Author Archive

36,000 for Madrid

Sound Diaries asked Patrick Tubin McGinley to write about his recording 36,000 for Madrid for the Get Some Chalk On Your Boots! publication edited by Paul Whitty to accompany the exhibition of the same name investigating the sounding cultures of football. You can purchase the publication here and read more about Get Some Chalk On Your Boots! here.

36,000 for Madrid: Recorded on the 14th of March, 2004 at White Hart Lane, before a match between Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United.

Get Rid! Anthology


Make an effort to exhaust the subject, even if that seems grotesque, or pointless, or stupid. You still haven’t looked at anything, you’ve merely picked out what you’ve long ago picked out. Georges Perec, Species of Spaces (1974)

To listen to the sound of grassroots football matches on parish recreation grounds, playing fields and village greens is to listen to the fleeting traces of a rich sounding culture. The iterative ritual of marking out the pitch, cutting the grass, fixing nets to goalposts with cable ties and driving corner flags into the earth. Then the distinctive practices of on-pitch communication; the whistle; the sound of football boot on ball, of the ball as it lands; the struck crack of the crossbar; studs compressing the soil, brushing the grass, slicing through the turf. Grassroots football is a game of noise, silence, presence, absence, activity, inactivity. The sounding comes in waves — building, receding. Pitches stand empty for days then startle into exuberant sound-making action. Football is present. Football is happening. A substitution is made; the ball takes a wild deflection from a corner — disappears into a garden — and is followed by a player who climbs over a fence and into undergrowth to retrieve it; a free-kick is given and the game stalls; the goalkeeper argues with his left-back about how many players should be in the wall; the central defender argues with the ref about the infringement; the assistant referee checks his phone for messages. There’s an injury and the players stand around in small groups talking or lost in their own thoughts. Then the game crackles into life with a high tackle; a controversial decision; a header that slaps against the post; a counter-attack; a coach barely able to prevent himself from running onto the pitch and who, instead, ends up kicking the dugout. The final whistle. The everyday sounds of the parish recreation ground, playing field and village green return. Football is absent. Football isn’t happening.

from Get Rid! SARU 2018 ISBN 978-1-9996176-1-5

1. Bodkins Playing Field 20032017
2. Long Wittenham Athletic Reserves v Drayton FC 28042018
3. Brightwell Recreation Ground 03042017
4. Didcot Eagles v Marcham Reserves 01042017
5. Ashendon Playing Fields 03082017
6. Ludgershall United v Oving FC 17022018
7. The Lockway 09042017
8. Drayton FC v Hagbourne United 27012018
9. Steventon Green 20042018
10. Steventon Reserves v Hanney 66 Club 15042017
1. Oving Recreation Ground 27072017
2. Great Horwood v Long Crendon (Oving Villages Cup Final 02042018)
3. Horspath Athletic Ground 06112017
4. Horspath FC Reserves v Charlton United reserves 04112017
5. Stade, Condat-sur-Vézère 19082017
6. Condat-sur-Vézère FC v Limeuil FC 27082017
7. Sutton Courtenay Recreation Ground 17032017
8. Sutton Courtenay FC v Westminster FC 11042017
9. (Postscript) Hithercroft Sports Park

Travel! [#8] Oving Villages Cup Final and the sounding archaeology of goalkeeper’s studs on goalposts

In the first six Travel! posts I explored the close-season soundscape of football pitches on the route between Brightwell-cum-Sotwell and Winslow. You can find out more here. During 2017-2018 I have returned to some of the pitches to experience the sounding presence of football happening.

The Oving & District Villages’ Cup Competition affiliated to the Berk & Bucks FA was founded in 1889 and since 1892 the final of the competition has taken place at Oving Recreation Ground. I visited the Recreation Ground in July last year and listened to the sound of football not happening. You can find out more about that here.

It had always been my intention to return to the grounds that I had visited on the route between Brightwell-cum-Sotwell and Winslow and experience football taking place but somehow the season almost seems to be at an end and the fixtures are running out. I was casting about for potential fixtures to attend when by chance I came across the Oving Villages Cup Final between Long Crendon – who were also involved in the first final in 1890 – and Great Horworth. I arrived just before half-time and so missed the only goal of the game – Great Horworth held on to that slender lead until the final whistle.

The matchday programme included this information about the origins of the cup from the 1928 programme:

The Oving Villages Cup was formed by subsrcibers of the villages within a 12 miles of Oving in the year 1889, Mr James Evans of Oving being the Chief Organiser and acting Hon. Secretary. The first president was the late Rev. I Hill, the Rector of Oving.

