Fiona Brehony 

A comparative study of sounds from outside the River Thurne and the River Irk.

My initial response to the Sound Diaries Open Call was to make three soundscapes that accompany images and pieces of poetic text relevant to three sections of the River Thurne.

I am in the early stages of a PhD research project – engaging in possibilities of rivers (with a focus on River Irk) as Intangible Heritage; collecting sounds, images and text and exploring relationships to the river, past and present. This research is within a Geography department, and I felt it essential that I maintain a strong relationship to the foundations of my artistic practice. That is, with playful engagement to places I am working with.

In Geography, the term ‘sound’ refers to a smaller body of water usually connected to a sea or an ocean (Geographical Sound). There are only three geographic sounds in the UK and only one connected to a river (Heigham Sound which connects to the River Thurne via Candle Dyke). This was an entirely new concept to me and one I wanted to engage with in a playful and poetic way.

I believed that working with River Thurne on a sound diaries project would allow me to playfully engage in a different location and would enrich a later stage of my research with the River Irk. However, as my research progresses, I realise I am approaching the River Irk in very much the same way I will approach River Thurne. With this, I began to compare sounds and ecologies of these rivers. While the Thurne is a stretch of river giving access to Hickling Broad and Horsey Mere as well as flowing through Martham Broad, the Irk flows through the historic county of Lancashire and ends below Victoria Railway Station in the centre of Manchester. The idea of the Thurne being of an eco-system that eventually flows out to sea, while the Irk comes to a holt below Victoria Railway Station began to fascinate me. 

Being in Manchester, I experience a lot of rain and now when I experience rain, I think about rivers. I think of the downpour reaching a mountain, a spring emerging from the ground moving downstream. Merging into another stream. I think of the body of a river. Of rivers leading to estuaries out to sea softly waving into expansive home. Of sun softly heating sea water; evaporation and clouds forming. I think of this cycle and what happens when a river is stunted by blocks, buildings and waste. What happens when a river is culverted? What happens to the life of a river and how does this impact sound outside of these spaces?

Fiona Brehony is a Manchester based artist and writer, working within spaces between Geography, documentary film, sound art and performance.

Fiona’s personal values as a practitioner are entrenched with humanistic approaches to discovering ways of making environments more equitable. She is passionate about life and in exploring ways lived experiences can be filled with light and playfulness. This is the way she approaches all work. 

Since October 2023, Fiona has been working on an AHRC funded research project that engages in possibilities of rivers as Cultural Heritage, with a particular focus on rivers in areas of regeneration. Her research aims to identify ways in which community connections to the River Irk in Manchester can be used to inform how people interact with the space around them. By identifying potential constraints of the city through creative public engagement, we can look at possible ways to liberate the past and present histories of spaces we inhabit.

Fiona is currently in the process of engaging in river histories, exploring moments in Manchester’s history and sites of the River Irk through returned visits to the river and its evolving surroundings, documenting through sound and other creative methodologies. If you’re interested in hearing more, please contact Fiona Via the contact information on her website 

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