The Wire

In Writing

Way Through’s Portal

December 2013

Pastoral punk duo of Claire Titley and Christopher Tipton guide us through online resources of unofficial histories, potent topographies and resonant field recordings.

Penda’s Fen
David Rudkin's incredible television masterpiece (directed by Alan Clarke) from 1974 looks at a teenager's awakening to a landscape of ancient lore and forgotten knowledge. Growing pains, pagan kings, Elgar and a cast of angels that flicker into demons all find themselves on home turf in the mystical Malvern Hills. Stephen Franklin is the boy protagonist, the adopted son of a vicar, who wrestles with questions of purity, religious doubts and national identity while becoming consumed by a host of unsettling visions that let him access a secret world of essential meaning. As Stephen’s preconceptions literally go up in flames after meeting his birth parents on the crest of the hills, he calls upon King Penda himself for guidance. “Stephen, be secret, child be strange, dark, true, impure, and dissonant. Cherish our flame. Our dawn shall come," imparts the enthroned silhouette of Penda before vanishing back into his lost kingdom. The echo felt between Stephen’s quest of self-discovery and that of Piers Plowman tracking Medieval truth through the same landscape is particularly affecting and as Stephen descends from the hillside with his new calling it’s hard not to succumb to the enduring appeal of a potent otherworld existing alongside our "fair field full of folk".

Alice Oswald on the Dart river podcast
Alice Oswald's bold, ephemeral nature poetry has been a huge influence on our approach to lyric writing. Her poem Dart is a particularly successful effort to bottle the spirit of a place. It’s a 48 page poem, broken into several sequences which Oswald herself describes as a sound map. Following the Dart river in Devon from its source in Dartmoor to the sea, Dart scoops up the overheard narratives, swirling lives, trades and deep myths that flow along the way. There are traces of Hughes’s wild grasp with raw words, a Joycean glee pervades its gathering of water sounds and Under Milk Wood serves arguably as a framework, but what Oswald captures so well is the ever-moving pace and progress of the river in her poetry. Her unblinking attention to detail is startling and beautifully rendered as she follows the lines that flow always onwards, the river as a recorder of sound, water as memory. The sense that the poem keeps up with the river and vice versa seems truly unique and the idea of following a route as a creative device is central to the poem’s inspiration for us as it swims/walks a similar line to Richard Long’s early artworks which similarly ask us to dictate our own journeys, passive or not, in the landscape. You can hear Alice Oswald read several of her poems set along the river Dart at this link.

Croydon Municipal
Bob Stanley, of St Etienne fame, has an obsession with pop music in its truest form, as demonstrated by his recent (and excellent) book Yeah Yeah Yeah. His blog charts his interest and demonstrates his ability to examine the minutiae of pop that others miss, in particular the context in which pop has been created and enjoyed. As children of the 1980s, our love of music was formed while the world he explored, one of cassette tapes, 7" singles, the excitement of the charts, still existed as a mass interest. That Stanley is able to discuss this world, which from 2013 feels like ancient history, with only the slightest hint of nostalgia is to his credit, but it is his enthusiasm that really makes this blog such an enjoyable read.

The Hill Figure homepage
This dedicated website is a great resource for discovering Britain's chalk hillside figures. There are 57 in total in the UK, made throughout the last 3000 years by creatively cutting away turf to expose the white chalk beneath. Their origins are often cloaked in mystery, lost in time, what remains though are these enigmatic forms in the landscape, which are often breathtaking in their scale, scope and location. Seeking out certain monumental stirrings in the landscape is what we're most obsessed with and many of these hillside carvings have an unloved and forgotten quality that makes tracking them down a rewarding task of remembrance and pilgrimage. The cover of our new album Clapper Is Still features the fairly abstract Hackpen Horse hill figure, one of Wiltshire’s famous eight white horses that form a loose hoop amid the county. The Hackpen Horse nestles below the legendary Ridgeway (Britain’s ancient trackway) near the village of Broad Hinton and is kept in shape by a pair of hungry horses that graze upon their own representation.

Some landscapes
This blog run by Plinius (aka Andrew Ray) since 2005, takes a wide ranging approach to landscape and art, bringing together threads from a variety of places, periods and disciplines. It’s an exhaustive mine of knowledge that focuses on the evocation of landscapes by architects, city planners and garden designers alongside the work of literary figures and artists. This year Plinius has looked at a vast array of different topics already, including Kelly Richardson’s holographic forest installations, Chris Watson’s brand new Inside The Circle Of Fire soundmap of Sheffield, John Piper’s King Penguin guidebook to Romney Marsh, one of our personal favourites. Not only is the blog’s archive a treasure trove of interest that sees ideas spinning off each other, Some Landscapes consistently adds new material that starts such chains of thought.

Stanley Spencer in Cookham
Stanley Spencer re-imagined his native Berkshire village of Cookham as a backdrop for biblical miracles and principally scenes from the Crucifixion and Resurrection. In the same way William Blake and Samuel Palmer sought visionary landscapes in West Sussex and Kent, Spencer turned the place where he lived into “a village in Heaven”. The scenes of most of his paintings are easily located in the village (the link above even has a guided walk in search of them), and many of the figures that feature climbing out of their graves, waving from windows or flying alongside Christ etc. were modelled from studies of actual villagers. The closeness and everyday normalness of all of this lends an uncanny immediacy to the works, translating the Thameside idyll into living scripture, resonating across time. The way Spencer uses his own village and those around him in his artwork is something we’d like to look more at in future projects, we like the way the narrative is imposed on the place, sort of like importing a haunting, uploading onto stone tape. Pre-existing notions about places (whether in art, music, literature, guidebooks, myths, memories…) can hold a powerful force over our imaginations when visiting somewhere for the first time. With Way Through, we really like to play with this idea and want to explore if our own music can change people’s perceptions of the environment we focus on.

Susan Philipsz’s Surround Me
Susan Philipsz is an artist who weaves her own voice into site-specific sound installations that often draw on the history and mythologies of her subject. Philipsz' song cycle for the City of London called Surround Me (2011) made a huge impact on us. Her recorded voice was resonating through the deserted streets of a square mile during its eerily quiet weekends, orbiting about the Bank of England, the Royal Exchange, trailing down medieval alleyways, modernist high-walks. The installed loudspeakers competed with the chatter of the sightseeing boats as they passed below London Bridge, creating a synergy of voices, present and absent. Way Through wanders through similar inward territories, chasing down deteriorating histories, not only introducing song into place but place into song.

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