The 2018 programme goes on:

The worthy Rector was obviously a football fan, for research by Hal mason of Sudbury Suffolk reveals that he appeared for the Pilgrims when they lost 3-1 to Foresters in the FA Cup of 1881.

The founder members of the competition were Waddesdon, Quainton, Long Crendon, Granborough, Oving and North Marston. The first two finals were held in Waddesdon but all subsequent finals have been held at Oving Recreation Ground.

Knowing that the cup final had been played on this site since 1892 set me thinking about how the sounding environment of the match would have changed over that period. A wind was whipping the black refuse bags attached to the boundary rope into feverish and sporadic sound-making – like aeolian devices – catching the wind and then collapsing inert as the breeze passed. Perhaps this is a sound unique to this year – lightweight recyclable black bags as opposed to their sturdier more heavily plasticised counterparts. What about the trees around the ground. How much has that changed in the one hundred and sixteen years since that match? The sounding environment would be completely different if the tree line had changed significantly. As the Great Horwood keeper banged his studs against his post just before a corner I began to consider the sounding history of that activity. When did this originate? If goalkeepers were doing this in 1892 what did leather studs on wooden goalposts sound like? I also started to think about the way that the formations would have changed the soundscape. 2-3-5 was the standard formation in the late nineteenth century. This would have changed the way that the sound-making activities of the footballers articulated the playing area – and what about on-pitch communication? left shoulder! Stick it in the mixer! Time!

(looking North towards the village hall)

man on
make your fucking mind up
I fucking have
I’m talking to him the whole time
press him mate
time – time – time
hey – hey
come on Crendon keep going boys
come on
big win
hey heads
come out
get out
yeah that’s it options
heads on the way
turn him
turn him son
man on
two here – two here
drive – drive
go – go
head down

when the final man comes in

come on Crendon this is good
come on
move around
come on
that’s yours – that’s yours
one more
well done
well done mate
well done
ref – ref
stay on
go line – go line
head it back in
play on red – play on red – play on red – play on red – play on red
come on come on
fucking edge
i’ve gotta go
gotta go
coming in
one more
that’s it
come on boys, it’s coming
keep pushing it boys
you alright boy?
got spare here

brainless that is

hey let’s get in then
be aware – be aware
back again

whoever shouts gets the free-kick

get on with it
go on
come on – come on
get up – get up
that’s it
well done – well done
give it


(looking south-east from behind Great Horworth’s goal – black bag crackling in the breeze)

(looking south-west from the halfway line – black bag tied to the boundary rope fills with air)

Travel! [#7] Presence, absence and the speed of sound on Ashendon Ridge

In the first six Travel! posts I explored the close-season soundscape of football pitches on the route between Brightwell-cum-Sotwell and Winslow. You can find out more here. During 2017-2018 I have returned to some of the pitches to experience the sounding presence of football happening.
One of the most distinctive sites that I came across in my close-season travels was Ashendon Playing Fields that sits on a ridge to the South-West of Waddesdon. The football pitch is on a considerable slope that runs between a covered reservoir at the top end and St.Mary’s Church at the bottom. The church is sited on the far side of the appropriately named Lower End – a lane that runs North from Main Street. I visited the playing fields – home of Ludgershall United –  twice in the close season. On my second visit to the playing fields the soundscape was dominated by the sound of the wind:
There was a strong wind, so strong that many of the distinctive sounding characteristics of the area – the vibrations of distant jets, helicopters, and light aircraft; the phasing white noise of the passing traffic; the calls of red kites and wood pigeons – were obscured by the many and various sounds of the wind as it shook branches; whistled through bushes and shrubs; and turned the long grasses around the pitch into a multitude of whispering aeolian devices.
So the resonating gong-like tarmac of the A34 and M40; the tremolo of light aircraft and the beating of rotor-blades; the complex polyphony of hedgerow birds; and the calls of Wood Pigeons, Collared Doves and Red Kites were obscured by the dense texture of aeolian sound – the complex movement of the wind coercing the grass, leaves, branches and hedgerows into sound. You can read more about the sound of football not happening on Ashendon Ridge here. The presence of football provides a different form of distraction from the everyday sounds of the Playing Field. The ear is drawn towards the on field communication of players the sound of the ball being kicked and the reflection of that sound as it returns from the pavilion. The ear follows the play listening for meaning to support what can be seen. However, the auditory experience of watching grassroots football is always just a little disconcerting as depending on how far away from the pitch the spectator is standing the eye sees the players strike the ball before the ear hears the sound – similarly when the ball thuds into the earth following a particularly powerful goal-kick the visible action precedes the audible one. The football pitch is a good place to discuss the relative speeds of light and sound.


