Tag: Oxford Brookes University

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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listening to the sound of the A34 flooding across the fields of Oxfordshire

(Drayton FC v Hagbourne United Reserves at the Lockway)

It was in April this year that I began to take an interest in the way that traffic sound shapes the listening experience at several of the pitches used by teams in the North Berks League. In spring last year I wrote this about the experience of recording the sound of football not happening at the home of Drayton FC:

The A34 runs from Salford to Winchester. The Southern leg of the road cuts through Oxfordshire from North to South. The soundscape at Drayton FC to the East and Milton United FC to the West of the road is dominated by the sound of the internal combustion engine; the resonating tarmac; and the rattle of trailers and trucks . Drayton FC play in the North Berks League and their pitch is on the South-West edge of the village. The centre circle is 175m East of the A34. If you stand in the centre-circle – where this recording was made – there are benchless breeze block dugouts; a line of low trees; and an electricity pylon that stands in the field between the pitch and the road. The embankment of the A34 rises above the field and the sounds of the road flood down the embankment and saturate the surrounding area with a band of consistent high frequency noise. The rattle of trucks; the phasing of tyres on asphalt as they approach and depart; the liquid drone of the road – these are the sounds that dominate the listener’s attention.

 

 
This week I returned to the Lockway to listen to Drayton FC v Hagbourne Reserves in the North Berks League Division 3. There is no sound baffling between Drayton and the A34 not even a screen of trees. It made me wonder what a fence would do; a tightly packed screen of beech trees; a glass and steel acoustic shield. How long has the sound from the road been this pervasive? Has it got quieter as engine noise has reduced or was rubber on asphalt always the dominant sound at this distance? The calls of the players and coaches are submerged beneath shimmering white noise.
 

 
Only when the play came over to the eastern edge where I was standing was it possible to clearly hear the on-pitch communication. If i had been standing on the A4017 Steventon Road on the other side of the houses whose gardens back onto the pitch I am almost certain that the only sound I would have heard from the West would have been that of the A34. The shouts of players and coaches would be lost in the complex wave of traffic sound – hemmed in – unable to resonate across the surrounding streets and fields.

man on, man on, man on
one more
go to
well done
..two
well done boys
keep going – keep going
‘lucky mate
keep going – keep going

nil-nil start again – nil-nil start again
keep switched on it’s nil-nil

keepers – keepers
two again
stay there
…boys
easy
hey – hey
out wide
not too deep
head
have a go…
hit it
you bastard
early
big head
come up

St.Mary’s Whitchurch

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

13.00 22-06-2017

Location: St. Mary’s, Whitchurch on Thames, Oxfordshire


 
[Outside St Mary’s Whitchurch 1pm 20th Sept 17]

Beside an old oak tree in St Mary’s churchyard

As I passed from the graveyard, through the entrance and into the vestibule of the stone church, the drop in sound levels was marked. The difference in the soundscape was paralleled by the change in brightness, from summer sun to the shade offered by the church. Inside, the only light came from the subdued glow of the stained-glass windows and a handful of dim electric lightbulbs.

I set up my recording gear and sat down for a short meditation on a gratifyingly creaky, but well-padded pew. No sooner had I set the meditation timer underway, than the clacking of shoes on the stone floor interrupted the silence. I glanced back to the doorway to see a man in smart trousers, shirt and a weathered panama hat. The visitor had a relaxed gait as he wandered aimlessly around the back of the nave. I settled back into position, closing my eyes and resting my hands on my legs. The bell sounded to begin the meditation and after a few minutes, the gentleman departed.

Now, there was little to pull my attention away from the meditation. The soundscape of the empty church consisted predominantly of a low rumbling drone, probably from traffic going over the toll bridge at the bottom of the lane. This was layered with dogs barking, bird calls, aircraft passing overhead and the occasional rhythmic rumble of trains rattling through Pangbourne on the other side of the river.

[St Mary’s, Whitchurch on Thames 1pm 22-06-17]

Meditation inside the church

A clunk of the large iron handle on the church door signalled the arrival of another visitor. They moved across the back of the nave. The swishing of fabric and soft tread of rubber shoes came closer and stopped to rest a few pews behind me. A deep sigh seemed to signal a relief in finding somewhere quiet to rest. After some settling-in, unzipping and rummaging through a bag, the haptic bleeping of a phone’s keyboard began. The constant irregular tapping was accompanied by whispered sighs and groans and the occasional respectfully muted chuckle. I managed to return to my breath, the object of my meditation, for short periods of time. However, it was difficult not to get distracted, imagining the text conversation that was taking place. Perhaps due to these distractions, it did not feel long until the closing bell from the mobile phone sounded to signal the end of the meditation, surprising the visitor and affording both of us a moment of quiet reflection.

