A solo environmental art project with violins out in the natural environment
Resonant Pathways is a solo project by electroacoustic composer and improviser Bennett Hogg, in which experiences of free improvisation with an acoustic violin are extended into interactions with the natural environment, in the pursuit of an ecosystemic sonic arts practice. That this is named as an ecosystemic practice is intended to convey a sense of participation and connectedness with the environment, in which the composer/improviser works directly with the sonic affordances of a particular place, not only recording environmental sound (collection) but generating it in a “collaboration” with the environment. As the philosopher Salome Voegelin has pointed out, we not only perceive our sonic environment but add to it through making sound ourselves. We move and react in response to sound. Our response to listening/hearing is often to make sound ourselves; or to make ourselves sound.
Such a collection of thoughts seems to offer an interactive model for environmental art, which is the philosophical ground out of which the project has grown, the pathways aspect informed and inspired by Robert Macfarlane’s writings – The Old Ways, for example – as well as Richard Long’s walks, and Andy Goldsworthy’s physical interventions into his local environment. Pathways connect, record the passing of humans and other creatures across a landscape, they stand as metaphors for stories as well as sites for the actualisation of stories, they draw our imaginations.
‘The imagination cannot help but pursue a line in the land – onwards in space, but also backwards in time to the histories of a route and its previous followers’ – Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2012), p.15
In practical terms, interventions take several forms. Using very small DPA microphones, sounds from inside the violin are captured as the instrument is confronted with a series of different environmental encounters. The violin might be dragged very slowly through undergrowth and vegetation, the different materials such as thorns, sticks, leaves, grasses engendering a dense array of different timbres as the body and strings of the violin come into contact with them. Sometimes the violin is floated on a river, so that dragging against the current produces a bright, watery resonance in the instrument that becomes an eerie stillness as the instrument is left to float downstream – the absence of water resistance against the body resulting in a near silence. The violin can also be used to directly engage with a river as it flows, the instrument being partially submerged so that the strings are sounded by the pressure of water flowing over them. Violins are also used as resonators in aeolian sound experiments built into living trees, the movement of branches stretching and slackening the strings so that the weather is gently registered in subtle pitch fluctuations. Completed works exist in the form of field recordings and interventions suitable for live performance, but also produce sonic materials for reworking into acousmatic compositions, or as elements to be incorporated into live improvisation.
Aspects of the project are akin to Richard Long’s walks; as he puts it, “The knowledge of my actions in whatever form, is the art. My art is the essence of my experience, not a representation of it”. This solitary experience, though, can be shared through inviting collaborations in which the experience is shared, and by involving audiences in the production of sounds, as well as in fixed media works, several of which have already been produced, that relocate these sounds produced through improvisation into more complex configurations suitable for installation or concert presentation; something akin to Robert Smithson’s idea of a “non-site”, but in a sonic register. Ideally, something of all of these factors should be present in any instance of the work, though stereo and multitrack versions for purely acousmatic presentation are also possible.
some recent compositions from Resonant Pathways project
aeolian violin installation with fishing wire and violins – used to record October Sunscape (link to audio below)
Four Times over the Same Path – a multi-tracked composition (intended for four channel installation) dragging a violin along the same path for exactly the same length of time – using the path like a score (The south Plant’n, near Seaton Sluice, Northumberland, 2010).
balancing string – pull-release improvisations with violin floating on river (at River Petteril, Greystoke, Cumbria, 2010), assembled into a stereo composition.
Devil’s Water 1 – field recording of live improvisation with two violins in a river (The Devil’s Water, near Hexham, Northumberland, 2011).
October Sunscape – long, slow and meditative field recording of an aeolian structure resonated by violin bodies, played by the wind and the ambient sounds (Morpeth, Northumberland, 2012). See illustration above.
‘. . . for animistic cultures, those that see the natural world as inspirited, not just people, but also animals, plants, and even “inert” entities such as stones and rivers are perceived as being articulate and at times intelligible subjects, able to communicate and interact with humans for good or ill’ – Christopher Manes, Nature and Silence, p. 15: in Glotfelty and Fromm (eds.) The Ecocriticism Reader (Georgia University Press, 1996), pp. 15-29.