borders #3

 

 

Forming the scores

 

Like all aspects of life, writing and realising the scores for borders #3 was intertwined with the covid-19 pandemic that started in early 2020, however the pieces themselves are not a reaction to the pandemic nor related to the idea of lockdowns. The idea for this project was to create a more 'open' mindset for exploring and walking through different environments; to experiment with walking routes and create scores that demonstrated a more varied and playful exploration of moving through different sounding locations. I felt that scores that were more graphic than text-based would be more suitable to convey these ideas.

 

I started to concieve the idea for this collection of pieces before the pandemic took hold. The scores are graphic representations, impressions, of soundwalks that could be realised in any location that I felt suitable. Early versions of the visual elements of the scores had a design that leaned towards the digital – two colour-fields (grey and green) which split the page in two halves horizontally, with a black line/shape across the page that represented a walk. The grey colour-field represented an urban environment, and the green represented rural. I started to realise some of these pieces before the designs were finalised.

 

I developed a much more reduced visual idea for the final versions of the scores; the first version consisted of neat drawings of a central straight black line, representing the point where two different environments meet, and a blue line/shape showing the idea of the walking route for each piece, drawn as neatly as possible. The second and final version kept the visual motif, but with a more sketched approach as opposed to carefully measured, giving the scores a more handwritten, personal look. The discarded idea of the colour-fields now gave me much more scope and variation as to what the different environments could be; I had started to feel restricted by the idea of urban/rural, environments that mainly lie on the edge of town, and now I felt there was more opportunity to walk through a variety of different environments in Andover, and expanding the idea of what 'two different environments' could mean.

 

I had around six or seven different scores of the colour-field version, and this new minimal version allowed me to expand and play more freely with a variety of different scores. The walking-lines were created using different techniques; some were created after walks that were familiar, written after walks were undertaken, and others were drawn from more improvised ideas, experimenting with putting pen-to-paper, improvising a line, and wondering what the potential walk may be. Some scores are simple to understand and easier to come up with ideas for realisations; others were more challenging and seemingly near-impossible – the idea to simply make an attempt to realise, without the certainty of any kind of success. An invitation for experimentation and failure.

 

I completed twenty-five scores altogether. However, by the time I had realised about half of them, I started to notice that a lot of the scores had certain similarites. These similarities consisted of variations of similar shapes and walking-routes, and the number of points where the walk crossed the border. I whittled down the collection from twenty-five to ten, discarding the ones that I felt were too similar, and therefore perhaps too arbitrary in their creation, and kept the scores that I felt were the most simple and the most essential to the idea.

 

This final collection of scores I deemed finished in the first quarter of 2021, long after I had already made realisations of some of these pieces, including ones that I had since discarded, which were spread out infrequently across the year due to the pandemic, lockdowns, and anxieties from the limitations of leaving my home. This project was put on hold in its early stages during the first lockdown where I focused on pieces that could be realised at home (interlude), and also a collection of film scores (film series) that was related to borders which required me to walk through outdoor environments less whilst still experimenting with the overall project's central ideas.

 

 

First Realisations

 

As mentioned before, the realisations of the scores were sporadic, especially to begin with, and throughout most of 2020. Although I had conceived the ideas for borders #3 early in the year, I only started to realise some of the pieces in the early summer – like a lot of people, the months from March to June were mainly spent indoors, leaving only for essential purposes which did not, unfortunately, include art-making. Due to the fact that realisations were infrequent, and broken throughout the year, I am not going to write about each and every one but focus on a select few and talk generally about the project.

