WHAT IS SOUNDMAPPING / BETH YW MAPIO SAIN?

'Soundmapping' can be many things! Since launching into my own soundmapping journey - not having heard the term before - I have discovered it is quite a widely-used phrase, encompassing scientific, artistic and therapeutic ventures (which often, naturally, cross-pollinate) all over the world that respond to sounds in our environment in some way.


This can include drawing - such as making freestyle marks that correspond with the qualities of the sounds heard, writing - such as stream-of-consciousness prose, or made-up words that evoke the audible, and digitally recording the soundscape. These are the primary ways I am encouraging people to be involved in 'Soundmapping Our 5 Square Miles' - and can be done from home, with a window open, from a garden or sit spot (a favourite place regularly visited to listen) or on a 'soundwalk' in your locale. I also invite people to draw or write from your memories of sound, especially of a place in Wales you know or knew well, if this better suits you as a way to take part.


Soundmapping could also include scientific spectrograms, used by naturalists to document the objective sound waves of what is present in an environment - which can be used to show increases or decrease in species or biodiversity in an area. So, soundmapping can be done in a figurative or abstract way, depending on the intention. I welcome both in your contributions for this project - all will help to inspire my final piece of musical storytelling, but I will specifically be using the more abstract drawings (with lines / shapes on paper) as 'graphic scores' that could be read like music, as part of the piece.


So the word 'Soundmapping' has infinite potential, in a way, but here I am going to share where I am coming from, and what & who inspired me to create this wild and ambitious project, finishing up with some additional links to others' work that inspires or intrigues me.


PERSONAL INSPIRATION

Since I was a young child, I have always had a strong connection with the wild world outside, growing up with grandparents both in the country AND by the seaside in the Dyfi Valley (it has taken me a lot longer to acknowledge my inner wild landscape but that is, perhaps, another story...).

Going through a Western Classical education on the 'cello taught me a lot about listening to other musicians, picking up on subtleties of sound around me, to play well in time with all the nuances required of 'high art'. Although traditional concert hall culture can - very arguably - be regarded as somewhat disconnected from the 'natural world', the art of listening itself is key to perceiving both cultured and wild sound (whatever those terms really mean - more on that in another post, perhaps!). It just depends what we are listening for...


Of course, there are also huge elements of Classical musical world that are extremely rooted in nature - for instance, Beethoven's Pastorale Symphony, or Debussy's La Mer, or even Messiaen's transcriptions of birdsong into his very own - potentially very challenging - sound world (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6Izpdkjrhk. This music was all a part of my early and pretty diverse musical training, and so very formative.


At music college, I began to play more 'Contemporary Classical' repertoire and explore the art of improvisation lot more, something that is highly responsive in an entirely different way to other musicians and one's surroundings.

Excited and with revelation, I began to think outside of the box and draft a funding application for me and some of my improvising student friends to go travelling, by public transport / on a handmade cart of sorts to 'Sound the Slow-road', responding to our journey through improvised music, and taking field recordings. {However, full of a quite debilitating self-doubt back then, I never even sent it in.}


I also started to be introduced to the study of different musical cultures from around the world, learning how varied, interesting and even magical music could be, and how music and sound could be integrally woven with the landscape.


I moved on with this to begin studying a Masters in 'Ethnomusicology' at SOAS in London, where my interest in music and landscape has grown immensely, through study of Mongolian and Tuvan music which so essentially comes from a connection with the spirit(s) of the land, and Saami joiking, where song conjures the essence of places and or of people in their own unique way.


Meanwhile I have also done short courses with the Tonalis music centre with teachers Michael Deason-Barrow and Lorin Parry, who have taught me so much experientially about connecting through sound with the natural world. In one one these courses they took participants on a short 'sound-walk', or a kind of 'treasure-hunt' where we followed listening prompts in the environment to guide us through the landscape. Tonalis also introduced me to other artistic work that connects people with their natural surroundings, as well the therapeutic potential of this.


I had already begun exploring the realm of 'vocal improvising' - first running workshops at the International Street Choirs festival, later establishing regular sessions for people to explore voicing their 'wilds within' from my studio in Aberystwyth, and then moving more deeply into connection with the land when I formed MOONCHOIR in 2017, as part of a year long sonic diary of musical improvisation in the landscape called 13 Moons of Music (which was gratefully supported by the Earth Pathways Seed Fund). I found that people who came terrified of singing and would not dare to call themselves singers were leaving feeling massively liberated! This was a joyous discovery and mirrored my own experience of transitioning from being a classical-only cellist, tied to reading from sheet music, to a freed-up musician, able to listen to and respond to the world around me, and fully accessing my own wild musicianship.


(You can see details of my other recent and current projects that journeyed from here on the rest of my website!)


So here I am, in the midst of this exciting new opportunity to share with others my passion for connecting through sound with our surroundings, and particularly the natural world. And the key is, above anything else, the art of LISTENING. Please see previous and upcoming posts for more on this!


INSPIRATION

Tonalis Music Centre - http://www.tonalismusic.co.uk


R. Murray Schafer - Canadian composer, writer, music educator and environmentalist


Bernie Krause - American musician and soundscape ecologist, who has done amazing work documenting changes in biodiversity by returning to the same geographical locations over long periods of time. I recommend reading his book 'The Great Animal Orchestra'.

www.wildsanctuary.com


Viv Corringham - British-born US-based singer I found out about quite recently, who has an ongoing project called 'Shadow-walks', accompanying people on walks in their local area and composing from the experience - http://vivcorringham.org


Other books I love: Where Rivers and Mountains Sing: Sound, Music, and Nomadism in Tuva and Beyond by Theodore Levin


WILD, by Jay Griffiths. Includes such beautiful, detailed passages on perceiving wild soundscapes on her eloquently shared travels around the world.











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© 2017 Ailsa Mair Hughes