Wandering further down pathways that considered mediated / non-mediated space and rural as compared to urban landscapes (see in part here) has caused me to return to one of the original impulses that lead to A Year In The Country.
Early during this particular experiment I wrote:
“I realised that I wanted to try and create a new language of nature/landscape photography, one which would (hopefully) make sense to an urban and/or subcultural sensibility; which is my own background in many ways – for a fair few years I lived in city environments, working in what I suppose could be called counter-culture or left-of-centre oddball pop culture.”
As stated above, that intention began by working/planning work of a light-catching nature but I think increasingly it is a concept that could be applied to much or possibly all of A Year In The Country.
Much/the majority of popular and/or subcultural culture takes as its starting point and works within urban settings, themes, aesthetics and so on.
A Year In The Country and resulting work such as Airwaves: Songs From The Sentinels is in part a response to such a majority.
It has not been intended to be a dichotomous, one is better than the other journey – more an exploration of other avenues, of other possibilities, wellsprings and drawings.
As an (almost) final note, below is a gathering of the encasings and envoyings of Airwaves:
With that, dear reader this particular pathway and the wanderings of this particular section of journeyings and explorations has (for the time being?) come to an end.
Continuing further along a thread, wandering and considering of unmediated spaces (see here)…
Conversely and in a contrasting manner, although visually and overtly physically the landscape where such sentinels / senders may stand may appear possibly less mediated than say the nucleii of urban population centres, quite possibly it is some of the most heavily mediated land there is or can be.
Pray tell why and how?
Well, this is land where the air is diaphanously alive with high power(?) transmissions from those very sentinels / senders.
A positive smog of data, watchfulness, communications, implorings, entertainments, instructions and beseechings.
These are places where the air is quite possibly alive and thoroughly woven with the chatterings of “modern day magic on a monthly tariff“, all the sendings and receivings of modern day life.
The Airwaves set of Audiological Transmissions draw from this sense of a land both marked and unmarked, of the scatterings and fadings of that constant conversation; weaving and reweaving a journey, tales and constructs from such foundling waves and ripples…
Continuing along a thread, wandering and considering of unmediated spaces (see here)…
In previous notes and scribings on the Airwaves set of Audiological Transmissions I commented on how the branded detritus left behind in the land and at the site/s of sentinels / senders after the escapisms of youth caused a sense of disjuncture, a sense that it does not belong here, that it is other…
The reason for this may well in part connect with such places and indeed non-urban spaces as being less mediated, of their being less unwanted input, fewer mechanical eyes, fewer advertisment implorings and instructions…
On the roads that lead to and around one particular standing of sentinels / senders that as I have previously mentioned, was one of the wellsprings for the weavings of Airwaves, their is a sense, just around the fringes of consciousness of stepping away from the regimentations of society.
Here and there alongs such routes our tarmacadam pavings are giving way to nature, the lands gardenry has begun to repopulate the bitumen; take an exploratory wrong turn and roads can fade away to nothing and become but rough soil paths, you can count the number of automobiles that pass you on considerably less than one hand for a number of miles and the land retains its wintery covering when elsewhere all is returned to the norm.
A while ago when I read Jean Spracklands Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach, which as the title states, is a year long journey of wanderings and findings upon the nation’s coastlines, one of the things that struck me was when she talked about the beach at night as being an unmediated place away from the watchful eyes of authority and guardians.
She commented that the young/teenagers were drawn to them and would do what they have done throughout the ages at such times and place; imbibe, start fires and couple.
The particular set of sentinels / senders that I was repeatedly drawn to and which were a wellspring for the Airwaves set of Audiological Transmissions reminded me of this consideration.
Although not set at the edge of the land or accompanied by the washings of the tide, such installations are also often in similar unobserved and/or remote locations.
They are often marked as refuges or temporary autonomous zones for such youthful activities by the scattering of impromptu patches of burnt ground, the crushed and fading cannisters of liquid forgetfulness, branded convenience sustenance wrappers and their ilk all of which to myself always seem curiously violently intrusive.
Now, I’m wary of being all “Keep Britain Tidy” and “Darned the young folk of today”.
This isn’t that. I’m generally intrigued by such discarded items, the story behind who used them and how they came to be here but also I find that there is a sense of genuine disjuncture caused by such marqued, branded, prepared and processed detritus – a sense that it does not belong here, that it is other…
Audiological Contents: The Chatter Amongst The Land. A Cracked Sky. Night Mesh. Flutter Once More. Fading From A Distance. Imparting Received. Songs From The Sentinels. Tales And Constructs. They Have Departed Once More. To Be Sheltered. A Measuring. For My Gentle Scattering. (51 minutes).
