Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Blowing in the wind - Harmonic Fields at Portland


The Sock's have for many years had two little traditions that both take place on the main route along the South Coast.  The first is that the M27 motorway services heading west are always referred to as the Seafood Vol-au-vent Platter stop as many years ago this was advertised there as 'Dish of the Day'.  It would be difficult to think of anything more grotesquely unpleasant to eat service station style - soggy grey vol-au-vents filled with a mucilaginous white sauce containing old fish scrapings, stinking of iodine and just enough dead mussel to ensure food poisoning for a month.  And not just one - a whole bloody platter full!

The second tradition is, on being anywhere within spitting distance of Weymouth (which includes the Dorchester by-pass), to ask "Is that Portland Bill?" and be answered "It is Portland and don't call me Bill!".  Boy do we laugh over that one! So many times over so many years.

Wind music to a backdrop of Chesil Beach

We made our first visit to the Isle of Portland at the weekend and realised that in fact, Portland Bill only refers to a narrow promontory at the southern end of it with a lighthouse sat on top.  It is therefore somewhat unlikely that we have ever actually been within sight of it which sadly, rather puts the kybosh on joke.

The visit to Portland was to see Harmonic Fields part of the Dorset Inside Out Festival, by Pierre Sauvageot an ensemble of 500 instruments played by the wind.  Harnessing this natural energy life is breathed into the orchestra, creating a symphonic soundscape, unique to each visitor.  Saturday was our last chance to see this installation, set in Bowers Quarry and along the sheer cliffs of the Island. (clic on any pic to enlarge)

Bamboo pipes are lined up along the pathway above the sheer drop to the shore

A sunny day had bought the crowds out and I was already in a grump before we set foot out of the car, watching the trail of noisy children and adults making their way along the one mile route around the quarry. As we paid a voluntary contribution to enter the site we were encouraged to try and keep quiet, to stand still by each set of 'instruments', to close our eyes and immerse ourselves in the sounds of the weird and wonderful wind orchestra.  "Fat chance of that", I thought, as we stopped at the first installation to find that the calm conditions were creating only a  mere tinkle of noise immediately drowned out by people loudly discussing what they were having for tea!

It wasn't the kids that were noisy (particularly after I had given a few my evil stare and throat slitting mime).  No, it was the adults! "Oy George come over 'ere and listen to this" screeched one woman, preventing the rest of us from doing just that. My mind was immersed not in music but in a mental rant about unnecessary noise, including my annoyance with the loud builders working on a house behind ours who include a gibbering gibbon, a laughing jackass and a braying donkey in their menagerie. Except that unlike animals their nonsensical noises are totally without point or meaning just empty vessels making most din! Don't get me started....

And then suddenly a slight breeze blew and the empty vessels around the cliff tops started to tune up like the Royal Symphony Orchestra before a concert - not a discordant cacophony but a symphony of strange sounds. I hadn't realised the power of sound to evoke strong memories... the mournfully melodic vibrations of a taut wires on an old half-buried sand yacht in the dunes at Llangennith, which we boarded and imagined our pirate ship.  The keening sea wind cutting into the rocks and gulleys at Kilboidy, blasting salt grit onto my skin whilst I watched the rising tide and my parents fishing.  The jangling metallic music of mast heads around the small harbour on a mellow Languedocienne afternoon where we sat drinking muscat at a tiny deserted cafe.  All these flowed into my mind dispersing the discontent with my garrulous fellow visitors.

My new hattiewat

I concentrated only on the sounds and the sights, my grumps soon forgotten as I allowed the 'music' to transport me.

Although it was a shame that conditions were so calm and there was little wind to fire the 'instruments' up, it was still absolutely magical and I was content with what we had.  Despite the signs along the route entreating people to silence  few took notice.  But even the man calling his children with a piercing whistle, the inevitable girl conducting a long loud conversation into her mobile phone and the equally inevitable person who had not switched her ringing phone off as requested on the signs, failed to spoil my enjoyment (although I did point and tut at the latter perpetrator!).

The Harmonic Field's show is over now.  If it is reconfigured elsewhere (as surely it must be) I urge you to go and experience it - it was quite the best, most original and innovative event I have been to in years.

An orchestra of eccentric instruments fill the quarry with windmusic

 I only wish I could go again and experience the 'music' of a full wind blowing.



Anonymous said...