#22 Listening to the ebb and flow of the A396 with applause

(Horsden Park)


You can hear more sound from Horsden Park here.

The Sound Diaries advent calendar returns this December with twenty four sounds of 24″ duration from our growing archive of audio documentation of grassroots football.

Expect white-line marking; lawn mowing; apoplectic coaches; gale force winds; reversing trucks; despairing goalkeepers; disinterested spectators; rattling dugouts; lacklustre rounds of applause; and football not happening!

Stick it in the mixer!

22.12.17

#2 Painting white lines.


(Bullcroft)

You can hear more sounds of line-marking here.

The Sound Diaries advent calendar returns this December with twenty four sounds of 24″ duration from our growing archive of audio documentation of grassroots football.

Expect white-line marking; lawn mowing; apoplectic coaches; gale force winds; reversing trucks; despairing goalkeepers; disinterested spectators; rattling dugouts; lacklustre rounds of applause; and football not happenning!

Stick it in the mixer!

02.12.17

Travel! The corridor of uncertainty

(bare earth where the white lines were marked at the village green, Stadhampton)

This is the first in a series of posts investigating the close-season soundscape of football pitches on the route between Brightwell-cum-Sotwell and Winslow.

At the beginning of July we drove the short distance from Wallingford to Winslow in Buckinghamshire. I didn’t necessarily choose the most well-trodden route and we found ourselves on a series of roads where alongside severe subsidence – particularly on Carters’ Lane that runs between Blackgrove Road and North Marston – there seemed to be a very real chance that if we stayed out too late we might find that the dense hedgerows on either side of the tarmac had linked up by the time we returned and where we had set off on a decaying trunk road we would be returning on little more than a rural pathway. This reminded me of my interest in recently disused roads and the way that they can quickly recede into the undergrowth becoming narrow footpaths bordered by a wild profusion of plant-life. These sites are a chance to see the formerly vibrant arteries of our transport networks becoming archaeological sites before our eyes and ears as the tarmac sinks into the soil beneath and the sound of tyres on asphalt becomes the sound of dry leaves dancing along a narrow paved pathway; or the sound of  wood pigeons’ wings as their undulating flight takes them from tree to tree. Given my interest in rural football pitches and considering the descent of a site of activity and movement from the present into the past I began to think of pitches in close season as archaeological sites: traces of white lines or depressed channels in the grass; a slight dip in the goalmouths; a bare patch of soil where the centre circle had been marked with a mixture of white paint and weed-killer; round holes for goalposts perhaps now covered in weeds; uneven growth patterns along touchlines; discarded, rusting, goalposts abandoned in a nearby hedge or propped against a fence and now covered in dense creepers.

I felt that I had to return and travel this route again, to pause, get out of the car, spend time, listen. The area seemed curiously remote and in particular Carters’ Lane seemed to be a road that had lost itself and its purpose as it heads North but then peters out as lanes branching to either side head East to North Marston or West to Hogshaw. All that is left of the path North that eventually curves to the East towards Granborough is little more than a desire path that for brief moments passes between hedgerows as a lane would but for the most part simply follows the field’s edge. Having taken a look at the OS map of the area I can see that Carters’ Lane is marked as a Roman Road. I began to think of a way of combining my interest in this route with the discovery of rural football pitches in close season; of using the football pitches along the route as listening stations – sites from which to survey the soundscape; to consider the ephemeral nature of our occupation of space. I began looking at maps – both analogue and digital, searching for evidence of the presence of football pitches.

The pitches that I found were in a variety of conditions from those at Wallingford and Thame both looking sprightly as pre-season and the challenge of new leagues – the Hellenic and Southern respectively – approached; to long disused pitches at Little Milton; pitches with goalposts still standing and others covered in a profusion of flowering red and white clover. At Cuddington – home of Aylesbury Dynamos – white lines had been freshly marked whilst the lines had long since faded on the village green at Stadhampton but scars remained where chemicals mixed with the paint had made the soil barren.

(abandoned goalpost in long grass at Towersey Park)

My first attempt to retrace my steps on the route from Wallingford to Winslow was brief. I was in Long Crendon for a meeting and rather than head straight home I decided to strike out on the route. The first village I came across was Chearsley. Following investigation it seemed that the local football team Chearsley Cricketers FC had folded in February 2016. I found this message on their website:

After yet another frustrating week having to chase up people to even reply to text messages and ultimately an inability to field a competitive side the club have made the difficult decision to fold the club after 10 years. Those that have had the thankless task of running the club over the years deserved better.

