From November 2017 to November 2018, I was immersed in a project called 13 Moons of Music, supported by the Earth Pathways Seed Fund, during which I took a small Zoom recorder with me (almost) wherever I went and recorded myself and others improvising in the landscape… Here I am sharing with you relections on a favourite moment from each moon-month, which corresponds to a ‘montage’-style playlist on my soundcloud for the project, which you can listen to here:
see track ’13 Moons of Music Montage’
MOON 1: 19th October 17 – 18th November 17 – Tinc y Tannau, nr Furnace, mid-Wales
‘Over Dyfi’ – excerpt A twilit improvisation with Sianed Jones and our two bass viola da gamba, overlooking the sparkling Dyfi estuary from a mossy ‘twmp’ high up in the hills, during our Tinc y Tannau residency at Capel y Graig, Furnace. This was one of our improvisations from that residency that felt most magical and tuned-in to the landscape. Dusk is my favourite time of day, I think, and it was amazing seeing the colours change on the water and street&house lights begin to come on in Aberdyfi, the otherside of the estuary. Listening back to this recording, I was taken back instantly to that place and found myself reflecting on out the land had been carved out by the sea, and how it still was being, slowly, as the estuary filled and emptied it. And who knows what is yet to come? I also wonder what images it brings for listeners who weren’t there with us as we played – how much does image affect our perception of music? Can something of the spirit of place come through in the recorded notes?
dusk over the Dyfi Estuary with a bass viol!
MOON 2: 18th November 17 – 18th December 17 – Bryntyrnol, Machynlleth
‘Full Moon Prayer-Song’
I made this recording after I’d gone outside to do something just before bed and the moon made me sing, so I went to fetch my Zoom and frame drum to share some more song (Gareth ended playing the drum). The sky was so clear and it felt really expansive gazing up at this orb of light, reflective light, reflecting a triangle of its light onto the stream by my feet. In between singing the first time and on this recording, there were tawny owls hooting nearby, but I didn’t hear any whilst singing – maybe you can though? The full moon was so energising; this felt like a power-song for the year ahead, and became part of some prayer-making that Gareth and I did together by the stream.
moon in water…
MOON 3: 18th December 17 – 17th January 18 – yr Wylfa, Machynlleth
‘Watery Rock Drum’
This was taken at the end of a snowy time in Machynlleth – at a favourite place of mine in my ‘milltir sgwar’ / ‘square mile’: under some enormous moss-covered rocks up the hill behind my house, yr Wylfa. I had discovered in October 2017 that the rocks slowly dripped very tiny drops of water and was inspired to bring my drum back to the droplets to hear them speak on its skin. I placed it on the mossy ground directly below the drips, which were mostly coming from about four points on the rock – mostly I left it in position but moved once or twice to catch water from new places. I loved the illusively almost-regular nature of the beat at times and was there, listening and singing with the rock-water-drum for a lot longer than this, and imaging the slow-flow of the trickles of water as it journeyed from rain-state through the soil and moss and then over the faces of the rocks, landing up by me.
I observed that whilst I was there in situe, entranced by the beauty of place and close to the natural sound of water on drum, I was not bothered by the distant traffic noises – it was very meditative and absorbing: as I often find with time spent in the landscape, and particularly when there is an element of natural sound, it felt as though we created a kind of capsule that was quite immune to unwanted sounds, though I was still aware of them. Listening back to the recording, I am slightly more annoyed at the traffic sounds – perhaps the additional necessity of listening through digital technology and being out of context makes it less powerful.
mossy ‘twmp’ near my home in mid-Wales
This whole project has brought up within me the debate of recording in the nature – how much does it – or can it – take away from a sacred quality of connection with the landscape, as opposed to simply listening, co-creating soundscape and not fussing with technology? What do you think?
from our garden stage… wishful thinking, Sunshine!
