Reflections on the river

FLOW – A morning stream of sonic interactions, river songs and vinyl.

Collective connective musical memories emerge from an assemblage of old record players, vinyl records, local recordings and sound pictures. 

FLOW seeks to connect people and places through a process of listening, participation and response.

I wanted to create a work that followed the river Teifi’s journey, taking a sonic walk along the river through field recordings made between my home town of Aberteifi and the festival, while drawing on local recordings of mine from previous projects based on the river (Deuair & Peter Stevenson – The Talking Tree), vinyl records referring to the river and other places on it’s route (Vernon a Gwynfor – Taith Teifi), and recordings of my late friend Lou who loved the river and was inspired to write a number of songs relating to it.  I walked along the river Teifi, reflecting on its journey and mine, both geographically and temporally.  Recording along the way, gathering a variety of sounds – the water, the trees, the wildlife and myself in the landscape.

I used to walk the footpath along the river with Lou talking and listening and I remembered a song she wrote called ‘Bright Rivers’ and thought perhaps to use that in some way.  While looking for that I found a song simply titled ‘The River’ in an archived folder labelled 11 early tracks.  It was from Lou’s first ever demo recording session, recorded at Fflach studios, Cardigan in around 1992.  Simple, a bit rough, and unique those recordings are the only ones with Lou playing her own guitar accompaniment.  It has an energy that reflects her youthfulness and her passion for singing and writing songs.  There was also a version of ‘Moon River’ with Katherine Crowe, recorded in Cardigan with Jon Turner at Backbedroom studios in around 1998, it’s particularly poignant as both Jon and Kathryn have also died in the last 10 years.

Through this the work took on a theme of loss, of constant change, movement and personal reflection.  Forming as the body of source material grew, a sequence of sounds started to suggest itself.  Starting with local recordings and those personal memories and sounds, the idea was that it would becoming more national and collective before reaching out toward international and universal.

Starting the work with a precomposed track made from field recordings and my local recordings, for about 10 minutes it played through the local area towards a collection of records.  The records were selected using my database, searching for words connected to rivers – river, stream, brook, afon, creek, nant etc. and names of rivers – Thames, Tyne, Avon, Teifi, Usk, Severn, Mississippi, Colorado, Niagara, Nile, Danube etc.  Others were selected because they had rivers on the cover (see below and previous posts).

From this eclectic collection of vinyl I selected and mixed a few choice bits before allowing the work to become less structured and deliberate, embracing random loops from the collection.  At about 20 minutes I opened up the mix to the audience and invited them to come and join in the selection and playing of the records for the remaining period.

All the while the room was lit in one corner by projected video of water reflections and ripples of streams, a series of 3 screens with headphones played video of previous works made on the Teifi, Wye and Severn.  One included new videos made for the festival, 3 vinyl records playing videos, 2 filmed playing in the locations pictured on their sleeves (Cwm Allt Cafan & Cenarth) and one the Vernon a Gwynfor song ‘Taith Teifi’ playing in the studio.  Another screen showed ‘Sometimes I live by a lake’, a slideshow of photographs taken during my years living in Llechryd, mostly looking out towards the river and Abercych.  Adjacent to the installation of turntables and screens was a stream of vinyl records pooling then winding across the floor, inviting careful steps to explore its journey through the space.

Vinyl Floor_Andrew Filmer

Vinyl stream – Photo by Andrew Filmer

The process and legacy of the work has, for me, created a keen sense of connection to the river and the surrounding area, a feeling of being part of the artistic continuum existing in the teifi valley.  A community and practice connecting us all both locally and to the wider cultural landscape.

The following were either shown in the space during the installation or were used in the composition.

Thinking on rivers as a theme I also remembered one of the last poems written by my Mum during her last year, a difficult but rich time of reflection filled with creativity and kindness.  https://lizwhittaker.wordpress.com/more/the-dancer-on-the-river-of-light/

 

For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

Khalil Gibran

 

The Christmas Variations @ Bara Menyn

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A collection of vinyl first shown in Oriel Blodau Bach earlier this year.

Born near Llandysul at Christmas in 1766, Christmas Evans grew up in Bwlchog, in the parish of Llanfihangel-ar-Arth and went on to become one of the most well known and influential preachers in Wales.

“Christmas Evans (1766-1838) was described by D. M. Lloyd-Jones as ‘the greatest preacher that the Baptists have ever had in Great Britain’. This remarkable one-eyed Welshman came from humble beginnings to exercise powerful preaching ministries throughout Wales..”(1)

The collection of sleeves with their different designs attest to his status and continued popularity as a preacher, receiving several re-issues on the Qualiton label.  The sermon itself was first delivered on July 1st 1835 in Bangor and the recording is of Rev. Jubilee Young some 118 years after Christmas Evans’ death.