 

At the beginning, I had started to think about realising what I deemed the 'easier' pieces, and focused on the circle piece (the score consists of a circle – the walking route – with a black line, the 'border', cutting through the centre of it). I decided to do this piece around the area of Ladies Walk, a country path lined with dense trees on a hill that overlooks Andover on the south-east side, as I knew that there were many roads and paths that passed through this area that linked the town to this rural setting. For this first walk, I treated Ladies Walk itself as the black line – the border – and although there are relatively small fields that separate this path from the town, I saw Ladies Walk as the last frontier of Andover before deep countryside. This means that I did not think of the border, the place where two sound environments meet, in aural terms, but rather a geographical location. Because I wanted these scores to be more open and somewhat less directed than previous ones, how I defined the border was down to my own interpretation – I saw this realisation as a walk on 'the edge of town', but in a blurred fashion; a 'softer', wider edge.

 

I planned a route that had a circular design that passed through into the countryside, and round through Ladies Walk and into the suburbs. The shapes of these walks were not to be taken literally; what I was aiming for was a rough circular shape instead of a perfect circle, for example. The route, and the routes for other scores, proved challenging to design, as it seems that nothing in nature has a straight line, yet everything man-made does. Roads and pavements are generally straight, jagged, sprawled and angular, and footpaths in the countryside are largely the same, as to not make ramblers walk freely over farmland and privately-owned land. The shapes of the realisations of these walking routes are therefore irregular, in contrast to their clearly-gestured scores, and this realisation of the circular score was no exception.

 

Starting on Ladies Walk, I began by heading into the countryside and farmland. There is a moderate incline here – Ladies Walk stands on a hill that looks over Andover, and the hill continues to rise into the countryside. The sounds of the town rapidly fade, and wind and the A303 define the soundworld of this open area. The roar of the trunk road is in a much purer form here as it sweeps across the open fields, purer than the constant backdrop that it gives to most locations within the town, especially the south side. Skylarks make themselves known, yet from my experiences, are always distant. The wind carries the drones from the A-road, making them waver and consistent, like a distant asphalt ocean. Skylarks, traffic and wind – the wind stretches the A303 drones, the song of the lark pierces through the near wall-of-sound. At the apex of the 'curve' of this end of the circle, the furthest point from the border from this side, close to the trunk road, the drones of traffic and wind attack and bombard my ears, masking everything.

 

Coming back around and beginning to head back towards the town, I step onto Micheldever Road – a road that used to lead into the countryside and link up with London, but now just stops as an overgrown edgeland path as it meets the A303 – a forgotten, unmaintained road since the development of the trunk road. Heading towards Andover, Micheldever Road cuts through the apex of the hill – lined with trees, chalk cliff faces, and passing under the small iron bridge that links the two sides of the hill, and roughly marks the halfway point of Ladies Walk. More variety of birds here than in the open fields; robins, blackbirds, tits, closer in proximity than the skylarks. The crunching of asphalt and loose stones underfoot, a naturally harsher sound than the grass of the fields before. The drones from the trunk road still prominent. Heading into quiet suburbs, the rustling from my coat and rucksack is much clearer. The wind is less aggressive, the A303 has faded, but is still there. A much more palettable sound environment. People talking in their driveways, passers-by, distant external house maintenance – hammering, hedge-trimming. Dogs barking. It's both a subtle and dramatic change – a gradual, but wide diminnuendo, with remanants (the trunk road now in the distance) of the environment I had come from. The suburban area is quieter than the countryside – less oppressive, my footsteps making the loudest sound (save for the occasional passing car). Yet this environment contains more variety of sounds that range from birds to people, foreground vehicles to lawmowers and other noisy gardening tools. The final ascent back up to my starting point on Ladies Walk is relatively steep, and the long stepping that leads up to the path makes it awkward – my breathing here becomes heavy and short, and signifys the end of my walk.