The tagline on the website reads:

Welcome to the home of Chearsley Cricketers FC. Providing 10 years of footballing mediocrity 2005-2016.

 In the 2015-2016 season Chearsley Cricketers FC played in the Aylesbury Sunday Combination Premier. Home matches were at Towersey Fields so that’s where I headed to listen:
A bird-scarer sounds complete with reflections from the house fronts on the other side of Thame Road; a distant train – I hear undulations in the sound as it moves from rail to rail; a drone close by – or is it a chain-saw?; the shimmer of poplars in the breeze – the aeolian drone of wind through the leaves; the chain-saw returns – sporadic; birdsong is distant – articulating the hedgerow and fences that mark the boundaries of the playing field – silence in the open ground except for the occasional forays of swifts and a solitary Red Kite; abandoned goal-posts in the long grass; passing cars are not travelling fast enough to fully rise above the drone of the poplars – perhaps on a day when the road surface was wet with rain; a swallow calls – a dissonant multiphonic; a cow; the gentle pitch-phasing of a passing passenger jet; greenfinches in the car park; the bird scarer sounds three times – the third time lower and with a ricochet of rapid reflections; jet engines resonate through the cloud cover and blend with the aeolian drone of the poplars; the chain saw; a Red kite passes – calls once – I strain to hear the flap of its wings but hear nothing.
And record:

 

 

Listening to the A34 from Drayton FC and Milton United

 

The two images in this post are taken from the English Noise map Viewer that can be found here. There is a key for the map indicating the average decibel levels represented by the overlaid colours at the end of this post.

The A34 runs from Salford to Winchester. The Southern leg of the road cuts through Oxfordshire from North to South. The soundscape at Drayton FC to the East and Milton United FC to the West of the road is dominated by the sound of the internal combustion engine; the resonating tarmac; and the rattle of trailers and trucks . Drayton FC play in the North Berks League and their pitch is on the South-West edge of the village. The centre circle is 175m East of the A34. If you stand in the centre-circle – where this recording was made – there are benchless breeze block dugouts; a line of low trees; and an electricity pylon that stands in the  field between the pitch and the road. The embankment of the A34 rises above the field and the sounds of the road flood down the embankment and saturate the surrounding area with a band of consistent high frequency noise. The rattle of trucks; the phasing of tyres on asphalt as they approach and depart; the liquid drone of the road – these are the sounds that dominate the listener’s attention.

 

 

Milton United FC play at Milton Heights which sits above the Milton interchange of the A34. I made this recording from the centre circle of one of the two pitches on the site which is 370m South-West of the A34. The sound here differs radically from that at Drayton. There is more local detail and a more varied frequency range. There is a sense that we are listening to sounds from farther afield – that this is an auditory vantage point. If I turn my head to the South I can hear the road as a high frequency drone – a more distant sound; if I turn to the North-East I can hear a more complex sound – a greater range of frequencies that includes vehicles slowing and braking as they exit the A34. There are sounds that are closer by too – trucks sit in the lane that leads to Milton Heights; the president of the club is painting white lines and at times we can hear this as the wheels of the line marker work against each other and the paint moves from wheel to wheel before it makes contact with the grass.

 

The key below is taken from the Extrium English Noise Map Viewer:

Listening to the River Exe

On my second visit to Fortescue Farm in February 2013 the flood waters had receded. I stood beside the seven-bar gate in Second Marsh and listened to the river. Here are some thoughts from  my blog:

I made this recording on my second visit to Fortescue Farm standing next to the seven bar gate at the former site of a ford across the exe. The river was running within its banks but was still very fast flowing and swollen. Several times during the recording you can hear trains passing on the mainline between Exeter St. David’s and Taunton and in the distance you can hear the sound of an excavator somewhere near Stears Cottage to the North of Stoke Cannon. Recently I have begun thinking that rather than record at the field I should consider how to create a permanent audio stream to the site perhaps because I see my recording activities not as creating documents of a specific moment – although they do – but of making the soundscape of the location audible beyond our boundary of encounter with the site. I’m looking forward to returning to the seven bar gate in April to see how the soundscape has changed in that time.

While I was making this recording I walked West across the site taking photographs of the remains of driftwood scattered across ‘third marsh’ and material that had become lodged against wooden posts of the fence that separates ‘second marsh’ from ‘third marsh’.