Even before this MA I’d had an underlying desire to be at the top of Crouch Hill for May Morning! Many years ago, I’d heard Simon Pipe, a lover of ritual and founder of the local Hobby Horse festival, say that there had been a ritual horn blowing in(?) pagan times, and not forgotten it.
My research process seemed to have lead to this point and location, so I planned an event for May 1st 2016; conveniently, a Sunday. There are a multiplicity of rituals and attached meanings associated with 1st May described here in the Independent 2016 , Daily Mirror 2016 and The Guardian 2012 . Some traditional British folk-lore, similar customs in other nations, and political associations. The intention of the actions within this event are to make manifest some of the hidden ‘layers’ of embedded but obscured or partially erased personal and locally collective meanings, whilst possibly uncovering cultural and social hegemonies and ideologies: building on previous research actions and events.
Format for the Day
I continued to do this using a series of props and materials and ritual(istic) activities, starting the day with a solitary ritual at daybreak, followed by other events.
I had arranged for various contacts to, physically, come to the Hill throughout the day and participate. The people who were able to come on the day were a selection of those originally approached, coming at their convenience. Others approached could not come and may or may not participate at another time..
Several were to deliver and discuss topics relating to my research.
Others acted as observer/ participants/ witnesses – asked to download the Periscope and Twitter apps : broadcasting the same events from differing points of view.
All were sent short summaries of the ideas in my research paper ( as circulated to my on-line cohort for the research paper session) . I also talked to them briefly about Crouch Hill and practical plans for the day.- playings a loose directorial role.
Using TED Talks as a guide, I suggested that each of the contributors talked for 18 minutes (or less ) about Crouch Hill from their personal and professional perspective, without the content becoming an academic discourse. Accessibility and audience was important.
I chose the TED Talk format because of their mission of ” Ideas Worth Spreading” which is key to the concept of “Broadcast” and the metaphorical association with casting seed for germination.
TED is a global community, welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world. http://www.ted.com
Those who were able to come were:
- A photographer/ sound- artist (in Wales via mobile phone) with an interest in time-based work and the environment.
- An amateur local archaeologist/artist , with an interest in heritage who is researching another nearby site.
- An anthropologist/ archaeologist who has lived with and researched nomadic tribes
- a senior town-planner, now working in the private residential planning sector in the UK but whose origins are Leningrad, Soviet Russia
- a local poet, with a particular literary interest in Proust, Sebald and Benjamin and a professional background working as a Civil Servant on policy for the Department of Health
- a textile artist with a professional background in theatre. (National and Royal Shakespeare Theatre)
- a support ‘tech’ to help carry things! and join in with the broadcast chat was unable to participate fully due to having to take her dog to the vet.
- another support ‘observer/ witness’ was sick and unable to come on the day.
I asked all to download the Periscope and Twitter apps where possible : broadcasting the same events from differing points of view and acting as witnesses as well as participants
I reached the summit at about 5.30am, having spoken to participant collaborator, Martin W in Mid-Wales at 5.18 as I left. He often gets up for May Day Morning at his house in Mid-Wales and we’d agreed that we would see the sunrise ‘together’. On the summit there was thick frost and it felt more like January than May. I turned to look for the rising sun and it was visible above the Trig Point as I looked east. Just visible between the unusually, still leafless trees. I sounded a battery bicycle horn, (an autobiographical reference) three times at approx 05.36am BST, the official time of sunrise…..but maybe I was a few minutes late….. and then started to make a ‘Beltane’ bonfire.
Martin W was at the top of his local hill (Trembyd), with the “landed festival” in the Wye valley below (Midpoint of sunrise 05.45 BST ) and attempt at simultaneity but he has no smartphone and so no archived Periscope chat to prove it!…. Just his photo below.
Bonfire and music
The bonfire was created from cassette tapes, recorded from the radio without even using an external mic, by my father many years ago. I tracked down digital versions of the content on iTunes and mixed them in Garageband.
Selecting the clips to use and then overlaying the tracks was interesting.
I haven’t worked in Garageband that much before. I considered using Audacity but wanted to make a fairly quick piece and despite the sessions I’d had , didn’t really feel confident using it for mixing. (Ha !) Sound quality did not have to be that good. All I wanted to do was play the mix track from my old phone via a Bluetooth speaker as before. The music was intended to be, like the action, pretty raw and unfinished… not high production.
In the end the mix took 3 days or more …..Finding exactly the same music by the same orchestras and string quartets where possible, ( he’d recorded these pieces because they were hard to find on vinyl…. mostly not run of the mill stuff) downloading it, selecting the clips, overlaying with just enough space between tracks so the segue’d in without being too contrived….making things appear chaotic can be so time consuming…… Quite the opposite of my supposed methodology, the continual contrast and paradox between the obsessive archiving, editing and remediation of the material and the ephemerality of the event. This almost acts as a commentary on the contemporary obsessiveness with archive and memory which contrasts with the intransigence of life…. if this isn’t too much of a cliche!