 

As stated before, naturally-occuring curved lines are hard to come by in terms of walking on paths in the town or the countryside. On this walk, I nearly always walked in straight lines. Yet, I started and ended in the same place, and crossed the border twice – an imperfect circle. What I found interesting about this walk was that the furthest points either side of the border were also the loudest. The deepest part of the suburbs was where there was the most activity, and the furthest point into the countryside I reached was the most oppressive sound environment – strong breezes and close to the A303. I have mentioned in previous writings that Ladies Walk has its own quiet soundworld. Especially on windless days, sonically it is the furthest point from the town and the trunk road (although geographically it is closer to the suburbs). The traffic drones from the A road sprawl out onto the open fields, but the trees than line Ladies Walk mute them, when in contrast to being out in open farmland. Town noise, traffic and contstruction work, is distant enough to not overpower the quiet nature of this footpath. I imagine the immediate countryside without the A303; the quietude would continue from Ladies Walk as I travel through the fields, which makes me wonder that even though the A road slashes its way across the countryside, it is not part of a rural environment. It is a long, thin stip of urban environment that cuts through the rural. It is grey, hard, loud, and sonically unnatural. I have thought before about the similarites of the drones of high traffic and wind; they seem to clash and yet merge as together they are a defining feature of the aural countryside. Like a large ensemble made of two halves – one half an acoustic string ensemble, the other a group of electronic synthesisers, both creating two distinct walls-of-sound whilst combining to make one cohesive soundworld.

 

I realised a different score in this area, the score that consists of a wavey-line that passes through the border several times. For this, I decided that the border would be where the suburbs end, and the fields begin, and Ladies Walk as the furthest point of the rural side of the frame. This end of town has many paths that link to Ladies Walk and beyond, and I thought this would give an irregular, varied pattern to my walk. The suburbs are quiet at this edge, vehicles are relatively infrequent, and these roads do not consistently mask the environment as, say, a main road would. This lends space to listen, and makes dynamic changes more noticeable. And yet, the A303 drones always hang in the background.

 

I carried out this realisation in the summer of 2020.

 

The buzzing grasshoppers radiate out of the fields and grassy hills that lie on the edge of town, yet the fields are not full of them – different, quieter, more subtle drones to the blasting wind and traffic that surround the environment near the A303. Their buzzing sounds do not carry into the suburbs; a small change that differentiates the rural and the urban that lie beside eachother. The route I take is irregular, the suburbs sprawl against the fields close-by, and openings and pathways into the town are unevenly spaced out, forcing me to spend a longer time, to stretch out the peak of one 'wave', on Ladies Walk, passing through this area to find another way into the suburbs.

 

Because of the relatively narrow area I am covering, the changes in sound environments are more subtle than the circular walk. The breeze merges these locations together sonically; the grasshoppers and my footsteps are the clearest indications that I am moving between different environments. Asphalt then grass, asphalt, grass. The border here is sharp, lined with fences that separate the 'burbs from the fields, sometimes lined with small trees, sometimes no fencing – just the back wall of a block of flats, then a grassy hill.

 

The A303 dimming and becoming less and less opressive, less noticable. The further east, the distance between the trunk road and the town grows as the main road heads out towards Basingstoke, and becomes a less defined feature of Andover's sonic surroundings. Towards the end of the walk is where the soundworld is at its quietest, and the grasshoppers still radiate out of the largest field between the town and Ladies Walk. For the final stretch, I move into the suburbs for the last time, large houses on wide roads, the occasional passing car, and the incoming drones of London Road on the other side of the housing estate, and the distant waves of the A3093, another busy road, that eventually links up with the A303. I end the walk just before these roads take over the relative quietude. The grasshoppers long gone.

 

 

Variations on a Score

 

Because the scores are open, and do not specify geographic location, there was an opportunity to do realisations of the same scores in different locations, and realisations of different scores in the same locations. It depended on where or how I defined the border. Examples of this are different realisations of the 'wavey-line' score, done in a different locations.

 

One take on this score consisted of walking across and through the town itself. I re-defined the border as a man-made structure, the railway that cuts through the northern-centre of Andover. Starting in the west and moving eastward through the town, I crossed the railway via every bridge/tunnel that I could walk. Once again, I used the border itself as a geographical location, not as the meeting point between two different sound environments. The idea here was to see how many different environments I could move through and experience, using the railway as a centre point and anchor.

