Soundings and roads

The Burren sings. Today, I wandered into the field behind the college and held my viola towards the wind in the silence: an Aeolian harp, faint, but distinct. A flock of ravens interjected, followed by a jet and a moment later cows began bawling in the corner of the paddock and a tourist bus groaned up the hill towards the Cliffs of Moher (30 kms from here). Silence is never total.

If there’s anything I will be unable to eradicate from my memory of Ireland it will be the roads. Historical documents record that during the famine in the 1850’s, and at other times, the English forced the indigenous locals to build walls and roads in the Burren for obsolescence: colonial abuse of course. Walls, where no stock graze (because it’s all stony ground), creep vertically over the limestone hills and roads crosshatch the land like nets holding in the surface of the country.

Unfortunately, in this area, even the major roads are like laneways, with no shoulders for walkers or pull-offs for cars. And they are edged with stone walls. We have been admonished to wear high-viz jackets if we walk into the village and not to walk at night. But a high-viz jacket can’t be seen around corners. Today I leapt over a stone wall into a cow paddock after a near miss with a car and then walked over boggy ground rather than continue my suicidal stroll. To upgrade such a system would be impossible but surely a few footpaths could be considered?

My walk was rewarded by one of the many delightful casual encounters I’ve had here. I poked my head into the Catholic church to see the exquisite stained glass windows and met two Irish women who took me to the village craft market and invited me on a bird watching festival in a fortnight. They’d never heard of improvisation (well, not in my terms anyway) so we talked about that and about their pursuits: one is a glass artist (as is her mother) and the other is preparing a speech for toastmasters/mistresses on “vocalisations”. She is using bird calls as examples. I might never meet these women again…the opportunities for random conversations seem endlessly possible and enjoyable.

I experienced random notes and chatter in unusual circumstances the night before last. I slept on the floor of the gallery at BCA with 40 others, on inflatable mattresses, to listen to electronic music. Steven Stapleton, a big name in industrial music, musique concrete, drone and other related genres, lives in the Burren. Fans, mostly men, came from Belgium, the UK and many places in Ireland just for the gig. The invitation to host one of his sleep concerts was an extension of his first solo exhibition of collages and paintings now on at the gallery. I booked in, expecting to be evacuating early but I slept for probably 5 hours in the soundscape that Steven manipulated on his turntables, all night. Pulsing drones (like heart beats) formed the base of the work and the cross currents included distance speech and synthesised sounds from mixed environments. I was enthralled with the sonorities and impressed that a sound artist can still be luring the faithful after 30 years. The coffee afterwards was good too.

 Stained glass Ballyvaughan Catholic Church

Stained glass Ballyvaughan Catholic Church

 The local pub: opens at 8 every night of the year. A place for conversations

The local pub: opens at 8 every night of the year. A place for conversations