I have been re-reading the Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons books over the past few weeks. They are stories that I have loved since I was a child and I have really enjoyed revisiting them. I read them in quick succession – one after the other.
My favourite book has always been Secret Water. It is a wonderful exploring adventure but on this re-reading, it is the setting that attracted me. The book is set in Hamford Water, a marshy environment in Essex. Ransome’s descriptions of the place remind me so much of the saltmarshes on the North Norfolk coast and it is these places that I have in my imagination and visit as I read.
‘The saltings below the dyke grew narrower, and were now no more than a fringe to the wide expanse of mud that stretched across from the island to the mainland instead of the bright, shimmering sea that they had seen from the deck of the Goblin when they had sailed into the creek. A ribbon of water was spreading in the middle of the mud. Tide was coming up. Soon the mud would be a sea once more.’
‘They went floundering along the saltings … the island that had been divided from the big one by a wide channel was an island no longer. The channel had narrowed and broken up, into little streams trickling down both sides of a mudbank.’
‘Almost at the same moment, everybody saw a break in the line of sand away to the south, and a thread of water going in there, and one or two tall masts showing above sand dunes. And, as they came nearer to that round buoy with the cross they saw a much wider channel was opening before them with smooth shining water stretching to the west and low banks on either side.
‘ the land seemed hardly above the level of the sea, just a long low line above the water, with higher ground far away behind it. But that low line of coast seemed to have no gaps in it. It looked as if it stretched the whole way round across the head of the bay.’
These photos were taken at Burnham Overy Staithe …. wonderful.
Well I suppose that it’s inevitable that when you are using a natural phenomenon like the wind as an essential part of your work that it will get the better of you one day.
I was trying to make the wind ‘whistle’ through the eyelets sewn into this Aeolian Kite.
The wind was strong. The kite was spinning round and round. The stainless steel wire fixing twisted tighter and tighter. I thought it would hold ….. but it didn’t.
In a flash it was off. Blown northwards, it cartwheeled towards the sea a mile away. I couldn’t catch it …. and then I lost sight of it.
It’s now washing around in the North Sea – perhaps one day it’ll turn up further down the coast and someone will wonder what it is.
It has been blustery up here in Norfolk over the last couple of days. The tail end off Hurricane Bertha has lingered and we have been ‘blown through a hedge backwards’ (as my grandma would say) whilst walking along the beach. The wind gusts across the sands and a walk in these conditions is very noisy, especially if you are facing the direction in which it is blowing.
I started listening out for other sounds – my ears strangely sensitive as I had to strain to hear.
Underfoot – the crunch of razor shells (better keep your shoes on) ….
…. and the ripple of water in a sea river (take them off again!).
Above, seagulls screech as they battle against the wind ….
…. and a large kite whistles as it cuts the air.
A wind-break flogs slowly ….
….and the heavy thud of hooves is heard by your feet as the vibrations reverberate up through the sand.
All these sounds are accompanied by the rhythmical brushing of walking feet ….
…. the constant sea roar….
…. and of course the soughing of the wind.
A really windy day at the beginning of the week gave me the opportunity to go down to the beach to try out some of the work I have been making recently. These pieces use the wind as a material to animate cloth either by filling it with air so that it almost breaths as the wind tugs at it….
…. or by making it sing or hum.
I have finally managed to make an Aeolian Pipe that sings with an eerie, breathless hum. The pitch rises and falls along the harmonic series as the wind strengthens and then drops – the sound is just what I was expecting. Now I will make a series of them to produce many, slightly different voices that intertwine and blend in the wind.
Here is a detail of my Tarpaulin: Double Cloth that is being shown at the Festival Of Quilts this week as part of the Fine Art Quilt Masters. If you are going please do go and have a peek at it!
Up here in Norfolk our lives are dominated by the state of the tide as we like to get out onto the water as much as possible. Wells is a tidal harbour and only fills with water for a few hours a day so just before high tide, weather and wind permitting, we drop everything to spend a couple of hours sailing.
The high tide moves on one hour each day and I love the rhythm and repetition of the tidal routine as it goes through its two weekly cycle. Twice a month at the full moon and the new moon there is a big spring tide. The water rushes in and covers the marsh – a marsh tide – and makes it possible to sail to places that cannot normally be reached. The shallows become a new place to explore and sandy beaches across the channel can be accessed.
Of course it is exciting when there is a strong wind that tugs at the tan coloured sail and pushes the boat fast across the water, the gunnels down so that the sea threatens to wash over the edge – others probably prefer it more than me. My favourite time is when high tide falls in the evening just before dusk and the wind suddenly drops to create a magical stillness where the water looks like glass. When this time coincides with slack water and the water is moving neither in nor out, it feels as if the world has taken a pause before breathing out and letting life continue on as before.
Last Monday I listened to the first of 3 programmes on Radio 4 called Playing the Skyline (thank-you Jo for pointing it out to me!). In this episode two composers were challenged to compose a short piece of music that took inspiration from the outline of the London skyline as seen from the Millenium Bridge over the Thames. The original idea came from a view from an old mariner’s chart where the coastal profile is laid out horizontally as a navigation aid for sailors. The contours of the shoreline between sea and sky rise and fall much like the melody of a piece of music. The chart could almost be ‘read’ as a musical score.
Views and coastal profiles of the Isle of Sable (collections.rmg.co.uk)
I love the idea of creating music from the contours of the landscape and was struck by how similar it is to my Soundmark Drawings which are a reversal of this concept – sound into landscape as opposed to landscape into sound.
Neither the music composed from the London skyline nor my drawings aim to fully represent what is seen or heard – as artists we take in as much information as we can only to filter out what is unnecessary. In my case the rhythms and textures of what I hear are the most important. Sporadic vertical lines are strung out or clustered together along the horizon line giving an interpretation of what I hear and see.
Listening and thinking about this programme has prompted me to draw the skyline here on the coast – these drawings are from my sketchbook.
Looking straight out the sea and sky merge.
As you turn small spits of sand jut out and the profile of the horizon changes – it’s hard to differentiate between land and sea.
Turning further still to left or right the contours of the land rise and fall as it becomes more prominent.
I wonder how these contours would sound if played?