Retransmission: Notes and Scribings on Airwaves: Songs From The Sentinels; A study of the tales told/required to be told by the sentinels/senders that stand atop the land; a gathering of scattered signals plucked from the ether, cryptograms that wander amongst the airwaves, fading, tired and garbled messages which have journeyed from nearby or who knows where…
The Airwaves set of audiological constructs are an exploration that begins with and via silent but ever chattering broadcast towers; their transmissions and sometimes secrets – the songs they weave from their own particular language and emanations.
These stilled, quietly brooding sentinels/senders are part of a network of threads, both corporeal and those less tangible, carrying on their shoulders the weight and responsibilities of passing forward those innumerable stories; of joy, day-to-day life, institutional watchfulness, our entertainments or in conclusion harbingers of storms sent from our own hands.
Airwaves harvests, weaves with and recasts the transmissions found amongst the gossamer strands of that network, intertwining these with and through the medium of cathodic reverberations/mechanisms while also taking ministrations from the wellsprings and flows of an otherly pastoralism, travelling through and amongst the brambled flipside of an Arcadian idyll and the subcultural undergrowth of the wald.
The resulting work, though drawn in part from the beauty and bounty of the landscape wherein these sentinels stand, seems to often summon unbidden some sense of loss, of the ghosts and fractures of a landscape and psyche that still contains the echoes and fragments of cold conflicts and end of days once planned for by national behemoths and those who stood beside them.
Further perusing of Airwaves notes, scribings and audiological transmissions can be carried out here.
Audiological construction by A Year In The Country.
Artwork and packaging design by AYITC Ocular Signals Department.
Continuing in a further wandering / line from genuine land art, utilitarian accidental folk-art, pragmatic ornamentation, bricks, mortar and cement and their possible antithesis the patterns and language of trees (see here, here and here)…
Generally in rural landscapes what can be thought of as brutalist, utilitarian architecture is restricted to a few very specific areas and locations – there are often a surprising number of industrial complexes of one sort or another scattered throughout the countryside, amongst quarries etc but they are generally sporadic, sometimes hidden away from passers by and roads, sometimes spectacularly imposed and imposing on the landscape.
Now, while I don’t consider the senders / sentinels of broadcast towers as strictly brutalist architecture, as mentioned in earlier notes and scribing they share a similar utilitarian nature and their own structure / accompanying buildings and outgrowths may well share similar materials and aesthetics.
However, I don’t tend to think of such structures as broadcast towers, electricity pylons, telegraph poles and possibly wind power turbines as blots on the beauty of the land; more that they are points of reference, beacons amongst the landscape.
Although more modern (modernistic?) in nature than say dry stone walls and though produced and placed by the hand of man, for myself they share a similar sense of becoming / have become part of the landscape; a sense of bedding in, of belonging, of threading and interweaving through the land (or possibly in the case of pylons that would be more of a march) and/or they stand as do their often forest and tree companions, as gathered or solitary interconnected tendrils and patterning.
The contrasts of the above brings me to a duality of both celebration and sometimes extemporary unease that seems present and at play in amongst my own work, its weavings, channellings and my relationship with the beauty of the land:
“…though drawn in part from the beauty and bounty of the landscape wherein these sentinels stand, seems to often summon unbidden some sense of loss, of the ghosts and fractures of a landscape and psyche that still contains the echoes and fragments of cold conflicts and end of days…” (from previous notes and scribings on Airwaves).
Continuing in some kind of line/progression from previous thoughts on genuine land art, utilitarian accidental folk-art and pragmatic ornamentation (see here and here)…
A fair while ago (I think) I read the phrase God’s calligraphy in relation to the patterns that trees write and create.
(I don’t tend to think of it in an overtly spiritual related manner – more as an expression of beauty, delight, variations and non-directed by our good selves craft.)
I say I think as in my memory it was connected to the writing on/in a photography book where the same area of the landscape was visited repeatedly and the resulting light-catching of said calligraphy was used to create the book.
Although the memory is somewhat hazy and I nolonger know or can find the book or quote in question, it is a phrase that has often returned to me.
This may well be in part because in my own / A Year In The Country related work and light-catching trees and those just mentioned patterns are a constant companion.
If you were engaged in such things in urban locations then bricks, mortar, cement and buildings would quite possibly often be a recurring theme and/or backdrop.