It sounds so interesting. I love how the wind blew and briefly chased away the grumps caused by all the annoying inconsiderate other people ;)
As we sat eating our lunch last week above Llangennith sands, we rolled our eyes and later compared exasperation at the woman nearby WITH THE LOUD NON-STOP MONOLOGUE IN VERY PRECISE DICTION, DARLING aimed at her 'lucky' companion (who didn't raise a mutter the whole time) and everyone else within about a mile. Her poor infant didn't make a gurgle, no chance of getting a squeal in sideways with that...
Bah, people. I could be a hermit ;)

wellywoman said...

Sounds like a fascinating visit.We went to a sound sculpture at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and found it amazing. I was a little dubious at first. I used to work in museums and art galleries so have seen my fair share of dodgy 'works'. Fortunately, the exhibition we saw was in a gallery with stern looking guides there to stop anyone disrupting the required atmosphere.

I'm beginning to come to the conclusion that some people are just plain noisy. They don't do anything quietly and as a result don't appreciate others wanting some serenity and calm. I have a neighbour who screeches at her kids, the kids screech all the time, the dog is some yappy thing, her dad has a noisy motorbike. I don't know how she doesn't have a permanent headache, I would. Maybe we could establish an island somewhere for people who want peace and tranquility.

Pleased to know it's not just us that have our little jokes. You can't say 'pizza' to my husband without him breaking into 'That's amore' and I have a thing for shouting Broadwoodwidger as we drive past the sign for the place on the M5. Don't you just love that name? In fact, we have a whole list of these sort of in-jokes but I'll keep the rest to myself for fear of looking just a little too odd!

Ms B said...

I don't really want to sound grumpy but we do live in an ever noisier society combined with an increasing self centred society in that peoplle rarely seem to think about how their own relatively minor actions impinge upon the lives of other people. What ever happened to the 'quiet enjoyment' thing? The sound sculptures sound amazing.

Helle (Helen) said...

The event sounds very interesting, pity about the ambient noise. But I guess that is just how it is these days. Sadly.
We went to Portland during our recent hols in mainly Devon. And were rather disappointed. Rarely have I seen what could be a lovely place so ruined by all the construction, fencing, roads and roundabouts, mess and just awful planning. On the other side of the hill it does get rather nice - we actually wanted to go up the lighthouse, as did most people on that day, only after everybody had paid and displayed to park, did we all find out that the lighthouse was closed "for operational reasons". The little birdwatching centre just before the lighthouse was great, though.

patientgardener said...

I love the two photos with people and the 'orchestra' - looks like some kind of Tolkeinesque army

Arabella Sock said...

The noise thing is a real problem - worse than light pollution! Kids are big offenders even when they are with their parents in public places screaming with all the power they can put into it for no obvious reason. Perhaps it's all attention seeking. We were reasonably naughty children but keeping quiet was one way of keeping under the radar and we never tried to bring undue attention to our behaviour. I have had many a peaceful park walk ruined by the loud aggressive voices of children 'playing'. It's children from all social backgrounds too and they are set a bad example by parents who are not much better. Ms B is right to say it is an increasingly self centred society where people think they have a 'right' to do as they please without giving a damn about how this affects others. I find it all rather depressing and am becoming increasingly misanthropic.

I was once sat in a cafe within 18 inches of the table next to me where some sort of a social worker was having a loud detailed discussion with his client. I was rather uncomfortable to be having to listen to such intimate and confidential details and eventually turned to the social worker and said (nicely) "I'm not sure whether you are aware that everyone can here details of this business and perhaps its not an appropriate place to be discussing it." At which point his client (who otherwise seemed a reasonably articulate and intelligent woman) gave me a mouthful. I should have just joined in their discussion with helpful hints and opinions on how they could resolve the situation. I rarely make comment to anyone now in case they hit me.

Helle, I agree about Portland - it has never been high on my agenda to visit as I always assumed it looked like a construction site so I was actually pleasantly surprised to find the nice views and coastal walk there. Thanks for the tip on the birdwatching centre - we saw it but didn't have time to stop but we intend going back sometime to walk a bit more of the coastline.

Patientgardener, it does look Tolkeinesque doesn't it! When we were there and approaching the quarry orchestra it looked like some sort of Close Encounters set.

Karen - An Artists Garden said...

What a fascinating experience and the images are great too. Shame about the other folk!! It is a kind of hermit like tendency that keeps me from doing these sort of adventures - although I am glad that you were able to give yourself over to the "music"

Stuart M said...

You missed the harmonic Fields on Portland/ Then here is a 25 minute film of it: