Up next in our Getting to Know series are the eclectic and ethereal Pram! The experimental pop outfit were excellent in their for-Wards performance at Martineau Gardens. We asked them to tell us a little about their experiences working with the community groups of Edgbaston for their performance ‘Under the Blossom that Hangs on the Bough‘.
All photos Wayne Fox Photography All rights reserved.
Edgbaston – Martineau Gardens
Pram were excited to work with a group at Martineau Gardens because we love the fact that it is possible to find natural sounds in the middle of an urban conurbation. We had made a preliminary visit to these beautiful community gardens and were keen to see what ideas our participants came up with out of the array of possibilities – bee hives, a bird hide, a wooded trail and the activities of volunteers working in the greenhouse, sweeping and tidying, chopping wood or making well deserved cuppas in the little pavilion.
Our group was made up of volunteers and a worker and they were all curious about the opportunity to think about their sonic environment. We played them some of our own music which uses samples and found sounds and then asked them to think about the variety of noises they might hear around them. Could they find sounds that were surprising or comfortingly familiar, abrupt or delicate, dull or metallic or even endangered in some way and likely to disappear in the future? As soon as they were confident with using the digital recorders, the participants rushed off to experiment with different ideas – all of them thinking through their usual tasks around the space and what sounds they might capture. There was plenty to choose from – the scrape of the sliding door to the greenhouse, the filling of watering cans, the hollow clunk of wood falling into a basket, the raking of leaves.
Members of the group were interested in the way that setting out to capture sounds affected the way they perceived their aural landscape. This was particularly so for a member of the group who uses a hearing aid and was already acutely aware of how different intensities of sound are translated though electronic devices.
The group were keen to be involved in the next process of making choices about their recordings and thinking of how the textures and rhythms might suggest musical features. With this in mind and given the beautiful and welcoming setting, we have decided to run two of our composition workshops at Martineau. This will allow us to develop the participants’ ideas over time and also invite our other community groups along. Our women’s group in Quinton loved the idea of the play area and sandpit at Martineau and they were pleased to find out that this wonderful open space was free to visit and just down the road. We will also be interested to see how the small managed area of Martineau compares to the more sprawling expanse of Woodgate Valley – both vital oases of calm in the second biggest city in the country.
Harborne – Chad Vale Primary School
Pram were delighted to be able to work at Chad Vale Primary School in Harborne as part of the for-Wards project. We wanted to identify four different social groups, one for each of the four wards we would be working in, and we were keen that one of these should be children, in order to reflect the ideas of this effervescent section of the community. Chad Vale was the perfect fit.
Our first session took place with 15 children in ‘The Shed’, which is, er, a shed in the playground. We briefed the children on the project, played a couple of games to get them onside, then showed them the tech we would be using.
Next we split them into four groups, organised randomly, and gave them all a brief to record sounds in the school that were important to them and represented part of their daily life at school. We used the word ‘sample’ to make the connection between them making personal choices and Pram editing the recordings down to shorter events for use in the final production. We also talked in terms of creating a sound world to give an impression of the school. They were were very interested in this and extremely knowledgeable about the concept of sampling. They then had time to get their thoughts together and to decide what sounds they wanted to record.
After this they went off in their groups to make the recordings they had decided on. These were varied, interesting, funny, intelligent and ingenious. To conclude this session we played a few back to them to their general amusement.
Having listened back to the recordings, Pram then had to decide how to go about giving the children a chance to refine the material in such a way that would be both interesting to them and useful to us. In light of the children’s conceptual interest in sound and how it can be manipulated, we decided to replicate the technique used by Alvin Lucier I Am Sitting In A Room. In this he records himself talking into a microphone in a room. He then plays this recording back into the room through speakers and re-records it. He then repeats this process. The audio quality of the recordings progressively changes as the resonant harmonic frequencies of the room become more pronounced, until all that is left is the rhythmic texture of the original speech imprinted onto the discreet resonant frequencies.
