‘Back and Forth’ – A sound project


“Back and Forth” by Minko
King Harry Ferry Artist Residencies
In the summer I was enlisted as the sound artist for the King Harry art residencies. The King Harry passage is a stunning tranquil spot on the River Fal in Cornwall, where people can be ferried across the river in their cars, rather than driving all around the peninsula.
In this sound piece, I explored the daily aural environment of the ferrymen on the King Harry Ferry. Whilst the surrounding landscape is breathtakingly still and beautiful and the river banks lush with bursting broccoli shaped trees, the ferry itself is a busy bustling vessel moving cars and people to and fro across the River Fal, morning to night. The chains clank, the cars rattle, metal gates crash and voices travel constantly on the wind.
I treated the ferry as a large instrument. I listened to the sounds and noises coming from the ferry, and around it, and I also explored the other potential sounds within its large metal structure using drumsticks, beaters and my hands to “play” it. My recordings brought up some interesting responses, one principal and recurring question being, “at what point does sound become music?”
I found that certain repetitive rhythms such as the huge chain slowly moving as it heaves the ferry along and the oyster catchers steadily throwing their full nets from person to person, led me away from the action into a more musical frame of mind, and the musician in me was driven to look for melodies to accompany them. However I also encountered sounds with a different quality, a more linear feel. These sounds such as the ferrymen talking, the engine running, breathed a narrative that sat me in the present moment and carried me forward with them towards a place in the future. These sounds engaged my intellect and my curiosity. It made me think about how differently we react to sounds, and what they lead us to. There is something about a rhythm or a melody that transports you away from the present moment into a universal timeless plane. Whereas the sound of life going on seems to keep you in a story telling space and binds you to the specific. It asks you to listen to what is happening. The melodies and rhythms by contrast distracted me and propelled me into my dream-filled world.
I am not talking specifically about the debate on what is considered to be music, or accepted as music, an exciting ever-evolving subject that musicians must constantly challenge and has undergone rigorous speculation in the last century in particular with experimentalists such as John Cage, Edgar Varese, John Coltrane, The Art Ensemble of Chicago and the hundreds of others that have followed. The boundaries between noise and music are constantly shifting as more and more found sounds are incorporated into compositions to challenge established musical ideas. The ear adjusts and the noise metamorphoses into melody. Dissonance starts to change into consonance. But working on my piece I became interested in the physical shift when sound moves our focus from the narrative to the abstract, from the specific to the universal. When recording the ferrymen talking I felt a different experience from to hearing the oyster catchers whose rhythm lulled me into a more timeless reality. It seemed to only take a few repetitions to remove me from the scene and the real time unfolding.
My final piece explores these questions by moving between these two experiences, and travels back and forth between the two banks; the song and the soundscape, poetry and prose…
The piece will be played on the King Harry Ferry this summer.
You can download it here