Mysterious and Uncanny Ogwell

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Part of the Sacred Spaces project - find out more at http://www.citiesandmemory.com/sacredspaces

Reimagined by Ellen Southern.

"I chose this recording for its atmosphere and sonic texture. It offered the possibility for me to create a voice-based sound work from an audio track free from prescribed musical sound, voices or melody. I have an ongoing field-recording based project, Site Singing, where I travel out and use my voice to explore and interpret heritage sites in the West of England, so the West Ogwell audio appealed as a kind of variation on that theme – the opportunity to work remotely with a sacred site via another’s recording.

Listening to the original recording, I was struck by the simple beauty and acoustic atmosphere of the rain-swept medieval church. It made me think of having been alone in remote sacred spaces on several occasions, and the unique and humbling quality of that experience. In those moments it can feel as though the acoustic environment floods the senses and you can dissolve into a kind of timelessness.

I approached the making of my re-imagined track as a form of ritual in itself. I took some quiet hours alone and created a space to work on my sonic response. I dimmed the lights, lit a candle, and the moon was rising. I listened intensely to the original recording over and over, and enjoyed becoming increasingly aware of the physicality of the layers of sound. The cumulative effect was quite trance-like. I instinctively found myself listening for tones or ‘voices’ within the white noise of the rain, and was startled by two sounds near the end of the track which seemed to be just that – either human or a bird (an owl?). This made me think of EVP (electronic voice phenomena): ambient recordings made by those listening back for presences or traces of the dead. I have heard a demonstration of EVP recordings in an English church previously, and this experience influenced the aesthetics of some of my past works. There is a kind of focus quality of perception when listening for such ‘voices’, as well as a minimal sound-world of empty air, sonic interference and glitching (hissing, white noise, wind disturbance etc.), as well as the sounds of recording devices themselves. Remembering this, I decided to keep my response similarly plain, yet make it dense and uncertain, a touch austere, with the feeling of being a found-recording of some strange past event.

I recorded a vocal track as I listened to the original, creating as similar a vocal sound to the rain as I could. I wanted it to not be immediately apparent that it even was a voice which had made the sound, so the voice is more a secret presence embedded in the track, only revealing itself through the sounds of breath, tongue, mouth cavity etc. towards the end. I then played it back as a new layer in reverse to further remove evidence of its origin (‘disembody’ it), pitch-shifting it it in real time to the shifting intensity of the rain. I then added further improvised vocal sounds and darkened the overall work. I also added a subtle vocal ‘call and response’ with the hooting voice / creature I heard on the track, calling out just before its response (around 4.17 on the track), then calling again (around 4.44) with apparently no reply until the vocal tracks suddenly drop out, revealing this second haunting response just audible to an attentive ear.

Between recording the layers, I actually searched for an image of the church online to help me picture it. It turns out that West Ogwell was the setting for a 2014 acclaimed independent British found-footage horror film. This was a strange coincidence, and seemed to fit the mysterious and uncanny atmosphere that the track developed through its making."

3 months ago
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