I tried to upload the mix on to Soundcloud but it was rejected due to Copyright
SoundCloud :Hi OldRh,Our automatic content protection system has detected that your track:“Mix Of Analogue Music For May Day 6 – 30 04 2016, 13.46” may contain the following copyrighted content: “String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 13: Adagio non lento” by Alban Berg Quartett owned by Warner Classics. As a result, your track has been removed from your profile for the time being.
But here it is in Clyp in full
The aim was that as the cassettes burned the music sounded as if it was emanating from each clip that caught fire….as the fire spread…. so the music ebbed and flowed with the flames.
Audience and Analysis ( Daybreak and Bonfire)
Was I doing this for a Periscope audience…at 5.30 in the morning…UK time…..?
I realised when I chose the tapes as material, that I was carrying this ritual for myself. My father died 16 years ago and I have kept the tapes to use in work. I wanted to hear the music on those tapes…. to bring it, briefly and temporarily, alive. The last track, playing as the embers smoke, is John Taverner’s Eternal Memory for Cello and String Orchestra played by the Royal Philharmonic
May Day Morning, with the association with passing of old life to new, seemed a good time to use them. A rather literal, symbolic personal ritual.
For the Broadcasts I used the #apreoccupation #Crouch Hill – a reference to a hesitant, playful activism in a public but privately owned space, the use of the tent and my own as an artist and individual.
[I discovered that it is not common land at the summit but still privately owned with public access/ rights of way)… though no designated Public Footpath.]
There were 3 live viewers and 3 Replay for the horn blowing and up to 17 for the last of 3 Live Broadcasts of the bonfire. I had to stream in 3 steps because of the different view points.. using the top of the Trig Point as a support for the 1st, longer distance, and use of a tripod for the second, close up. This part of the process felt rather contrived because of the use of the various bits of albeit low tech ‘stuff’.
I made the decision to go up the Hill alone, which meant that it broadcasting would have been practically very difficult without using tripods and holders.
I did try lighting the matches and holding the phone, but it wasn’t easy. Not holding the phone or being able to look at it meant that I couldn’t chat to the viewers but this action was most definitely a solitary ritual, with observers rather than participants. Despite some technical hitches with the rather intermittent Bluetoothing of the music, which is all part of my rather ad hoc approach to the action, and adds to the contingency at the time of enactment ( in contrast to the preparation!), the ritual was moving, significant and affective to perform. Had also taken the plunge and upgraded to a new iPhone SE, as I really needed to improve the quality of the stream.
The video documentation on Youtube demonstrates this…
I made the decision again to keep recordings of this event, purely for the purpose of refection and analysis ( or at least that’s what I tell myself!)…. a paradox of ephemerality and archiving.…It is now possible, with my iPhone SE to save a screen recording, complete with chat as text and hearts, direct from phone to Desktop, which is much quicker and simpler than via the Desktop App…. too easy……The compulsion to Save.
After the bonfire I walked home down the Hill, rested and had breakfast, saved the screen recordings and made further preparations for a trip up the Hill with anthropologist/archaeologist, Damon Dennis.
Ritual and space
Damon talked about May Day as a ritual in different cultures attracting questions regarding the practices he described. I was able to see the chat this time, as I was in the tent. We also discussed my thoughts of ritual within space, positioned as I was within my ‘green tent, at that time; in that place’. At least one dog walker passed by. I was unaware of any other. We talked for around 50 minutes… I was unaware of the time passing. I was trying hard to recall Levis Strauss, Marcel Mauss, Victor Turner and Eric Rothenbhuler’s key thoughts on ritual and ritual process- liminality, rites of passage, exchange, performativity etc and put it into some personal context for that moment, in that space,but found it very difficult …. I could not assimilate….or dissemninate…
Here’s a Wiki link… for summary and simplicity …any inaccuracies are fitting within the conceit of this project… and an edited clip
Archaeology, landscape and memory
Claire talked about the phenomenology of the landscape and the work of Christopher Tilley, personal recollections and coincidence...the book mark in the text she chose was a childhood birthday card, sent by an aunt who used to take Claire’s brother to Crouch Hill for picnic and some of the local history from her own research …Claire’s broadcast the sun- glare made it more or less impossible. Still a reasonable audience though.
Damon and her led a short Urban Dig, looking at recent archaeological ‘finds’ at the summit, again with great participation from the viewers.
I went back down the hill to greet Irina whilst Louise broadcast, explained and answered questions as Claire continued her dig.