As well as the covers on display there are a number of audio/video works using the records

 

(1) ‘Christmas Evans – No Ordinary Preacher’

https://www.dayone.co.uk/products/christmas-evans-no-ordinary-preacher

Afon

I will be performing some new work for this in a couple of weeks…

http://www.may-nard.org/afon

Looking at my vinyl record database and thinking of the years I spent over the valley from Abercych in Llechryd, watching the floods come and go…

I used to put all the pictures in a set on flickr – Sometimes I live by a Lake

Sometimes I Live by a Lake

I’m finding some interesting river songs and sleeves in my collection and putting a few out in Bara Menyn in the lead up to the festival.. starting with a the 3 locally themed albums
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And then to include singles from further afield2019-09-02 09.11.42-2

The Christmas Variations

This new work for Oriel Blodau Bach is a collection of ‘Pregeth Christmas Evans’ vinyl record covers.  Born near Llandysul at Christmas in 1766, Christmas Evans grew up in Bwlchog, in the parish of Llanfihangel-ar-Arth and went on to become one of the most well known and influential preachers in Wales.

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Read more on the Oriel Blodau Bach website

Exhibition 24 August // Awst – 12 October // Hydref 2019

The Christmas Variations includes a playlist of videos

Bags

Probably my favourite record shop bag is this one from the long gone ‘Centre of Music’ in Cardigan.   The shop was first located in the centre of town I believe, on the site of what is now The Original Factory Shop, before moving to Pendre and finally closing in the early 1980s.20190227_173824.jpgI met Mani’s Son Gethin back in 2010 when I was exhibiting some work in the Guildhall Gallery in the town centre.  The exhibition was part of a project about local chapels and their history and we chatted about his father who I had heard used to record various local chapel’s Cymanfa Ganu events (Choir festivals) direct to disc before the advent of tape recorders.  He told me about how they had built the first radio in their village and how they placed the earpiece (no speakers in those days) in a large ceramic bowl and gathered around to listen, and how his mother was deeply suspicious of who and where the voices they heard were.
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He returned later in the week bringing me a CD of recordings his father had made in local chapels, a vintage bag from the shop and a blank unused record (which has lived on my kitchen wall since).

Another local music shop no longer trading is Swales in Haverfordwest.  Trading into the 90s I remember it was one of the best record shops in the area as well as selling instruments and sheet music too.  Visit http://www.britishrecordshoparchive.org/swales.html for a great selection of photos from there.  The founder and namesake Robert Joffre Swales, known as “Joffre”, was awarded an MBE in 1975 for his services to music in the town for over 50 years.  As well as playing in a number of bands and teaching music he set up an instrument rental scheme at Swales, allowing those less well off members of the community the opportunity to enjoy learning and playing an instrument.

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These last ones I know very little or nothing about, the Dales bag came (with a record in) from a charity shop in Fishguard I think, the others were gifts from my good friend Flo Fflach.
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Three Four Five Nursery Course - Nonsense songs

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Liz Whittaker – Astrologer and Psychic – Found cassette

A few years back I found a cassette in the local Barnardo’s charity shop (maybe 2013?).  It was before compact cassettes got trendy again, and possibly only of interest to anyone else to record over and reuse..

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I regret not listening to it when I first found it.

For as long as I can remember my Mum was an astrolger and psychic (also an author, dramatist and journalist) and offered a range of services including Astrological readings, tarot and palmistry.  Through the 1980s and into the early 90s she would record the readings for clients onto cassette so they could listen back as they liked.  Interesting to find this in a charity shop, something so personal and potentially loaded with meaning to someone..

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After my mum died in 2015 I found the cassette again in a drawer of her desk and though I don’t remember that it had anything written on it when I bought it, it now has the name ‘Lou’ written on both cassette and case.  I was slightly taken aback by this as Lou was the name of my best friend who had died almost exactly a year before my Mum.  Slightly freaked out by this I decided to put it away and look at it again another time.

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Since then I have speculated what might be recorded on it: was it a reading for another Lou and just a weird coincidence it was my friends name? or was it a reading for my friend from years before?  or a message from not so long ago..?

I felt I wanted to do something with it, to play it purposefully, for a reason.  I also wanted to be sure the tape player was not going to destroy it and set up to film and record it playing.  So here we are some years later and I decided it was time to play it for Mother’s day 2019…

So the side with the name written on it was blank – I have a memory of her asking if I had a means of making voice recordings in the last few years she was with us and I suggested she use her mobile phone – what I think happened is that my mum tried to record a message for Lou, but the microphone or tape machine didn’t work properly and just wiped the existing recording.

The second side has a recorded tarot reading for an unnamed client and has predictions for them for autumn and winter 1988, it sounded like they had a quite a busy time ahead!

I would be really interested to hear from you if you have one of these cassettes or a written horoscope/reading by Liz Whittaker, there must be quite a lot of them out there in the attics and cupboards of West Wales…

Gwlad y Delyn – Land of the Harp (2)

A couple of old 78s recorded playing on a vintage Decca Junior gramophone dating from the mid 1920s.  Despite being a song called ‘Land of the Harp’ they both seem to have piano accompaniment, perhaps piano recorded better on the microphones of the day…

The John Lovering version appears to be from around 1929 according to the fantastic resource that is tedstaunton.com. While the version by Miss Annie Rees is listed in the September 1924 Zonophone record catalogue here in the British Library.

More recently I have been involved in a number of projects with harpists, one of my favourites was this short film for the fantastic duo Deuair