I returned to Ashendon to watch the Aylesbury & District Division One game between Ludgershall United and Oving FC. The game finished 5-5. The slope of the pitch has a clear effect on the sound of the game as unusual levels of fear and anxiety are unleashed each time a long ball is floated downhill towards the opposition penalty area. The most innocuous looking through balls can become deadly weapons as they rise above the slope challenging the laws of gravity.

(Ludgershall United v Oving FC at Ashendon Playing Fields)
too long
don’t take that – don’t let him take that
don’t fucking
hey – hey
come in
win it
stand – stand – stand
come in
now – now – now
how was he off – how was he off
how was he off when he came from behind him
behind him ref
no way
he ran past him
when he shot – when he shot
know the fucking rules
when he shot
the linesman flags up for anything
hey boys – hey boys
concentrate – concentrate
ludgershall wake up
you can feel it as well
hey line
shout to him
fuckin’ hell
win it
behind you
go on
where’d that come from
just watching
fucking concentrate
talk to each other
yeah but why hasn’t he jumped for it
he knows
we’re putting pressure on ourselves
did you do that flick
we want this game yeah
come on
boys – boys
come on boys
i’m doing what i’ve been told
yeah but then you talk
pick it up
fuck sake mate
tell me one fucking thing
carry on
watch your man
chase him
do you want a free kick for that – matey boys pushing
fucking what are you on about
bang it
well done boys
very good – very good
settle down
man on – man on
well done
pick him out
oh fuck off
get in there
everyone has their man
drop – drop – drop – drop
get in there – get in there
seconds – seconds
stand him up
go on then
go on – go on – go on – go on – go on – go on
now – now
boys more talking
are you playing left then
left wing
close him down
he doesn’t want it either
yeah come in left back
ref – ref
how long
your throw
come on let’s get set boys
keep going yellows
keep going
Ludgershall line
one of you
come back – come back
well done
turn out of there
yeah well done
he was going nowhere
what’s the point
well done you
ref – ref
how can you see that
come on
Oi! boys
concentrate now
bounce back
none of us
we dig in we do not concede again
and again yellows
no silly fouls boys yeah
i’m here now

Travel! [#6] Bowling Alley

This is the sixth in a series of posts investigating the close-season soundscape of football pitches on the route between Brightwell-cum-Sotwell and Winslow. There are more details of the project here.

I came across Oving when tracing the route from Brightwell to Winslow. The village lies to the east of Quainton and just south of North Marston. The Recreation Ground is on a lane called Bowling Alley and since 1892 has hosted the Oving Villages’ Cup Final.

17th July 2017
09.52 : Oving Recreation Ground

(At Oving Recreation Ground looking towards Bowling Alley)

The clop of horses’ hooves on Bowling Alley; a pheasant; breeze in the leaves of the tree-line behind me – their size apparent from the resonance they create – slight dryness in their scrape; collared doves call; a pheasant – again – calls once, twice – then a flurry of calls; distant roar of a motorbike; two thumps from the bird-scarer; the murmur of chat in the lane; the faint cackle of the breeze through dry leaves; the bird-scarer more regular now; occasional birdsong from Wrens in the hedgerow; the call of Red Kites – how far away?; a rook calls – then the barely audible response of friends; a car in the lane – all of the sounding details of its approach and departure can be heard as it amplifies the imperfections of the road surface; only nearby wind sound now – leaves brushing against each other – the screen of trees to the North and East of the Recreation Ground are silent; the pitch-shifting passage of a train is overlaid with the sound of swifts, car doors slamming and a chorus of wood pigeons; single jackdaw call; slight fluctuation in sound from pigeon wings; children’s voices; a deeper rumble as a truck passes – rattling; a dog barks; the pitch-phasing of a passenger jet; wood pigeons wings; breeze; chains on steel sheet.

On my second visit I took a closer look at the cluster of pavilions at the south-east corner of the ground. One looked as though it may have been constructed in the nineteenth century – it is certainly more rustic in style – and could conceivably have been in place for the Oving Villages’ Cup Final of 1892 won by North Marston with a 6-0 victory over Waddesdon. There is also a small painted green corrugated iron hut – almost obscured by hedges – that looks like an old-style scout hut.

27th July 2017
11.25 : Oving Recreation Ground

(The cluster of pavilions at the south-east corner of the recreation ground)

Light movement of wind activating the screen of beach trees to the north occasionally answered by the horse chestnuts laden with conkers; cars sounding the wet road surface – extra resonance; a lawn mower or chain saw sounds; occasional calls of children; wood pigeons to the south and perhaps a distant bird-scarer; someone kicks a football; a car passes with the tremolo of a vintage engine; the flap of wood pigeon wings; leaves in the hedgerow brush against each other; perhaps the mechanical drone that can be heard is a lawnmower; fast cars in the distance provide waves of pitch-shifting sound; the first sound of air-traffic – a light aircraft or helicopter; a swallow; sparrows in a back garden; a jackdaw calls; the detailed sound of a car’s passage along Bowling Alley the sound rising and falling as it passes windows in the tree-line and hedgerow – it sounds a puddle by the gate; a distant train perhaps or an articulated truck on the trunk road; farm machinery – a circular saw with a high-pitched growl as its teeth cut into the wood; a dog panting as it passes; ‘morning’; wood pigeons; very little sound of hedgerow birds; another fast car on the A road; the drone stops and the air is clearer; wood pigeons call across distance; there is more detail in the sounds of the trees; a passenger jet to the south-east with a slow rolling pitch phase as simultaneously a car sounds the wet surface on Bowling Alley triggering a babble of rooks; the jet engine continues to resonate above the cloud cover – I imagine each drop of moisture vibrating with the sound; a military helicopter passes flying below the clouds the sound reflecting and imitated by the sounding road surface.


On the mezzanine

This post is part of the Lion Seats project created by Richard Bentley. You can read more about the project here.

Location: Forum Mezzanine, John Henry Brookes Building, Oxford Brookes, Headington.


In a discussion about the places people go for quiet reflection, my doctoral supervisor, Paul Whitty, mentioned the mezzanine study area overlooking the Forum Café at Oxford Brookes University. As is the current trend, the study area is open plan combining the facilities required for study with the laid-back feel of a café. Unsurprisingly, when asking people where they head to be alone with their thoughts, both cafés and libraries are frequently cited. Commonly open to the public, they are places where anonymity and personal space are generally respected and where being unaccompanied and doing nothing in particular, is socially acceptable. Their soundscape is typically unobtrusive, familiar and comforting, supporting concentration or allowing an individual to simply get lost in thought. The study area above ‘The Forum’ is one of these spaces. It comprises a large, open, mezzanine floor that permits the familiar relaxed babble of largely unintelligible chat, the reverberant knocks and scrapes of furniture and occasional bleep of electronic notifications to rise-up from the café area below. Despite the presence of an expansive glass window next to me and plastered ceiling above, the large sofas and carpeted floor dampened much of the reverberant sound. Only those voices in the immediate vicinity were intelligible, with semi-circular partitions helping to mute many nearby conversations. A couple sat together on a sofa in front of me and behind were two students speaking to each other in Arabic. As I have no understanding of Arabic, their chat rarely drew my attention. It was only the occasional English word that I registered; ‘Adobe’, ‘Photoshop’, ‘software’ and with no access to a context, these words remained briefly jotted mental notes. In all, there was little in the way of auditory distraction, unless you chose to tune in to the soundscape or strained to hear a nearby conversation.

After finding a place to sit, I erected and tested a rather conspicuous Jecklin Disc stereo recording array, set the timer on my phone and settled into the comfy bucket-style-sofa I had chosen. No one seemed at all distracted by the sounding of the meditation bell, no doubt because it was so ubiquitous, blending in with the many other sounds of technology permeating the space. I naturally slouched back into the seat, trying not to draw any more attention to myself, not because I felt self-conscious, but to avoid stifling other’s conversations through fear of feeling monitored. After only a few minutes of reclining on the sofa I noticed the strain on my neck from holding my head upright. Rather than adjusting my posture, I decided to simply observe how the position effected my ‘bodymind’ (a term that has associations with alternative medicine, but feels increasingly fitting the longer I practice). It was interesting to notice how my slumped posture seemed to promote a disposition of distracted relaxation, rather than relaxed focus. I have observed in previous meditations that maintaining the traditional position, with the head balancing on the erect column of the spine has helped to direct the mind and maintain awareness. This heightened focus could, of course, simply be due to association. Nonetheless, the upright posture seems to embody a balance, solidity and dignity that cultivates a calm, persistent attentiveness. By relaxing inconspicuously into my chair, I had inadvertently made my meditation that little more challenging. Laughably, the futility of trying to blend in became clear later when the couple in front of me who, on my arrival, had stopped talking and had become engrossed in their laptops, noticed I had dismantled the recording gear and so resumed their conversation.