MOON 4: 17th January 18 – 15th February 18 – Bryntyrnol Garden Stage
‘MOONCHOIR #1 (excerpt)’ This is the very first improvisation of MOONCH0IR, the community element of 13 Moons of Music, inviting people to bring their unique voices and creativity to merge in spontaneous song to honour the full moon and nature all around, and within… Last full moon, the ‘blue super’ moon on January 31st 2018, a group of us spent some time tuning in on our apple tree platform in Machynlleth, mid Wales, before singing with the intention of ‘awakening’, in celebration of the first stirrings of Spring in the winter ground. For more info on MOONCHOIR, contact Ailsa directly or check out the MOONCHOIR Page&Group on Facebook.
from inside the Cuncumen, a special barn with a stream and fireplace where MOONCHOIR sessions normally begin…
MOON 5: 15th February 18– 17th March 18 – Cefn Coch
‘MOONCHOIR #2 (part 2, excerpt)’ MOONCHOIR this month happened in two parts, beginning with four of us down in the Cuncumén, where this photograph was taken, for Part 1, before walking up in the snow by moonlight the hour or two (when sinking into snow!) to Cefn Coch farm, where many drums were brought out for a particularly rousing sing in the white mountains! This is just an excerpt of one of our improvisations there. We were also joined by one of the farm cats, Kitten, who at the end of the recording climbed into the basket which held the Zoom, pawing at the red light of the recording button. I love hearing the beauty of individual voices in this, all interlocking to form a whole. Thanks to all the wonderful beings who joined!
this is the waterfall where my (first) 13 Moons of Music began, and where I swam in track 6…
MOON 7: 16th April 18 – 15th May 18 – Cefn Coch
‘Cuckoo-flute’ I wouldn’t call myself a whistle or recorder ‘player’… But that didn’t stop me here! Seemed like this tiny bird-like instrument was what was needed, somehow the sound of spring, piped barefoot on mossy rock with a view over the Cambrian Wildwood land, Bwlch Corrog. I was joined by a cuckoo as though to affirm this.
another mossy ‘twmp’ – there are lots of these here – in Glaspwll, where I heard the cuckoo.
MOON 8: 15th May 18– 13th June 18 – yr Wylfa, Machynlleth
‘Hawthorn Heartsong’ Recorded not long after MOONCHOIR #5, when me and just one other went and sung words and wordlessly in the thick of a blooming hawthorn, a favourite local tree for both. Sadly I seem to have lost the recording of that session, but found this elaboration – a re-meeting with the tree, so symbolic of this time of year (see Glennie Kindred’s writings on this: ). The words, sung spontaneously, are as follows: …Something stirs, A long old thing buried in furs, A drum behind with worn-through strings, Comes to heal in green of spring. Of the heart something flowers: it is time to love, Of the heart, something flowers: it is time to let go, Of the heart something flowers: it is time to learn.
MOON 9: 13th June 18 – 13th July 18 – yr Wylfa, Machynlleth
‘Tuning into Moss’ Deep, earthy tones, connecting with the moss channels into the ground through my cello spike. Sitting amongst the mossy clumps surrounding an oak – a favourite sit-spot – near my home (and very near the hawthorn from last month’s recording). After my (rather skewiff) final chord here, you can hear the sound of an army helicopter – unfortunately not an uncommon presence in this beautiful valley. What I played after this excerpt, following on from this felt like an angry response to this ‘noise pollution’, and in my spoken notes at the end of this latter music, I voiced reflections on how, perhaps, I could potentially be ‘noise’ to the birds and other wildlife. It is my intention to harmonise with the landscape, and not disturb other creatures – but rather than being too afraid to make sound in my concern for this, I see it rather as a quest of deep listening. Humans are nature too, and in my opinion, sound-making is one of life’s joys and an absolute birthright, so finding ways to liberate the voice and musical skills as part of a process that is highly aware of a collective soundscape and interaction with other living beings – and perhaps even spirits of place – is essential to creating a true ‘harmony’. I think there is lots of potential for listening and soundmaking in the landscape to bring about a greater connectivity and awareness which could have very healing effects on our relationship to the land, in a whole variety of ways…
tuning into moss…
MOON 10: 13th July 18 – 11th August 18 – Green Gathering, Chepstow
‘Ancient Oak’ This was a collaboration with musician and Mindfulness teacher Huw Griffiths from EcoWild – a co-holder of the pioneering Sacred Activists’ Sanctuary at the Green Gathering in Chepstow, August 2018. We sat under (I sat on) an ancient oak, where Huw had laid out sheepskins and blankets for an earlier workshop, creating an inviting gathering-place under this huge, old tree, and tuned in for our first ever improvisation together (we plan for more when paths cross). I love the sounds of the wood-pigeon (or collared dove?) at the start – as though welcoming us to begin – and the bee that flies curiously around the microphone a little way into the recording.
