Updated: Aug 22
The sun rising over the hills in Bad Sankt Leonhard, Carinthia, Austria,
Photo image Amelia Marriette
In May, following the easing of regulations on exercise and time spent outdoors in the UK, Opera North announced Walking Home: Sound Journeys for Lockdown, its commission for BBC Arts and Arts Council England’s Culture in Quarantine programme. Building on the Leeds-based company’s history of award-winning and innovative sound walks and installations, five artists have written new works specifically to be listened to while walking. Crossing folk, jazz, Middle Eastern and African traditions, classical and contemporary music, with a tendency to experiment and to break the confines of genre, the contributors are cellist and composer Abel Selaocoe; qanun virtuoso Maya Youssef; oud player and composer Khyam Allami, vocalist, violinist and songwriter Alice Zawadzki; and accordionist and experimentalist Martin Green of the folk trio Lau.
I received an email via Google Alerts telling me that Opera North was about to launch their project called Walking Home. In the press release Opera North’s Head of Projects, Jo Nockels stated that the spark for the Walking Home commissions came from the “strange alchemy” that they found between walker, place and music that they had discovered in their previous sound journey commissions for the Humber Bridge and River Tyne. I only knew about the project because in 2015 I relocated to Austria, and I discovered that I love to walk. Recently my book Walking into Alchemy: The Transformative Power of Nature was published. In my book, I discuss creativity and place, love, music, art, Shakespeare and, of course, walking. Jo Nockels use of the phrase “strange alchemy” jogged Google’s algorithm and connected my book and Opera North’s wonderful Walking Home project together.
I was instantly drawn to this venture because as well as my passion for walking I began my career as a curator at the Holst Birthplace Museum in Cheltenham and Holst loved to walk – he especially liked to walk and compose. So knowing that taking a story or a tune for a walk works wonders for the creative flow, I contacted Opera North. The compositions are now complete, and I am delighted that a few days ago I was one of the first people to undertake one of the walks while listening to one of the newly composed pieces ahead of their official release date. As well as wanting to blog about this I took my digital recorder along and made an audio piece as it seemed to me to be an immediate way to engage with the project. (To listen to my podcast and to hear Martin Green's piece please click on the links to Soundcloud at the bottom of this post).
I begin before the dawn with Martin Green’s piece called A Place of Crisps and Pianos. Green found that during the lockdown, he had been “getting up earlier and earlier and really enjoying that special period when it feels like there are very few people awake.” He began to venture out at sunrise to record material. It’s 5.30 am when I step out into the cool of the morning the sky is a dark pewter pierced with a little blue, orange light from the lampposts creates an eerie glow. The huge church that stands sentinel over the small town of Bad Sankt Leonhard in the Carinthian region of Austria where I now live is lit up and looks magnificent. The first thing I see is a huge sunflower in our garden that has been threatening to flower for days; I see this as a good sign heralding the sunrise I hope I will see. But there is no sign of the sun yet; if I am going to see it, I must walk quickly through a thick belt of pine trees and over the distant hills towards the east.
I am about to reach the top of the path, near the place where I think the sun will rise. I begin to listen to Martin’s piece I hear his voice and his daughter’s voice – a conversation, some narration, then bird song, some that I would not hear here, then wood pigeons. I wonder if I am hearing them in real-time or on the recording: the geographical distance between the composer who lives in the Shetlands and me collapses, and I feel an immediate connection. One line that is a spoken part of the composition strikes me “but what if the sun doesn’t rise? – I allow myself to stare over the vast edge of this idea – dark, then, in a world of no sun.” My walk today may be one without sun; the sky is dense with thick nimbostratus clouds, but I know that the sun is there. I have faith in that knowledge. Despite the pandemic which suddenly took all certainty from us – the sun has risen and set, but many other things have ceased to be, and the regular progress of our lives has been severely disrupted. If nothing else when some kind of normality returns we will be more aware – we will visit family more, see our friends more regularly, shake hands, hug and laugh with others more freely.
As I walk I can hear in the gentle clanging of cowbells as a herd of creamy-white cows pass me by, in a neat reversal my sonic landscape invades the recorded one providing a tintinnabulation to underscore Green’s composition. On the soundtrack a dog is barking, it’s rather menacing, and at this moment I accidentally walk through a huge network of spiders’ webs, a fortunate and unfortunate parallel with the music. The path is steep, but I come to a dark bank filled with baby ferns which glow bright green in the still poor light, a handkerchief of golden light appears just as the score rises up into a great crescendo the trumpet and tenor horn playing of the Laura Jurd, which takes me completely by surprise – the sheer joy of it - and I find that I have tears in my eyes. I climb a little further just as the clouds clear as the sun rises over the crest of the hill to shine a faintly golden light on the bare trunks of a copse of pine trees. I turn to look back at the path that I have just hiked along. I feel tired yet oddly refreshed. I know that I soon will be walking home.
You can listen to Amelia Marriette’s audio piece about Martin Green’s composition here:
You can listen to Martin Green’s composition here:
On Sunday evening 23rd August on BBC Radio 6 Stuart Maconie will be featuring WALKING HOME on FREAK ZONE
More Information about Opera North here https://www.operanorth.co.uk/watch-online/walking-home-sound-journeys-from-lockdown/
Walking into Alchemy: The Transformative Power of Nature by Amelia Marriette is published by Mereo Books of Cirencester. Visit www.ameliamarriette.com/my-book
For Press and PR enquiries please contact Amelia Marriette via Elly Donovan PR www.ellydonovan.co.uk
I would like to thank Opera North, Martin Green and his producer, Martin Atkinson, for agreeing to share my blog.
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