However, trees and their patterns don’t feel like a backdrop – they are more an intrinsic part of the experience of life out nearer the wald and I find a constant fascination and inspiration with these patterns, their changes with the cycle of the year, their endless non-repetition and unique character.
Which brings me to the sentinels / senders from which the Airwaves Audiological Transmissions begin and from whose songs such weaving and threading takes place and the earlier mentioned considerations of them as “genuine land art, utilitarian accidental folk-art and pragmatic ornamentation“.
Although by their nature trees are not accidental folk-art – they are not created by ourselves – if you should stop and step back with an eye attuned to attuned to a particular kind of appreciation then along with broadcast towers trees share that sense of pragmatic ornamentation – they are a very basic, fundamental, necessary part of life but they also create and mark their own art throughout the land.
A while ago I saw an interview with Brian Eno where he talked about how once human society had reached a point where our basic survival needs were being me then we begin a process of ornamentation in life (I’m probably paraphrasing here as it is from a reasonably distant memory).
In the interview he essentially implied that ornamentation covers all of art, style, music, culture etc – books, albums, hairstyles, clothing design, exhibitions etc – they’re all a form of ornamentation.
(This is a theme that he expanding on in his 2015 BBC Music John Peel Lecture – that art was everything we don’t need to do.)
I was recently thinking about this lecture again and how broadcast towers, telegraph poles and electricity pylons could be considered a form of accidental folk-art (see here for notes and scribings on such things) or also a form of pragmatic ornamentation.
This made me think of the phrase “pragmatic ornamentation” – building and maintaining broadcast towers, pylons etc are things that we need to do (at least we need to do them in order to maintain society and its infrastructure at a certain level) but there is also the element of design, beauty, appreciation to them – utilitarian accidental folk-art is another phrase that could be used.
If such structures/constructions/creations can be seen as such, as “pragmatic ornamentation” then they are quite possibly a section of our endeavours that straddles the above definition of art and need.
You could place something like say cutlery in a similar bracket but here I think broadcast towers, telegraph poles and electricity pylons I think differ – cutlery, even at it’s most basic often has a more overt element of deliberate aesthetic design and intention than the sentinels / senders and societal threading nodes in question.
Despite, if living upon these shores, most probably already having paid a yearly stipend for such things, Mr Eno’s lecture can nolonger be viewed and perused in its original cathode ray transmission form but fortunately it can still be read in electronic black and white here.
One of the strands of the first spin-around-the-sun of A Year In The Country was a consideration of the likes of telegraph poles, electricity poles and pylons – how they could be appreciated in a not dissimilar was as say library music is – work that was created in/for a utilitarian manner but which has become in some beholders eyes a form of accidental folk-art.
Genuine land art I suppose.
Earlier around these parts I considered such things and the curating and collecting of The Telegraph Pole Appreciation Society and Poles and Pylons (see Days #279/365 and #282/365).
At that point, when I wandered by Poles and Pylons I commented that the admiration at The TPAS for telegraph poles was only half the story – the other half being, well, the hummings of electricity cables, poles and pylons.
Now, as I type I realise that both of those may well only be a third of the story – the other third being an appreciation for the sentinels / senders that are the ever silent but chattering broadcast towers.
Such towers share more than a little geneaology, structure and design with electricity pylons in particular and all three sets/subsets play their part in binding society together through their various corporeal and less tangible spinning of threads.
That just mentioned sense of land art seems to particularly apply to broadcast towers, possibly in part because of their more scarce appearance and how they are often positioned in particularly striking, visible from afar locations; placed either in a solitary manner or gathered in tableaux’s I find that there’s a certain unknowable majesty and stoicism to these structures.
While standing in amongst the silent/ever chattering sentinels/senders that the Airwaves set of audiological transmissions take as a wellspring, I’m often able to view and study the unfettered floating, diving and gatherings of the ornithological population of the land (and air).
I find that I can but appreciate the majesty, freedom, grace and beauty of such creatures…
…while such observations and their proximity to those sentinels/senders and their role as spinners of threads/lines of communication also tends to connect again to an earlier point in A Year In The Country’s wanderings…
A particular reference point during the first spin-around-the-sun of A Year In The Country was (to quote myself) “a science fiction short story I read sometime around the early to mid-eighties, wherein there is a lead up to a devastating attack/war, during which birds are noted as sitting on the telephone wires around and about… when the attack arrives, the central (human) character rushes to his fallout shelter, only to find it crammed full of birds and animals, with no space for him: the birds had actually been listening to mankind’s communications via the telephone lines and knew that the attack was coming and where to hide.