In previous Lion Seats meditations I have noticed how the paraphernalia associated with field recording can easily interrupt the natural flow of a meditation and spawn layers of complexity that frustrate the simple act of maintaining singular attention. On this occasion, I quickly became aware of my leg brushing against the XLR cables, a noise exacerbated by sensitive microphones with little protective suspension. Small shifts of my calf or even slight upper body movements would induce a low rumbling on the recording. So, when itches arose in my foot, I was compelled to patiently observe the rise and fall of the sensation, rather than shifting my foot in the shoe. It was interesting to notice the way in which fixing my attention on the itch, far from increasing my mental agitation, offered a sense of relief and detachment. As with observing my posture, the itching sensation became the object of meditation, a focus that was supported by my desire not to ‘ruin’ the recording with extraneous ‘handling noise’.

On this occasion, the meditation was quite brief, lasting only ten minutes. Yet within this time there was much that resonated with previous experiences in other settings and brought particular issues into sharper focus. Certainly, working with the situation as it presented itself, rather than fighting against it, once again proved to be central in supporting a compassionate awareness. This required both an ability and willingness to change the focus of the meditation and to vary the approach taken. With a fixed idea of what the meditation should be, I would have remained closed to the possibilities that presented themselves. The ability to be adaptable and to draw from a range of alternative practices, afforded a frustrating circumstance to become an opportunity. These alternative practices may not involve maintaining single-pointed concentration, but continue to promote mindful awareness and cultivate insight through other means. Loosening attachment to expectations and outcomes appears to be key here.

The way in which the posture and position of the body influenced my orientation towards practice was also evident. If my body assumes a position that embodies an intention to meditate, my ability to direct and sustain attention seems to be improved. The degree to which this is due to established associations or inherent physiological factors will, no doubt, vary from person-to person and situation-to-situation. Adopting a traditional meditative posture may not always be possible or desirable, but it nevertheless emerges as an important factor in nurturing meditative focus.

Lastly, there is a recognition that whilst amplifying found sound has proven to be an effective means of supporting present-centred awareness, the requirements involved in making a recording and maintaining meditative focus are often at odds. The impetus behind samatha meditation, the principal practice in this project, is to calm the mind through sustained single-pointed concentration. The motivation of the field recordist, on the other hand, can vary but typically necessitates the modulation of attention between personal, technical and environmental factors with the intention of producing a recording that can be presented to others. Whilst these different motivations can both, at times, be accommodated they are, in my experience, more likely to compete. If Lion Seats was an investigation into mindful field recording, there would be little difficulty in accommodating the two practices of mindfulness and field recording. Such ‘informal’ mindfulness practice would simply require a present-centred awareness of the recording process whilst incorporating a ‘meta-awareness’ of the recordist’s perceptions and reactions to events. However, samatha meditation requires a singular focus, which for this project has been the rise and fall of the breath. Any activity competing for attention clearly makes this practice more challenging. The most satisfactory resolution has been to treat the two practices as distinct, setting up recording equipment and letting it run whilst meditating without monitoring or even considering the recording being captured. In some situations this approach has been effective, yet in the majority of cases creating a clear separation between the two practices has been more problematic. Thoughts such as ‘is the equipment safe?’, ‘did that loud sound peak the meters?’, ‘is the rain going to get into the mic?’ frequently persist. Although the process of undertaking these audio recordings of meditations has been insightful, it has also suggested that field recording and formal meditation are not always good bedfellows.

Morning Meditation

This post is part of the Lion Seats project created by Richard Bentley. You can read more about the project here.

Transcript of Recording
7am 26-09-17

[sounds transcribed from recording]

Home office/studio/quiet room with interior door closed (the catch needs fixing so is presently difficult to open, which I initially thought was no bad thing!)

