Images, words and sounds help me to experience and understand a place in different ways. In his book The Perception of the Environment, anthropologist Tim Ingold argues that art gives form to human feeling. The way in which we express this human feeling is guided by our ‘specific orientations, dispositions and sensibilities that we have acquired through having had things pointed out to us’. From teachers and books, artists have learnt how to do fieldwork in their own discipline. I argue that our experience and understanding of the place is filtered through the medium we work in. When I did fieldwork at the ruined forest croft of Pitcowdens I not only tried to think in images, words and sounds, I also reflected on how each of these mediums influenced the way I came to experience and understand the place.
I started my fieldwork at Pitcowdens with taking photographs that contained interesting movement and contrasting textures. There were also images that could serve as a peg through which I could tell the story of the forest croft – hollows in planks that shaped my view of the forest croft. Searching the site for interesting objects I realised that the objects I was looking for had to help me add a human dimensions to the generic story of a forest croft being abandoned. A twig structure resembling a washboard helped me conjure up images of women washing clothes. The stories, ideas and imaginations evoked through exploring images became the subject matter for some creative writing. In the process of finding the right words, the intangible amorphous images firmed up.
There are composers who write music inspired by specific places, but fieldwork remains a less common phenomenon for musicians than it is for painters and writers. The routines for doing fieldwork are also less well established, leaving composers the opportunity to find out for themselves how they would like to develop their experience and understanding of place – and how this is to influence their music. For the performance piece for Orford Ness, jazz musician Arnie Somogyi wrote down snippets of melodies and harmonies that came to his mind whilst being in the reserve and produced music based on improvisation, composition and environmental sounds. On what he calls a song-walk along the river Deveron, musician Jake Williams collects images and songs native to the valley of the river Deveron, recording some of the songs on location. My own ideas for the composition Pitcowdens developed gradually, away from the ruined forest croft. The experiences and understandings generated through my fieldwork influence my musical ideas as well as the larger structure in which these were presented (compare the work of Sally Beamish). The images, words and sounds created during my fieldwork at the ruined forest croft, and the particular experiences and understandings of this place these brought about, have thus shaped my composition Pitcowdens.
As part of the community music project Burn of Sound for Scottish Natural Heritage there will be an opportunity for people who enjoy the visual arts, writing and music to reflect on the kind of experiences and understandings of place they develop through fieldwork. The workshop, a walk with creative writing exercises followed by a discussion, will take place on Saturday the 11th of May from 2 to 4 pm at the visitor centre in the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve. If you want to participate in this workshop, please send an email to Petra Vergunst at email@example.com.
Copyright words and images Petra Vergunst