somewhere a field

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)

somewhere a field is a research project exploring the soundscape, and the use of sound-making devices, in a rural site in the parish of Netherexe, Devon. The former border between the Hundreds of Wonford and Highridge runs across the site, and is now the boundary between the Parishes of Netherexe to the North and Brampford Speke to the South. The site consists of five fields and an area known as ‘rough marsh’ that runs next to the River Exe. The fields are bordered by the river on three sides and even on a casual inspection it is possible to see evidence of the changing course of the river with old river beds and disused channels. You can also see culverts cutting through the embankment of a disused railway line and providing evidence of former streams and tributary channels of the Exe.

The fields are part of Fortescue Farm and I am exploring them with the kind permission of the farmers Ed and Jilly Greed. Each of the fields has a name and on my first visit I spent much of my time in ‘first marsh’ nearest to the farmhouse listening to the sound of the river in flood from above and below; the sound of rubber on asphalt as cars travel along the A396 between Rewe and Stoke Canon; birdsong and the sound of an excavator moving soil and rubble to the South near Stears Cottage and the Exe Valley Way; and the sound of trains as they pass along the mainline that heads North from Exeter and lies to the West of Stoke Canon.

I have visited the site regularly since my first visit in January 2013 and have investigated the soundscape by making field recordings with hydrophones and microphones; exploring the use of sound-making devices including turntables, radios, instruments, bows and transducers; listening to the vibrating sounds of the soil with geophones; and most of all attempting to exhaust the place, to give it my closest attention. Charlotte Heffernan and Shirley Pegna from SARU have been assisting me with the project and other visitors to the field have included violinist Emma Welton, artists Felicity Ford, Anna Best, Angharad davies, Tim parkinson, Paul Newland and James Saunders.

So how does somewhere a field fit with the remit of Sound Diaries? The project has resulted in the development of composition strategies that I have used in trembling earth written for Trio Aporia and somewhere a field developed with [rout] for audiograft. The Sound Diaries project aim is to explore what it means to record life in sound and investigate the cultural and communal significance of sounds. With this aim in mind many of the experiments in the field – asking performers to filter the sounds they hear through reciprocal activity on their instruments for example – can become recordings or transcriptions of the soundscape of the fields.

This recording was made with two of Jez Riley-French’s contact microphones attached to one of the gates in the field:

You can follow the project blog heresomewhere a field is supported by the Sonic Art Research Unit (SARU) at Oxford Brookes University.

Paul Whitty