This residency has three key stages to it. First up was the research stage. This was the bit where I spent big chunks of time living in the park and exploring my chosen corner – mostly going for walks, taking pictures and reading bucket loads.

The last stage is the delivery of a final piece. Something which sums up my experience in the park – the culmination of all the research, the walking, the looking, the talking and listening with people. In some ways this is the most visible bit of the residency – the bit where everyone goes “ah, that’s the art bit”. The big reveal.

However, for me, the real art bit is this middle stage. It’s the bit where I go through everything that I’ve collected and amassed and process it all into something. It’s generally the slow bit. It needs to be. During the research phase you are accumulating so much information, constantly. Typically I’d be working every day from the moment I woke up – filing all the images, sounds and information I gathered the previous day, then planning what I was going to do next. I’d then go out exploring until it got dark – walking the hills, searching for information in the landscape, meeting people and generally trying to get under the surface of the landscape. In the evening I’d just read up on stuff I’d found and continue reading until I fell asleep.

So, now I’ve had time to distance myself from the daily information overload, I can slowly start to piece everything together. Filter it, distil it into purer, more succinct ideas.

Some of these ideas get used, others are syphoned off, either to be fed into future ideas or filed away. Yet the essence of each and every item become part of the fabric of the project as a whole.

While out on my walks I tried to capture the life of the landscape. Look for clues as to what made it, how it works, what it does and how it changes. Mostly I did that through photographs and note taking. However, I also did dozens of sound recordings. As I was doing them I had no idea what I would use them for, nor did I have a conscious theme in mind. They were just lo-tech recordings made on my phone, so the quality isn’t brilliant and they suffer from wind noise in places. But just going through them I realised there’s a strand running through them – they’re the sound of the background. The subtle texture of the landscape.

glen ogle viaduct handrails

One of the first was the sound of the wind blowing through the handrails on Glen Ogle Viaduct. It was a particularly windy day, and the glen is exposed at the best of times. The recording is mostly the wind on the microphone, but just in the background you can make out the different pitched rails, each playing in time. A barely-there layer.

When I first came across the damaged ash plantation in the previous post, the farm at Inverlochlarig was moving some of the sheep around. I’d past a small flock being driven down the lane on the way. In the distance the dogs were still excited by the running sheep, the steep slopes of the glen and the cold, still air carried the sound of the shepherds calling the dogs from nearly a mile away.


One fair sunday morning from a hill above Balquhidder the church bell rang cleanly down the glen:

balquhidder glen

While high in the mists at the top of Kirkton Glen, while the landscape played hide and seek in the shifting clouds, a solitary raven made its presence known.

top of kirkton glen

These are all background sounds. There’s a fragility to them – barely there, but part of the landscape none the less. They’re the sounds of listening – not the noise of attention, but a subtle harmonic picked up by the shape of the landscape. As much the texture of the place as pine needles or drops of mist.

About stevemessam

Artist, designer, curator and rural activist
This entry was posted in landscape, research, sound, Uncategorized, walks, wilderness and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Background

  1. cjr01 says:

    Couldn’t agree more that sound shapes the environment, inside or out, just as much as the visuals. Love to read how you develop yr ideas – interesting stuff!

  2. Juno Doran says:

    (you should get a Rycote 055 370)

  3. I gotta go with Juno on this one. I love my Rycote!!!

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