 

Starting in a quiet housing estate, I pass over a metal footbridge; the sounds of my footsteps reverberating off the steel walls. On the other side of the tracks, a small copse, then from out of the path that runs alongside it, more suburbs then a main road, Weyhill Road. Walking on the noisey road bridge that hangs over the railway, and eventually coming to another road bridge that crosses the railway again. This second bridge was closed off for maintenance work, giving this new road a ghostly calm which contrasts with the busy traffic on Weyhill Road. The next crossing is a road that passes under the railway – the tracks now have their own bridge and take the higher ground. Eventually moving off this road, that gets busier as it swings towards the centre of town, I move onto a by-way that immediately turns the soundworld quiet – this by-way passes by a pub garden, silent during lockdown. I walk over the railway tracks on a steel footbridge, much smaller, older and more open than the one on the first crossing. Just over from this footbridge lies a small edgeland space where I used to meet up with friends in years past. Memories enter. I remember cold nights hanging out at this edgeland, when the cold had less of an effect; a small area hidden from the by-way, the infrequent explosions of passing trains. As I pass through the town, pockets of memories are scattered like unobtrusive mists, from different passages of my own past. As stated in previous writings, memories have been a feature of these walks that I have taken – where the sounds of the past and the present collide.

 

I carry on over a footbridge that arches over a main road, then through another housing estate and onto a short bridge over the tracks. Perhaps the subtlest crossing yet, I have to pause to remind myself that I am crossing the railway. A steel grid fence on either side of the bridge, obscuring the tracks below. Passing through another suburban area, and onto a path the runs alongside the River Anton, I move under a narrow, dark, bricked-tunnel under the railway, certainly the most claustrophobic crossing, eventually leading out onto a path that runs parallel with the railway, which now stands on a ridge. A train passes. Another road crossing under the tracks, it now takes the higher ground again. A busy road, a dramatic change in sonic backdrop to the previous few crossings. Now passing through older housing estates, areas of Andover I am not as familiar with. Quiet yet unfamiliar, slightly unsettling. A foot tunnel under the railway, tiled and sporadically lit by dim lighting, onto the edge of another suburb. The final crossing, my end point, is an edgeland path surrounded by trees, and the railway once again has the high ground, bridging the gap between the banks as it continues out of Andover and towards London.

 

While walking, I noticed how the railway itself was a silent, definite border. Only one or two trains passed by during the one-hundred minutes or so of the walk. This environment seems unchanged since it was built – an environment locked in that time, and also somewhat timeless. The dark colours of the ground on which the tracks lie on, and the unchanging, silent nature of the environment of the railway was consistent. When walking along side it, it presented itself as a stubborn object; this environment would not change for any sort of town development – literally an immoveable, unchanging border that separates different town environments. On one side, busy main roads, on another, relatively quiet suburbs. Crossing the tracks was like resetting my experiences of the environment as I move into another, a brief moment of inner-quiet interlude. Some of the locations that the railway divided may not have been noticeably different (such as suburb to suburb), but I did get a sense that I was in a different part of the town – a different street, a different locale. A different age, old housing/newer housing. Another aspect was moving through both familiar and unfamiliar places. Places that I know well, others from my past, and others I had never been before. If you want to know a town, follow the railway.

 

Another realisation of this score took place in a small, shallow valley that leads south towards Anton Lakes. This area is a thin strip of grassland that divides two different housing estates. Beginning in the King Arthurs Way suburb, I crossed the valley into the adjacent Saxon Fields housing estate, and following a line back and forth between both suburbs. A subtle changing in the different environments, defined by objects in close-proximity.

 

The immediate differences lie under my footsteps – the hard clap of foot against asphalt, and the irregular crunching of the gravel paths through the grassland, as well as soft muted footsteps through the grass. Infrequent traffic from the estates are immediately pushed back into the middle-distance, and the robins and blackbirds, bees and the occasional wasp define the sound environment of the valley as they occupy the trees and foliage that border the grassland.

