The Wire

In Writing

Hannah Rickards's Portal

February 2014

The sound artist (featured in The Wire 360) shares links to verbal echoes and influences.

John Levack Drever: Aural Diversion No.1 - 0:43 [2000]
This is a recording made by John Levack Drever in Exeter Cathedral in 2000. It seems to document the moments when a child becomes aware of the acoustic potential of its own voice within the resonant spaces of the cathedral. After we hear an adult voice cough, a child takes up a succession of slightly forced coughs with which they echo-locate themselves in the resonant space of the cathedral. I like the idea of it, whether it is that or not, as a moment of recognising the possibilities of a voice in a space or environment.

John Cage & Morton Feldman: Radio Happenings I - V
Recorded at WBAI, New York City, July 1966–January 1967
I think you could stick a pin anywhere in to these recordings and come across some fragment of conversation that would make you have to sit down and think, but my attention often returns to this exchange:

John Cage: What would you say to giving a concert of your works in an architectural situation where something else that was going on was, um, at least partly audible at the same time? Let’s imagine, to make the conversation consistent, that the, um, concert is in a room, and than one door from that room is open, and in the room upon which it opens, um, radio music is audible. Now, must that door be closed or may it be left open?

Morton Feldman: I would like the door to be left open – but without the radio.

John Cage: (laughs)

Morton Feldman: You see, I want to leave the door open, of course.


The Idea Of North, Glenn Gould, CBC, 1967
The first of Glenn Gould’s experiments in contrapuntal radio (which would eventually form The Solitude Trilogy), The Idea Of North is an intricately composed tapestry of voices describing their relationship to living in the vast spaces of the far north of Canada, and has been very important for me in thinking through the relationship between voice and landscape in some way; landscapes so reduced they offer the possibility of thinking about them diagramatically. There’s something interesting for me in these environments that is to do with necessity. Far away from the relative abundance (of heat, light, food etc) of the south, what remain are forms of life in which all aspects are necessary to a continued existence: a knee-high, dense forest of trees sheltered in a holllow the size of a tennis court.


Fata Morgana (Werner Herzog, 1972) opening sequence
“The first scene of the film is made up of eight shots of eight different airplanes landing one after another. I had the feeling the audiences who were still watching by the sixth or seventh landing would stay to the end. This opening scene sorts out the audiences; is a kind of test. As the day grows hotter and hotter and the air becomes drier and drier, so the image gets more and more blurred, more impalpable. Something visionary sets in – something like fever dreams – that remains with us for the entire length of the film.” - Werner Herzog in Herzog on Herzog (ed. Paul Cronin)

There are many incredible images in this film, but this opening sequence does, as Herzog identifies, establish a certain quality of looking through which to view the rest of the film.


Bells From The Deep (Werner Herzog, 1993), Bell-ringer sequence
Bells From The Deep may veer into slight Herzog self-parody at times, but this sequence has a kind of autonomy. The bell-ringer, orphaned as a child, named himself Yuri Yurievich Yuriev, went on to become a movie projectionist and finally, under the eaves of a Siberian monastery, the ringer of a complex web of bells, strung together and played with both hands and feet. There is a blend of humility and exuberance in his performance which I love, and this incredible free-form bell-ringing which at once seems incongruous and totally appropriate. I also wonder whether this style of ringing was his everyday, or whether the film afforded him the opportunity for this kind of ringing. I can’t think of a more public instrument to rehearse.

Four American Composers: Robert Ashley (Peter Greenaway, 1983)
Robert Ashley defines opera as ‘characters in a landscape’, and a sense of both what an opera might be, and how a landscape might affect both our articulation of it and ourselves is something I have been thinking about a lot. I am working on a piece at the moment that takes as its starting point a story someone told me about an island on which the fog horn was so often in operation that, even when it was not, islanders would pause in their speech to the pattern of the fog horn blasts, adapting a rhythmic structure. As Ashley matter-of-factly describes a relationship between landscape and how we might articulate ourselves in relation to it, ‘you speak differently in a strong wind’. Anyway, this Peter Greenaway documentary is full of insights into Perfect Lives; John Sanborn’s explanation of the visual structure of the opera, at about seven minutes in, is something I return to quite often.


Unusually large dreikanter of granite on the Lander road a few miles south of Pacific Springs. This dreikanter measures 71 cm by 46 cm deep and 37 cm wide. Sweetwater County, Wyoming. 1930
A dreikenater is an example of a particularly distinct form or ventifact: an object, in this case a stone or rock, that has been shaped by the wind, or wind blown particles. In certain landscapes, if there is enough wind, enough sand and enough time, ventifacts will form, and if they remain undisturbed they can be used as paleo-wind indicators. The distinct shape of this one is so defined as to be faintly unbelievable, and is formed by the shifts in weight distribution as the rock is gradually polished and eroded, with one side tipping in to the path of the prevailing wind, only to be eroded, thus causing it to tip again. Often this produces columns or irregular shapes, but in this instance it has resulted in this very distinct and very strange object within its environment, that seems placed and shaped by forces other than moving air.


Hannah Rickards's solo exhibition at Modern Art Oxford is open from 15 February–20 April.

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