Journalling threads

“I fade out to birdsong – let wingbeats and beaksounds take me away
Over the threshold to a place where I can play with the edge of what is real,
And what is magic. Because every day has the potential to be extraordinary
Together we conjure this world.”

Something I wrote in my journal earlier this week. My pages are being filled with sketches of our garden – magnificent peonies, delicate bluebells, feisty bracken, guardian oak, divine apple blossom, sacred hawthorn, first rose – the threshold of the green that this fertile time of year feels to me. Fertile despite the devastation of corona, despite personal fallings and fadings and failings…

I’ve also been, as well as continuing my soundmapping project, simply annotating my book with the things I’ve heard outside each day. Living through the abrasive army jet planes which grace us nearly every bluesky day, and the confusing sudden increase in traffic mid-lockdown, are the resilient blackbird who sings is heart out on a branch above my home, bees humming a 3-tone meditation whilst supping on orange flowers of a shrub in our hedgerow, geese nearly everyday honking their mysterious trails overhead. A million voices of the river where I go to swim sing themselves into me. My own song becomes sap rising through my body as I surrender to this process of unknown journey towards summer. And a cuckoo, or several, reminds us to wake up!

A sense of threads unravelling on a big scale, to be re-woven in a tapestry made by the sheer force of life. A desire to become part of this, to offer my own medicine and also to recognise my smallness – ow can we know where we are going? All I can do is tune in to my offering, my perceived gifts, my hopeful power to help change for the better.

In Nature’s Spotlight

For a while now, I’ve had in mind this notion of ‘Nature’s Spotlight’ when performing/sharing music – it creates a noticeable shift in me, as though my ego slips away, even just a tiny bit, when my focus is sharing for – and as part of – nature, rather than trying to please a crowd.

For several years now I’ve been most drawn by the call of the magical outdoors and the music of the land, and setting my intention to allow through song and sound which harmonises with this, in some way at least – and sometimes it almost feels like it comes from the soil, from the water, from the trees, from the moss, from the stones, from the wind… Like many other musicians across the world I am finding my truest sense of belonging and purpose and power in communing with the earth through song.

and so…

I’ve finally got round to putting some videos on my personal Youtube channel (Ailsa Mair Arts), of short improvisations and songs recorded in our garden during lockdown. Here’s one i recorded this morning for Beltane/Calan Mai/May Day… I hope you enjoy!

Ailsa x

Creative ways forward…

Thought I would share a few ideas for things we can do to stay connected whilst self-isolating…

  1. BIRDSONG -Open windows or sit outside and listen to the beautiful birdsong, currently building to its height. Maybe learn some of these songs? Here are some online resources:

2) Join in? What would YOUR birdsong be? What do you have to add to the soundscape?


Also, HOT OFF THE PRESS!: here is a beautiful short film made by my friend Ben Porter on his travels in the Azures – replete with incredible birdsong.

3) TREE TALK – Sit with your back to a tree. Breathe deeply. Imagine your own roots growing down. Be open to the tree’s message to you.

4) Following on from this, let your breathing turn into sounding with your voice – allow a simple hum or long tone turn into a phrase, perhaps repeating this like a mantra or allowing it to evolve into a song.

5) SOUNDMAPPING (see recent post )

Draw/write/squiggle/otherwise depict your favourite sounds from the wild soundscape. Make into your own ‘map’ or post them here/send them to me to become part of a large, accumulating communal soundmap. (If you are in the Dyfi Biosphere, you can also post them on the ‘Wild Notes Dyfi’ FB page.)

Cultivate a relationship with a ‘sit-spot’ near to you, outdoors in nature, if you can. Find a tree/stream/somewhere you can connect with and return to, spending time each day – however short – observing Spring in action, and writing/drawing/singing/sounding/meditating or simply listening.

If you are housebound, make a corner of your space a sacred space by putting down a nice cloth, a candle, other special objects. Give yourself time to be still or write here each day, or do whatever practice is your thing.

Plant seeds – physically or metaphorically. What are you intending to grow this Spring?
Even if we have to self-isolate and even stay indoors most of the time, thinking positively about the future is really important. Let’s not let our spring energy stagnate. If you feel that happening, which is understandable, let some fresh air in, open a window, do something you wouldn’t normally do to shift the energy.

Here are some ways I do that…

In the mornings especially, shaking my body, standing with loose knees, and allowing any sounds to come to help release and warm up for the day.

Free-dancing! I have just started a personal daily practice of doing this (where no-one can see me haha), allowing movement and sound to roll into one another, letting my body move where it wants to, and letting my voice follow or lead the way. This feels liberating – but it helps to have a space where no-one else will be so you can feel super-free – OR – why not do it together with the people you are at home with, if you want to?

Burning herbs to cleanse your space. Thinking sage, rosemary, mugwort, cedar, lavender… Or simply open the windows to circulate fresh air.

Freewriting/’morning pages’ to let creative energy flow (and I recommend the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron for so many more ways to engage your creativity if you can get hold of a copy).

Listening to beautiful music – put on a favourite album or ask your friends for recommendations of things you may have never heard and may love! Currently I am loving my Joanna Newsom triple cassette version of ‘Have One on Me’, and Anoushka Shankar’s album ‘Love Letters’ on Spotify.

9) Get to know your local folk tales & stories of your land. Here in the Dyfi Valley, I can recommend: Ceredigion Folk Tales by Peter Stevenson. If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie (a mixture of tales with Celtic Roots). There are so many out there, get delving!

I’ll keep growing this list as I feel, and let you know of some new online creative offerings which are bubbling away in my Caudron of Creative Regeneration…

However strange and scary these times get, stay strong and remember your inner wildness and boundless creativity.