 

Due to the grassland's relatively quiet soundworld, however, the grating drones of lawnmowers and other tools hang over the small valley. It is easy to pinpoint the locations of the sound sources from this location. Naturally, there is more activity from the two housing estates, Saxon Fields more so. The two estates have different characters. King Arthurs Way was built in the 1960s (to house families from the London overspill); its dark brickwork and uninspired housing design give it a closed-in atmosphere, dull and static. Saxon Fields, in contrast, is newer, more modern, built a few decades later, with seemingly larger detached houses. Its relatively wide cul-de-sacs and brighter brickwork and asphalt give it a more open and vibrantly calm feel than its adjacent suburb. There seems to be more activity here; people working in their gardens (and driveways, maintaining their vehicles), occasional children passing by on scooters, cats claiming their homes by sitting on their bins. It is visually brighter than the other estate – the trees that scatter in places in King Arthurs Way are replaced by unobtrusive lampposts in Saxon Fields. As in all towns and cities, the different suburbs, depending on when they were built and their locations, have completely different characters, even though they are both, definitively, suburban areas. Each other kept at arm's length by a strip of nature reserve – thinner at the top than towards the bottom where it joins with Anton Lakes.

 

There is a small river that cuts through much of the grassland that starts at the northern end, and flows into the lake (this stream is the true source of the River Anton, I like to imagine, as opposed to the lake itself, which I find is more boring, and probably more accurate). At about the halfway point of the walk, the river has risen above its makeshift crossing, and realising that as I could not cross this point, the planned structure for the rest of the walk was now irrelevant. Moving south along the stream, the planned walk had changed – I was now crossing into the estates from a different direction due to the omssion of the obscured crossing. I found the small obstacle and the slight change in navigation gave a different layer to the walk – that even the border itself may not be as definitive or as reliable as I had imagined. The flow of the walk became more loosely structured, but what was important is that it still held its shape. Walking through King Arthurs Way for the final time, I pass a plain, empty play park and basketball court, the hoops of which had no nets, that simply solidified the location's dull character. Finally moving over the stream on a small wooden footbridge, the stream in full flow now as it rushes into the lake, and finishing in the brighter cul-de-sacs of Saxon Fields, with cars parked on light-grey, smartly-bricked groundwork.

 

 

Other Pieces

 

Some other scores have more than one walking route, and these routes are deliberately detatched from one another. The idea for this was to provide different listening experiences within the same approximate locale. Some of these routes also incorporate standing instructions (signified by a dot), and this was to provide variety to the ways of listening to a place, especially in the context of motion-against-stillness. I wanted to experiment with walking through different places in the same location.

 

An example of this is a score that has two directional walking lines either side of, and running parallel with, the border. I realised this piece on the southern edge of the town, the border being, naturally, the A303, which hugs close to and signifies the edge of town.

 

The trunk road here divides both sides with significantly different environments. The northern side is the edge of a suburban area, an ashpalt road that swings along the bottom of the estate, with a path on one side of the road and small trees and foliage on the other, cutting the estate off from the A road, which drones on and defines the soundworld. Unobtrusive lampposts are occasional markers on the concrete path, and robins and blackbirds are plentiful in the foliage. A dull atmosphere, this road is simply used as a way to get in and out of the estate; there are no objects of real signifcance, the edge of the everyday. The walk ends just before a pathway leads down behind houses towards a small lake and town path that eventually leads out to the surrounding villages (this path used to be the “Sprat and Winkle” line, a railway that used to connect Andover to Romsey and the south of Hampshire, and is now part of the River Anton Way walk). Taller trees stand at the beginning of this pathway, and signify the end of my walk on this side of the A303. Rooks screech from the tops of these trees.

 

The southern side presents a different atmosphere.