As an idea, that has always stuck with me and I find it quite unsettling writing about it even now.
I’m not sure what the story was called, I think it was possibly by Clifford Simak but I don’t think I really want to know, know too much about it or revisit it; sometimes these things hold their power more as semi-remembered cultural touchstones…”
…although often not overtly alluded to, some of the underlying stories/patterns of the first cycle of A Year In The Country wandered out from the ripples, reverberations and duality of a childhood spent in part in both explorative bucolic bliss in the English countryside, while also living in/becoming aware of the shadow of the Cold War…
In many ways that year long cycle helped to lay to rest many of such spectres (at least on a personal level) but I find as I work on, their echoes and/or an associated “underlying unsettledness to the English bucolic countryside dream” return unbidden and that particularly seems to be the case with the Airwaves set of audiological transmissions.
As a child, one of the main tellers/bogeymen of such Cold War dread was the documentary-esque drama Threads which told of life in Britain after a near-end-of-days attack.
Threads took its name from the connections and lines of communication in human society and their breaking by storms of our own devising.
The word itself, threads, implies the fragility of those lines and the ease with which they can be broken.
Airwaves focuses on one of the points of connection in amongst those threads; these stilled, quietly brooding sentinels and senders are part of a gossamer network, both corporeal and those less tangible, carrying on their shoulders the weight and responsibilities of passing forward those innumerable stories; of joy, day-to-day life, institutional watchfulness, our entertainments or in conclusion harbingers of those storms sent from our own hands…
Considerations and interlinked entwinings of the breaking of threads can be viewed here and childhood dualities via two brown boxes can be perused here.
In the first spin-around-the-sun of A Year In The Country when I would visit the places that the silent but chattering sentinels/broadcast towers stood, one of the phrases that would repeatedly occur to me was “the bad wires” – a quote from the 1975 cathode ray tale The Changes, wherein people have been driven by an unknown force to destroy, hate and fear all electrical and mechanical equipment.
In a transformed and in some ways reverted world, pylons and overhead electrical cables are known as “the bad wires”, the have become folk devil markers in the land and passing under them will cause anxiety and physical distress.
Memories of this series seemed to recur when I visited where the broadcast towers stood, watched and signalled to the world…
…though with these particular sentinels I tended to consider them more as quietly brooding rather than threatening – physically stilled and yet a hive of activity invisible to our conscious senses…
Threads, The Changes, The Bad Wires and The Ghosts of Transmissions here and a related gathering conflagration and surverying here. The Changes elsewhere in the ether here.
One of the anomalies of living out amongst the trees and fields is that often some of the places I am most drawn to, where I go to reflect and look out over the land, are often also the places most stamped by our own hands – where broadcast (television, radio, interpersonal and institutional communications?) towers stand.
Spending time amongst these steel structures and their jutting adjuncts connects with something I often think of; that no matter where you should find yourself, whether in the heart of a metropolis or looking out over sprawling fields and land, the air in front of and around you is alive with quite possibly innumerable conversations, stories, broadcasts – invisible to the eye but ever present for the machines we build and buy.
The Airwaves set of audiological constructs are an exploration of those silent but ever chattering towers, their transmissions and sometimes secrets – the songs they weave from their own particular language and emanations.
In amongst the constructs will be scattered signals plucked from the ether – those that have travelled from lands afar, the cryptograms that wander amongst them, fading, tired and garbled messages which have journeyed from nearby or who knows where.
The resulting work, though drawn in part from the beauty and bounty of the landscape wherein these sentinels and senders stand, seems to often summon unbidden some sense of loss, of the ghosts and fractures of that unknown loss; to continue down pathways that began via A Year In The Country’s “journey through and searching for an expression of an underlying unsettledness to the English bucolic countryside dream; an exploration of an otherly pastoralism, the patterns beneath the plough, pylons and amongst the edgelands…”
Further perusing of Airwaves notes, scribings and audiological transmissions can be carried out here.
As a postscript and to accompany those audiological transmissions, around these parts there may well be a further spin-around-the-sun set of pathways, trails, influences, wanderings and perhaps revisitings by, through and around those lodestones and touchstones “that have influenced, inspired and intrigued me… which will quite possibly take in the further flung reaches of work with its roots in folkloric concerns and what has been labelled hauntological culture.”
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