We made a quick edit of the pick of the recordings the children had made and returned to Chad Vale to recreate this piece, to give the children a glimpse of the way sound can be creatively treated.
The process of re-recording the samples to highlight the acoustic properties of the room required that the amplified sounds were the only sounds recorded. Unfortunately when we returned there was a team of workmen just outside The Shed, angle-grinding a metal fence into oblivion. After hurried consultations with the school they found us a classroom to work in for 50 minutes while the resident class were having P.E.
We explained the plan to the children and played them the edited samples, asking them to guess what each sound was (there were nearly forty in all). Then they collectively devised a short text to introduce the sounds. They then read this text with each child saying one word, while we recorded it. We then played their text back followed by the sound samples and started the process of re-recording.
At this point we ran out of time. We had planned the session to last an hour and a half but due to the restrictions on space we had to try and make it fit into a shorter time and unfortunately we weren’t able to do this. This was frustrating for everyone involved but the process will be completed and Pram will send the final series of recordings to the school. The children will also be invited to the final performance where there contributions will form a part of the final piece.
Bartley Green – Woodgate Valley Country Park
Woodgate Valley Country Park brings together many of the elements that characterise the Edgbaston District. It is a lovely open space full of trees, water features and wildlife yet it is in the middle of a busy residential area. It it is surrounded by the remnants of ancient hamlets but also contains evidence of the city’s industrial heritage. It features an old Cart Track and the remains of a once important canal link with its Lapal Tunnel running under the park, but is just on the edge of the M5 motorway. Our recording session captured many of these contradictory elements, bringing together the Friends of Woodgate Valley Country Park, made up of local residents and supporters along with Bartley Green District History Group and the park’s Rangers – altogether there was a group of about 20 of us setting out on a chilly autumnal day.
We explained the ideas behind the for-Wards project and asked the group to think about what varieties of sounds they might encounter on their journey through the Park. The History Group took a lead in shaping the walk, taking in many of the archaeological sites and speaking about their significance. At first, members of the group were shy about participating, but once they had a go at using the equipment they became quite enthusiastic about recording. They captured some of the talk about the local history and started to notice the sounds in the environment. On Facebook later, one of the group described “recording sounds of the countryside – rustling leaves, babbling brooks, breaking twigs and the general hubbub”. Soon members of the group were working on their own initiative and encouraging other participants to join in, crouching down by the Bourn Brook or getting someone to walk in a puddle or through shale whilst the other person recorded them. Luckily the group had come prepared with warm clothes and wellies!
Quinton – Women’s Group at The Haven
As the young mums met at Haven community centre Quinton for their regular full breakfast and social, the clatter of cutlery on plates and general hubbub of cheery people nattering and catching up on news washed around the welcoming space.
One of the mothers took up the opportunity to do some field recording and the sounds of the kitchen were seemingly an immediate draw for her; washing up, the kettle boiling, a teaspoon in a mug. Afterwards she expressed surprise at the volume/intensity of the everyday sounds that are the underscore to our lives, going on to explain how the school break times indicate the time of day to her due to living in close proximity to the local school and hearing the children playing outside. Another sound that sprung to mind for her was the bus, that begins running at 6:30am and stops right outside her house, like a sonic time piece that alleviates opening an eye to blearily check the clock too early!
We had our youngest participant so far during the project – a baby of just 5 weeks who obligingly made some lovely snuffly noises whilst sleeping through the whole experience. Another little girl went surprisingly quiet at the sight of the microphone, despite her mum singing songs and rhymes to her.
A toddler named Shay really enjoyed exploring with headphones and microphone in tow, whether his own voice, a rattly blind, the resonant metals of a radiator or propane bottle, or just some crunchy gravel underfoot. The fascination of a world composed of sound was written all over his face… at one moment he spontaneously played a rhythmic pattern made from two sounds he found on the cast iron (unlit) fire feature in the back garden, a drummer in the making perhaps?!
Don’t forget, there are still 4 more Year One for-Wards performances to come, featuring Bobbie-Jane Gardner, Justin K Broadrick, and Percy Pursglove – find out more here!