[muffled thumping sound from upstairs]
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x2)’
[Muted invitation of the bell, then a full sustained sound]
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x3)’
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x3)’
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x3)’
[Rustling of clothing as I adjust my posture on the cushions]
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x2)’
‘It feels strange meditating with mics in my ears.’
‘Pressure on the side of my head.’
‘In, out (x3)’
‘What’s that banging?’
‘In, out (x2)’
[Rapid loud knocking on the door]
‘Do I answer it or do I not?’
[Struggling to get the door open followed by more knocking]
“Phoebe is it life and death?”
“No, can you make me some toast?”
“No, not for another fifteen minutes.”
“Ellen can make you some toast if you like?”
‘Phoebe and Ellen arguing in the hallway’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x1)’
‘Nose whistling’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x11)’
[something hard clinking against the inside of the washing machine as it turns]
‘Ellen making Phoebe toast.’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x4)’
[rustling of cereal packet]
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x4)’
‘Should I have set the meditation timer on my phone?’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x11)’
‘Sinus headache’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x4)’
[closing door and booming sound of someone walking up the stairs above me]
‘Who went upstairs?’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x6)’
[buzz and mellow rising arpeggio of the phone’s notification sound]
‘Phone notification, but it’s on airplane mode?’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x6)’
‘How do I record the breathing?’
[clinking of cutlery against china]
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x11)’
‘I feel distracted’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x3)’
‘Is that Phoebe’s bowl and spoon or the cats eating out of their bowls? ‘
‘I thought she was having toast?’
[rhythmical clunking of the washing machine again]
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x5)’
‘Replaying the incident with Phoebe in my mind.’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x3)’
‘Birdsong. Chirping.’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x16)’
[booming from upstairs continues, scrape of chair against the wood floor and the empty bowl and spoon being placed by the kitchen sink]
‘Perhaps it’s the washing machine?’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x5)’
[more fast-paced booming from movement upstairs and closing of bathroom door]
‘Door shutting’
[shutting of bedroom door]
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x9)’
‘Even the thought that I could be disturbed is unsettling my mind.’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x22)’
[clinking of the washing machine, brighter, less muffled this time]
‘Is ‘Lion Seats’ a good name?’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x13)’
[what sounds like the front door being opened and closed again]
‘Is that the front door?’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x6)’
‘Thoughts form as a kind of cloud before you can actually describe them.’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x29)’
‘What’s that noise?’
[high pitched clinking as zips knock against the glass door of the washing machine and lower clunks as the ‘washing ball’ does the same]
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x16)’
[Engine starts up and drives off]
‘Steve leaving in his van’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x10)’
[Rattling of door handle as someone tries to enter the room]
‘Is that Phoebe again, or Elizabeth?’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x2)’
‘My right leg is feeling numb – pins and needles.’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x8)’
[Door handle starts again followed by three loud knocks]
“Who is it? Who is it?”
“Who is it?”
“It’s Beth”, I just woke up.”
“Why do you need to come in?”
“Why do you need to come in?”
“I need to…I need to tell you two things: A. Can I use the leftover white bread and B. wasn’t I suppose to make my lunchbox?”
“OK, hang on five minutes.”
“Well, can I use the white bread?”
[Beth muttering under her breath]
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x14 breathing noticeably speeding up)’
‘I’m feeling mildly angry and a little tense. I’ve been interrupted twice, they should know better, they….’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x26)’
‘Replaying events in my mind. Still feeling annoyed. Return to my breathing.’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x14)’
[rattling of cutlery in draw and kitchen cupboard door opening.
‘Toaster’s pinged. Hope she’s not putting a knife in there to get the toast out.’
[Knife in jar and hitting against plate]
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x11)’
‘I should really make their packed lunches.’
‘Breathing in, breathing out (x10)’
‘Deep breath/sigh’
[Muted invitation of the bell, then a full sustained sound]
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x3)’
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x3)’
[Bell with thumping of feet going up the stairs]
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x3)’
[Pouring tea, clink of tea cup]
“Dad, it’s almost half past seven”
“Aren’t you going to get dressed and umm… and do the lunchboxes?”
“Yep, you get yourself sorted my darling and I’ll… I’ll get it all ready.”
“I’m ready, it’s just the lunch boxes aren’t done.”
“Uh-huh, yep, just coming to do those.”
[Slurp of tea and swallowing]
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x4)’
[Slurp of tea and swallowing]
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x2)’
[Slurp of tea and swallowing]
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x2)’
[Slurp of tea and swallowing]
‘Breathing In, breathing Out (x2)’
[Clink of tea cup put back on its saucer]

Two Rivers Sangha

This post is part of the Lion Seats project created by Richard Bentley. You can read more about the project here.

20:00 28-05-17

Location: Berkshire Pilates, 101 London Street, Reading, RG1 4QA

“With posture upright and solid…
we are seated…
at the foot of…
the Bodhi tree…
Body speech and mind…
all are one…
in stillness…
There is no more thought of right and wrong…
Our minds and bodies dwell in perfect mindfulness…”

As I sung the evening chant I felt myself settling into the quiet of the space. Familiar words sung at an unnaturally slow tempo were usually effective in grounding me in the present and connecting me to the others at the sangha meeting. Next came the sitting meditation, a time to still the body and rest my attention on the breath to let the monologue of thoughts fade to silence (well that’s the theory any way). However, after a busy week, a succession of late nights and broken sleep, my practice was simply to keep my head upright and my body from slumping over in an unconscious heap on the floor. My lowered gaze frequently became a blackout, my head falling forward – all the time struggling to right itself. I do not remember hearing anything during these twenty-five minutes of sitting, though the low rumble of traffic noise, the clicks and buzzes of the heaters warming up and the even rhythm of the clock were no doubt still present. Neither did any other thoughts appear to arise, I was not plagued by the ‘to do’ list that so often pervades my mind. My attention was gathered and united in a single mission – to stay awake.

It was with great relief that we began kinh hanh or walking meditation. I had made it through the first sitting. The slow movement offered a long-awaited break from what seemed like a lifetime of remaining stationary and upright. The struggling mind I had needed to keep awake gently gave way to an ease and calm. I found my breathing synchronise intuitively with the rhythm of my feet on the carpet. This peacefulness continued into the second sitting. Feeling more awake and without the struggle, I settled quickly, following the rise and fall of my chest as I echoed the gatha ‘breathing in…breathing out’ to myself. My eyes were soft-focused through my eyelashes, resting on a small stain in the carpet in front of me. For short bursts of a few seconds I heard the gatha clearly in my mind. During these moments I became very still, a contented tranquility permeated my perception. Strangely, the carpet in front of me appeared less solid than it had done in the first sitting. I played with this experience, seeing how the stillness ebbed and flowed as thoughts arose and fell away. I noticed the way in which sounds that pierced the otherwise unbroken drone of traffic on London Street outside would bring my eyes into sharper focus on the carpet and interrupt the serene composure. Knocks, bangs and movements from people in a connected terrace further along the street, children laughing and screaming as they walked by the front door, a distant siren from the nearby hospital, all pulled my attention from the gatha. Although I may have briefly labelled these sounds, I noticed how I had no inclination to ‘follow’ them, to explore their origin, meaning or substance. Each time I brought my attention back to the gatha and breath, peace descended again. And so this continued through to the end of the period of sitting. In contrast to the first sitting meditation, I could have happily sat there for another hour or more. Still, the twenty-five minutes came to an end and having fostered some degree of stillness, gratitude was able to permeate my parting gasho (bow) to those present and the Buddha, a ritual marking the close of the meeting.

Floating Point

This post is part of the Lion Seats project created by Richard Bentley. You can read more about the project here.

Location: Floating Point, Bourne House, Horseshoe Road, Pangbourne, RG8 7JQ

The hour-long floatation tank session began with ten minutes of restful ambient music, comprising of slowly shifting choral lines, rounded bass notes and gently modulating synth pads. I could imagine some criticising it as cliché, but its familiarity and strong associations with other relaxation treatments helped me to settle in to the unfamiliar surroundings. As I lay back and slowly sank my head beneath the water, the music took on a lower, mellower tone, hushed, less distinct and with a distant ethereal quality. Carefully adjusting my body to find a comfortable position, I noticed the movement barely made a sound. The lapping of my arms on the surface of the water was the only audible addition to the bed of ambient sound and music.

(Stereo hydrophone recording of the first twelve minutes of the float)

(Ambient stereo recording (Jecklin Disk) in front of the floatation tank)

With the first ten minutes of the float ending, the music faded to leave a continuous low hum, soothing in its constancy. Emerging from this hum I noticed my breathing, low and muffled. Familiar, but stark in the silence, the intimate presence of breathing when the ears are submerged made me pay attention to its quality and measure. As the pace of the breath slowed, I noticed, rather disconcertingly at first, the presence of bodily sounds, much clearer than I’d ordinarily hear them. Whilst, for the most part, the rise and fall of the breath masked these, I could catch hints of the pulse in my ears, indeed throughout my body. I even sensed the pulse creating ripples in the water, particularly where arteries ran close to the surface of the skin. Holding my breath unmasked a variety of gurgles and bubbling from somewhere inside my body. Strangely, a lot of the sounds seemed to appear at or between the ears rather than from the point they originated from. This was true of the high pitched, rapid succession of bubbles occurring in small bursts, more than likely emanating from my stomach. Yet strangely, without the vibration being felt, I had little sense of where these bubbles had come from. They simply appeared as a fizzing between the ears, at the back of the head or lower neck. In contrast, the lower pitched sounds could be sensed more readily as slight tremors in the abdomen. Blinking, I even noticed that my eyelids created a flickering sound as they opened. Being cradled in the warm salty water and having familiarised myself with the novel soundscape, my body largely disappeared from awareness. I placed my attention on the rise and fall of the breath and my mind rapidly sank into a deep, meditative stillness.

For long periods of time over the next thirty minutes, my awareness of sound fell away completely. I was left resting floating in the darkness of the tank, with no sensory stimulation for reference, spare the occasional brush of my skin on the side of the tank. Yet even this sensation was so subtle that I could not tell whether I was merely imagining it. The slow fade-in of the ambient music once again, calmly announced the imminent end of the float session. Beginning with small movements, I gradually came back to awareness of the body and its sensations, exploring movements as if I were observing my body from a distance, re-learning the skill of moving one limb at a time. The noise of the tank’s filter commencing its cleaning cycle marked the end of the float and a return to the noise of the world.

Caversham Weir

This post is part of the Lion Seats project created by Richard Bentley. You can read more about the project here.

13.00 06-09-2017

Location: Caversham Weir, Berkshire


Resting for a second on a bridge straddling the two halves of Heron Island, I noticed a flicker of shimmering green on the bank of the river. Adjusting my position to see past the reeds, a kingfisher stood, resting momentarily to inspect the water below, before darting off to the jetty on the opposite bank. This felt like an auspicious start. Continuing my leisurely stroll upstream towards Caversham Weir, the restful sound of birdsong and my footsteps on the leaf-strewn track were only intermittently disturbed by the rumble of air traffic overhead. Nearing the weir, I noticed the effectiveness of the acoustic baffle formed by the trees. I was surprised to find that the weir was largely imperceptible, until I was within twenty meters of it. Only when the trees flanking the footpath thinned-out, did the thunderous rumble of the weir become noticeable. At this threshold, I veered off to the right, spotting a small clearing by the river bank overlooking the weir.

(Walking to the weir from Caversham)
I set about assembling my recording equipment, extending the front legs of the tripod to compensate for the sloping bank down to the river, attaching the blimp which housed the microphones and adjusting the gains on the portable recorder. Finding a dry spot of grass on which to sit, I turned my attention again to the relentless torrent of white noise that dominated the soundscape. Amplified through headphones, the weir’s size and force was magnified, low frequencies rumbling more threateningly than when heard by the naked ear. From above the roar, amplification brought-out the doppler-drone of aircraft circling for Heathrow, sirens of emergency vehicles, horns of diesel locomotives on the Great Western mainline and construction noise from yet more glass-clad office buildings for which Reading is famous. Taking off the headphones to start the meditation timer, I noticed how the weir masked all but the loudest peaks of these interruptions, leaving me feeling cocooned on the shore of this small river island.

(Caversham weir)
As the automated bell of the timer was invited three times, I lowered my gaze and rested it on the reflections of clouds distorted by the small waves reaching me from the weir. My eyes focused on the ripples and the grey clouds behind them, almost believing they formed the bed of the river here. Slowly drifting eastwards, the clouds appeared to be swept along with the rivers’ flow. Closing my eyes to turn my attention inwards to my breathing, a mild dizziness came over me. The shifting images of clouds and waves had stopped, emboldening my remaining senses to adjust to feeling more firmly anchored to the river bank.

Whilst being a stone’s throw from the town centre, the weir effectively masked the familiar soundscape of urban sprawl beyond. The weir’s endless, scarcely fluctuating roar provided a certainty which was reassuring and restful. Without the distraction of urban clatter, of signals and cues, movement and purpose, networks, transfers, commerce and industry, I settled quickly into my assignment, to simply follow the in breath and out breath. With other work on hold until the following day and plenty of time on my parking ticket, I could afford myself this luxury and allow the weir’s strangely calming interference signal to sever links with plans, deadlines and projects. After a few minutes, thoughts, like the clouds I had been watching pass across the river bed, seemed altogether more distant and ephemeral, well at least for brief interludes. Yet, whilst I felt shielded from distraction by the weir’s gentle onslaught, there lingered a slight unease at being unable to hear passing visitors. Interesting and eye-catching microphone set-ups can deter people from disturbing a recordists seclusion, particularly when they are adorned with headphones. However, my position with a view across the weir also meant there was the chance that someone would notice me from the footpath crossing it and would wish to have their curiosity satisfied. Certainly, the roar of the weir, would give me little time to collect myself and prepare an account of my presence in the event of someone approaching. Such distracting thoughts were hard to shake, but eventually my mind relented and gave in to trusting passers-by to afford me some solitude, or at least to trust myself to respond to an enquiry without frustration or resentment.

With three more sounds of the bell, I moved slowly to pack-up. I left feeling pleased to have found a small corner of the town, just across the river, that I could return to should I crave some detachment from the busyness and bustle.

(Walking from the weir to Reading Bridge)