Irina brought printouts of images and imagery as flags to serve as prompts to her personal memories of May Day Parade in ‘70’s Soviet Leningrad with her mother. She showed images relating to the history and collective memories embedded within it. Then I sat in my tent, with her outside in the sunshine, so that we could chat with some of the viewers. By ‘coincidence’ one was a Russian who planned to play football in a nearby (500km away) town. Ira chatted in Russian, discussing their support of local teams.
I took the viewers on a short tour around the landscape and discussed the site and context.Through the trees, walking the narrow path to the summit appeared more participants .
Three other participants joined us; Damon and Claire left. I set out the Monopoly and replenished the refreshments. I had brought a teapot with cups, saucers and ‘tray cloth’ along with biscuits and fruit… to ‘make an occasion of it.’ I laid out an old London Monopoly board and everyone set up a game. This was a fairly simple link to an underlying capitalism within British culture but also to the distress and discomfort felt by many people living close to the Hill, as large new residential estates are being built by property developers within a quarter of a mile. The boundary which runs next to the Hill, an ancient trackway, has been broken, with the Hill ( and town) becoming surrounded by new developments.Although playing the game uses strategy and tactics, there is also chance ( throwing of the dice, content of Chance cards) and community ( Community Chest cards, Jail, utilities and transport), plus the need for selection of a token of personal representation.
I was aware that Monopoly was possibly difficult to access in Ira’s USSR. Monopoly was apparently created in 1903, before the Great Depression, by American anti- capitalist Lizzie J. Magie Phillips. She created the game as an educational tool to illustrate the negative aspects of concentrating land in private monopolies although the myth is that it was invented by game-designer, Charles Darrow. Magie Phillips was feminist, writer and poet, on themes of justice and inequality. I have heard the view that Monopoly was indeed a feminist game, as it gave women a chance to ‘have control over their own money’.
During the playing of the game and the chat between players, viewers and myself.. many of these political and cultural issues were illuminated, through the conversation and behaviour of the group. I was aware of the perfomativity of the game-play and the ritual behaviour both within and without the game itself
A New Folklore
Originally, Frances had discussed the possibility of bringing some personal objects for autobiographical reflection, however, when she arrived she had some props to demonstrate a May Day ritual she had extrapolated from the internet. A humorous but critical juxtaposition of old and new, with some adaptations and confusion as the May blossom was not in flower. All the trees were about 4 weeks behind the usual flowering times.
The manner in which she guided me and the viewers through the ritual process really engaged the audience in the participation, performance and creation of the ritual with some shared conversation about the creation of contemporary folklore and myth; and the role of the Internet ( and Wikipedia) in that creation.
Pagan Poem and Proust
I spent some time in early March discussing Benjamin’s The Arcades Project with Martin and its relevance to my Research Paper and process, as an example of fragmentation and unfinished work and palimpsest multi-layering. I’d also listened to his thoughts on Proust and memory, as part of a Memorials Moving and Invisible , a walk near Edgehill Battlefield site and MOD Kineton. I had heard his Poetry at Beatnik Boulevard .
I’d expected him to talk about Proust, especially as Crouch Hill is covered with hawthorn ( May) and Proust often refers to it, along with metaphors for memory. However, when he spoke on the broadcast he read a poem and then talked more about the notion of voluntary and involuntary memory and it’s relationship to physicality, sensation of movement and placement of a part of the body, to the feel of an object.
We went back to the Monopoly game, only to find he had been sent to jail in his absence.
Together we packed up and walked through the trees and down the Hill.
The summit of the hill, and the surroundings developed and became ‘other’ as the various activities and actions during the day unfolded and as it was linked and merged with other global spaces through the Broadcasting network. Local visitors also folded in and out of the space during the day as differing relations were produced. The proportion of my directorial control vs contingency worked well, for the collaborative pieces brought and broadcast by the participants and the dipping in and out of viewers’ chat in the Broadcasts.The planning time seemed to have been sufficient and the spontaneity ‘sufficient’ as participants often surprised me with their contributions. The main themes of my Research Paper were made manifest, even if there was level of complexity which led to partial obscuring. This is what I am keen to achieve as it references ‘ palimpsest-ness’ within becoming action and over time, but it is getting the balance right that is possibly tricky from the point of view of an audience….even though different audiences interpret differently.
The experimentation with multiple broadcasters didn’t work so well as some contributors were unable to come or download the app. However, I already have so much film it is hard to analyse and I really feel it is not a priority at the moment. This may change and I have got screen recorded documentation to be able to do that.
Viewer interaction could be better and in future I may buy a screen hood to help with sun glare.
The contributors seems pleased to work in this way and the event flowed naturally. There are questions about the role of performance, ritual and the separation of the performer(s) from the audience, witnessing and the reflexivity of those relationships in this work which always crop up.Compared with the St George’s Day event, this was both intimate and connected and felt truly ‘shared’ across all networks.