 

A small field seperates the path from the trunk road; the path lies at the bottom of a small grassy bank. The sound environment here is much quieter, and the drones from the A road are not as oppressive. The area is open, sparse, with farmland to my right; a much brighter environment as blue skies take up a large portion of my field of vision. Cars drive by less frequently on this road as they travel in and out of the nearby village of Upper Clatford. Bushes with berries stand on the bank to my left. A straighter walk, a more pleasureable environment, the edge of the countryside. Even the robins seem quieter. No lampposts.

 

The two environments either side of the A303 were completely different: one was dull, seemingly insignifant, noisey, dark, the other was bright, open, quiet and calm. Separated by the edge, a liminal place that is neither town nor country, a place that exists only to travel through and not to experience. There is no edgeland here, the A road separates town from countryside. Two different walking experiences and two different sound environments, only from arm's length from eachother, and what unites them is my experience of both walks, separated by a pause in listening and attention when I move from one route to the other; a piece in two movements, divided by an interlude – an absence in liminal experience.

 

 

Documentation of Realisations

 

Throughout these walks, and from previous projects, I realised that soundwalking has as much to do about the full experience of being in a place than just listening to the sounding environments. Of course, these pieces are predominantly about listening to spaces, but I found that listening drew me into the environments in a more conscious way, and into other methods of experiencing. As mentioned before, and something that has an undercurrent to my experiences, many places that I walk through have an effect on my own memories, something that I feel would be artifical to ignore. These memories may or may not be activated by the soundscapes of places, yet it demonstates to me that I am attuned to the environment that I am in.

 

As I experienced the environments in a variety of ways, firstly by listening then by using other senses, I decided to experiement with the documentation of these realisations, as opposed to just using field recordings as I had done with previous projects. Along with field recordings, I also used texts, lists, photographs, film, and maps to document my experiences and the environments. Going by instinct, I decided on the form the material would take that I thought would be best applicable to document the walk, however the walks themselves were not biased to whatever form I used. This opened up possibilites with thinking about these walks, and also lifted the somewhat restrictive actions of half-focusing on documenting or making field recordings. Previously, when recording walks with my microphone, I have been frustrated with not attending to the environment or the experience as much as I would have liked, as some of my attention was making sure that the recording was going smoothly. Although some of these realisations are documented in field recordings, I worried less about the quality of the recording and focused more on the present experience. The pieces are the walks themselves; the documentation and representations are just materials to show that I have realised these pieces.

 

 

Final Thoughts

 

Because the focus is on the walk itself and not the material from the walk, the project has taken me through a more personal approach than before, something that I feel is one of the main aspects of borders as a whole, but something I have struggled to understand myself, in terms of how I get the pieces across. Essentially, borders is about my own outsiderness, love of solitude, and what I believe is my own liminality within my place in society, and I have been attempting to focus my understanding of these themes through walking pieces that I realise in my hometown. Although the scores throughout the project could be realised by anyone, that is not the purpose of the research; borders is about my own personal experiences – drawing on these experiences to explore the themes of the project.

 

The process of writing about borders #3 has been quite inconsistent and scattered. Coming to the end of this project, I felt like I was staring into the abyss, into a 'nothingness' that I have slowly admitted to myself. That may sound a little over-dramatic, but in the context of the project it seems applicable. Doubts have been dwelling in my thoughts, about where I'm going with borders as a whole, and I have been questioning what the composition project and my research actually entails – what the purpose is. This may well be because since the beginning of the covid pandemic in March 2020, everything had been flipped upside down, it felt like, and perhaps I was not as adaptable as I thought. As explained earlier, borders #3 had been disrupted by these events, and also perhaps by my own psychological state. A project that took me approximately a year to do should have taken at most half the amount of time. This is also the reason why this piece of writing is shorter than the write-ups for borders #1 and #2. Maybe I've just lost a bit of interest.

 

At the time of writing, I am continuing to conceive ideas for the next piece, a year-long composition project. I think some time away from borders, and a focus on other things will help me come to the next project with fresh ideas and a clearer mind. And it's with this sentence that I put borders #3 to bed.

 

Oliver Ginger

2021