reaches across from the modern bridge to this one. A whole arc, like a bridge in the sky.
It is so strong, every colour rich and distinct, my eyeballs are cold from being wide and my mouth is cold from being open. I make an involuntary, un-pitched sound, a kind of gasp. The sky is a combination of peach and electric blue. I was literally lost for words, weak at the knees. So happy. So happy. What a sequence of events. It feels unbelievable. The wind feels fresh and strong, it moving things on so fast.
A crow lands on a branch near me and cries out, it shocks me alert. It feels like something has altered. I tried to photograph the rainbow but it was already fading. I have a sonic memory of hearing myself gasp, the sound still hanging in the air. I retreat back into the alcove tunnel and access the vocal gasp, work with it, take out my recorder, over and over… turning my head in response to the acoustics and the wind. As I pushed the sound out more and more, I found I was bent over, crow-like. Looking up into the sky, crows are straining in the wind, hanging in the air not moving forward.
I went back on top of the bridge. I lay face down in the middle of the abandoned road, my body in line with the flow of the river beneath me, way down under the stone. The involuntary vocal sound this time was an exhale, long and satisfied. My mouth touching the road directly, tasting moss and rain. I close my eyes and imagine the water rushing beneath me. And me just held in the air above it. I think about the heights of the two cord lines of this bridge, and water slamming into the crafted edges of the ridge and Telford’s brilliant design withstanding it all. But the bridge still got abandoned, even though it never broke.
I record, thought the wind is so loud. The crows spiral above me now, it all feels uncanny. I wonder how I look to them, imagine that. I sit up and try and write, my hands are so cold I can hardly grip the pen but I make marks anyway.
Its starting to get dark. I leave.
I ride back to the station, sit waiting and wolfing down my packed lunch, hair in knots from the wind, knees holding the cold, ears boiling hot. So much about visiting these sites is about experiencing all the sensations of a visit, including wind, rain, sun, hills. It all glows in me afterwards. I feel that today I have gone through a sequence of events, a little era, which could have only happened in that place, today. I allowed my natural response, my voice, to for the basis of expressing it in sound, in the body. I imagine each part of the day as a chord in a sequence…
I draw in my sketch book on the train home. In colour. Who knew that colour would be so appropriate today. I read the first chapter of Ruin Lust (Brian Dillon, Tate Publishing 2014).
“Ruins are not static […] ruins allow us to set ourselves loose in time, to hover among past, present and future.”
“Hail, solitary ruins! Holy sepulchres and silent walls! You I invoke; to you I address my prayer” Comte de Volney , Les Ruines, 1792
Back in the city, the seasonal lights look picturesque. It all looks brand new to me.
A rainbow at Over Bridge
Singing into the stone of Over Bridge (imagined from a crows-eye view above)
As is described above, I was standing below the bridge to shelter from a rainstorm, and when it stopped, the light turned a strange peachy-orange colour. I looked out, and rainbow rapidly was revealed in the sky. When I turned around and saw it, it literally took my breath away, and made an involuntary vocal exclaimation. This resonated in the acoustics of the space, so I used that intake of breath / gasp sound as the basis for some vocal explorations in the space where I was – the small niche under the bridge.
I constructued it by splicing together only the intakes of breath from my recording, and then using only one single exhalation at the end. It is in 2 layers (panned left and right, headphones recommended), one of which is actually treated with a subtle delaying and pitch lowering effect, which creates a slightly sinister gruff ‘response’ sound. This is the first time I have done this on a Site Singing sound-work, and it respresents the first small experiment in that direction.
As is described above, I went to the top of the bridge and was all alone. I lay down and, having just worked with the breath below the bridge, lay face down in the middle of the bridge, with my face and lips touching the stone cold surface, and imagined the swollen river rushing beneath me, I tried to see with my minds eye, through the stone material of the bridge, and imagined myself just suspended in the air above the river. There I lay, with birds passing overhead, as I breathed into, and out through, the stone, noticing how my breath slowed right down the longer I lay there, tasting the rainy surface.
This piece is in 2 layers panned left to right to give the sensation of the sound ‘crossing’ over a bridge (headphones recommended), This piece is actually treated with a subtle delaying and pitch lowering effect. This is the first time I have done this on a Site Singing sound-work, and it respresents the first small experiment in that direction.