On the 10th October I had the opportunity to perform my new work Beyond the Lakes in Workington, Cumbria on the outdoor sound system ' The Hub', located in the town centre. This soundscape work is made from field recordings from Workington exploring the environmental and everyday sounds of the town. This piece was written as part of a Commission from the PRS for Music Foundation, Women Make Music Award in collaboration with The Octopus Collective based in Barrow-in-Furness.
During this commission I had the wonderful opportunity to meet artists Mark Vernon and Jenn Mattinson who were also commissioned to create a work for the Hub. Their work titled Circular Thinking 'is a new multi-channel work created for The Hub – an open-air ambisonic sound system in Workington town centre. Over the course of a year Mark Vernon and Jenn Mattinson collected interviews and field recordings pertaining to circular processes, circuits, loops and all manner of rotating things throughout the region of Cumbria. The material used in the composition of the piece includes recordings of a potters wheel, a launderette, wind turbines, speedway races, a water mill, bicycle wheels, a clock restorer and a tour of the Cranston’s sausage factory where they make the famous spiralled Cumberland ring sausages. This first incarnation of the piece was diffused through the ‘Hear This Space’ sound system in a specially arranged quadrophonic mix as part of the FON festival 2015'.
The Hub performance was opened by Boomstand, which enabled members of the public to play music from their iPhones via Bluetooth on to the Hub system. I kicked the session off by playing some James Brown through the system, while shoppers in Workington went about their business, walking under The Hub but unsure of what exactly was going on. Read about Boom Stand's experience in Workington here: http://thehubuk.com/2015/10/22/3226/
Working with the Octopus Collective has really made me think about public engagement and accessibility to the arts. Performing in Workington is a lot different to having a piece in a concert environment. The Hub system offered a new context for the performance of my work Beyond the Lakes. Performing the piece outdoors provides an environment that we have no control over, e.g people shouting, dogs barking, a man preaching the word of God using a very bad amp. However these sounds can add to the soundscape piece enhancing the overall real-world elements within the work.
Of course we could not make the 'audience' listen. The audience were there on the day but most seemed to have no interest in what we were doing. People would turn their heads and say 'what is that sound?' when they were walking by, but carried on about their business. Very few people stopped to ask us what we were doing and it was obvious that we were doing something. The public knew something was happening because some of the performers were standing in the centre listening and also we had a table with fliers. I think sometimes people are afraid to ask what is going on. They have come to town to shop. After all it is the weekend and what else are they going to do. Let's go shopping!!! Maybe they don't have time for art. But hopefully this will change over time.
The Octopus Collective is successfully bringing soundart and new music to the industrial towns in Cumbria. Along with the Octopus Collective, Barrow-in-Furness has some wonderful artistic projects/collectives/organisations that are successfully engaging with the public such as Art Gene and Signal Films. If it wasn't for the Octopus Collective I probably would never have gone to Barrow-in-Furness and Workington and met such wonderful artists and seen so many projects. Their work is crucial in engaging the public with art but also in getting more people to visit these places which are usually not on a person's 'somewhere I would like to go' list. Perhaps it is because The Lakes get in the way and the industrial associations with these places.
For upcoming Octopus Collective events go to http://www.octopuscollective.org/. Why not plan a trip to Barrow or Workington. There are plenty of walking routes around these areas such as the England Coast Path. Barrow also has a wonderful Dock Museum. You may even get to see a nuclear submarine being launched! Both places have a fascinating industrial history. Workington is also home to Workington Hall, where Mary Queen of Scots spent a few nights when she fled from Scotland. The Helena Thompson Museum is worth a visit. More information at http://helenathompson.org.uk/Mary-Queen and there are some really lovely walks around Workington Hall.