See www.ecowild.org.uk for Huw’s Resonance project
MOON 11: 11th August – 9th September, nr. St David’s, Pembrokeshire Coast Path
‘Chanting Stone’ This was recorded when I was walking on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path with my partner Gareth Fysh-Foskett, who was a Buddhist Monk in the Thai Forest tradition for several years. We happened upon what was marked on the map as a ‘Chanting Stone’. So we sat on it and chanted. Obviously the musical content of this wasn’t improvised as such, but it was certainly a spontaneous response in sound to place. These were the Sanskrit words, and outline of the meaning:
Tayata – ho – muni – maha – Gone beyond homage sage/the knowing great/most venerable
so – being/beingness
possible meanings: Knowing of the deathless-beyond birth and death-synonomous with nirvana; Ongoing unfolding; Something to bring into one’s life; or
In homage to Buddha, the one who is awakened.
An amazing synchronicity was that, after chanting together, Gareth noticed that on the opposite cliff face, the shapes of the rocks looked incredibly like a very sacred statue of the Buddha from Polonnaruwa in Sri Lanka. As though by magic.
the Chanting Stone, nr. St David’s, Pembrokeshire Coast Path
MOON 12: 9th September – 9th October – South Beach, Aberystwyth
‘Chemutengure’ A spontaneous meeting with an old friend Stephen Watts in Aberystwyth. It was a sunny evening – we went to the beach… Stephen has a strong connection with Zimbabwe and had his mbira with him. He started playing and I had a short sea-swim, then joined in with some improvised vocal interludes whilst getting dry. The Shona song Chemutengure was familiar to me from my work with band Ombiviolum. Listening back, I love hearing the rhythm of the waves weaving with the flowing rhythm of the mbira patterns.
a simple sea ‘mandala’
MOON 13: 9th October – 7th November – ‘MOONCHOIR#13’, Tower Hamlets Cemetery, Bow, London
‘Honouring Shadow’ This I recorded at full moon when in London staying in a brilliant housing co-operative in Bow. Just round the corner I found the Tower Hamlets cemetery – ancient and very, very beautiful. It was almost Samhain and I’d just found out about the death of a young, much-loved musician who had lived in Machynlleth – a huge loss to the community. I played and sung amongst the ivy-strewn, crumbling but ornate gravestones to honour those who had passed over, the ancestors, the lost, the shadows, the darkness. Crows joined me. Listening back, I reflected how it is so necessary to ‘listen beyond the ear’, especially in a place where sirens and aeroplanes, trains and traffic, and all the chaos of the city abound. ‘Listening beyond the ear’ has become one of my key practices during my 13 Moons of Music. In many of the locations I have recorded improvisations over this year, there has not been a rich existing natural soundscape, but the place itself has had strong, vibrant energy, and this is what I tune into before making sound myself. Sometimes, too, I perceive an energetic sparseness that reflects, perhaps, a loss of biodiversity. Maybe, just maybe, it is possible to replenish the richness of the natural soundscape once known but lost in places, perhaps in part by listening and co-creating music in honour of the land, through this reclaiming our right to sacred connection – and musicking – with it.
with cello in the cemetery in Bow, London