Oh, one more thing – the wild garlic / ramsons is out, and it’s super-healthy. If you can find some without making unnecessary social contact, go for it!!! I’ve been making pesto, and it’s mega-potent. (make sure you know how to ID it properly, obviously)

Big love and stay well,


exploring WILD VOICE

I’ve just returned from being on a WILD VOICE retreat with Bethan Lloyd and Katya Barton, at Cae Mabon – ‘the Welsh Shangri La’ in Snowdonia, North Wales. It was transformational beyond what I could have expected. The me that is a leader, a facilitator of similar work, was humbled and inspired so greatly by the bold authenticity of their leadership and of the whole group, that I have felt a deep strengthening of spirit and clear resolve to integrate this deeply into my path ahead. And it’s not like I could remove this from my experience – I am now in a profoundly different reality, where I have been seen and heard by 18 people for 5 days on such a level that there is no going back, or down, or wherever leads to un-truth. It has set for me a paradigm of BEING MY WHOLE SELF, and this continuing into all my work, at a level of integrity that makes the only sense now.

It is more than singing, more than sounding, more than making noise, more than listening – it is about community, ritual & ceremony, honouring the darkness, celebrating the light, honouring our sovereignty, surrendering into mutual holding, honouring our ancestors&where we have come from and visioning our way forth with NO limitations. It is medicine without an ‘M’ but a big ‘mmmm’, as our quiet hums begin weaving the unknown, in a communal flow of brave voices in committed, continual response to one another; it is healing without a ‘H’ but with the ‘haaaah’ of our steady breaths which become the prologue of our group’s heartsong. Earthsong. Watersong. Airsong. Firesong. Spirit song – and there is no ‘wrong’ as we sound together, this is a reminder of our birthright to play, to be heard, to wail, to mimic birds, to shout our voices to running stream, to find melodies for our unsung dreams.

This, for me, is the most important work we could do. Empowering, scary, joyous, work that teaches us our permeability: we are a part of the wild soundscape. When are WILD we are STRONG, and our vulnerability, our letting go of the boundaries between us and icecold river, tree, moss, mountains, and each other, yet holding deep respect for our uniqueness, allows us to co-create in alchemy what in my opinion is the very best soundtrack to life!

Having been very much in this field as an artist and facilitator already, I am now even more certain of my role to share this gift, to offer this work – in my own way of course! Most of all, I feel it has healed a wounded part of me that needed to be healed in order for me to go ahead and step fully into my giving, into leadership. I am super super grateful for this, and cannot recommend Bethan & Katya’s WILD VOICE retreats enough.

You can find them here:

Now to continue exploring

Freshly returned and fully-charged, it is perfect time to share the evolution of my own vocal improvisation offerings for 2020.

That is what I wrote before this big shift happened, which, alomg with millions of others, is making me reconsider how I can offer creativity out into the world in these current challenging times!

I’ll put another post about these when they reveal their form.

For now, I’ll end with a beautiful quote:

“The planet itself abounds with a vigorous resonance… Every place with its vast populations of plants and animals becomes a concert hall, and everywhere a unique orchestra performs an unmatched symphony with each species’ sound fitting into a specific part of the score. It is an highly-evolve, naturally-wrought masterpiece…

Humans too are making their sound heard. As they borrow some from what they hear all around them to convey emotion, perhaps through their body movement and vocal responses, these modern humans will convince the other creatures that they are all just an extension of one sonorant family. This is the Tuning of the Great Animal Orchestra. A revelation of the acoustic harmony of the world.” – Bernie Krause, The Great Animal Orchestra

Stay well!


sound of the storm

So it’s been pretty wild here in Machynlleth indeed! The wind has been singing like a breathy flute around all edges of our house, and the rain percussion rarely stops (but changes its style quite often)… I love it, in a way. When we can’t (or don’t!) get out into the landscape, what wildness comes to us, and can we become more aware of our own inherent wildness, however we might be constantly drinking tea and filling hotwaterbottles (ahem!) seemingly away from the elements?

When stuck indoors, we could welcome the opportunity to really go inside, and use our imaginations to connect with our own life – whether through meditation, movement, getting creative and drawing, using our voices, taking time to notice how all the elements exist within us – our earth, our water, our fire, our air…

What about drawing a scene you remember seeing when on a walk or trip somewhere particularly beautiful, or perhaps another creature glimpsed through your window? How do you embody your connection with it? Do you feel a certain part of you light up as you draw/when you think about or witness it? What do you love about this place/other creature? Do you see yourself mirrored in any way by it?

Here is a Wild Notes challenge, and invitation to be part of our first online Soundmap!


Wherever you live, wherever you have been, whether you have have lived in the same place forever or if you have travelled the world… What have been your favourite wild sounds? Be it bird(s), animal(s), water, wind in the trees, whatever… Go deep into your personal sound-bank, retrieve your fave, and DRAW, WRITE, or otherwise DEPICT it (you can sing it if you want!) Send an image of this – and / or an audio clip if you have one – to, with details of where they are from and what of, and any memories or contact details you want to share. These will be used to create a virtual, accumulative SOUNDMAP of what people most value in the wild soundscape, which hopes over time to encourage more and more people to really listen as we go outside as well as within. Your contributions will be posted here, and perhaps even made into something physical.

How can we find ways to really hear the land, and other species in it?

Since this is a pretty big question, I’ll leave that one hanging on the wild wind for now and look forward to coming back to discuss.

Don’t forget to send me your sounds!

Music for Rebellion

‘Fresh’ back from the Extinction Rebellion protests in London, which are currently taking place to highlight Government inaction on the pressing issue of climate change, and I’m inspired to report to Wild Notes on the abundant power of music and the arts in these times.

a clip of me playing at St James’s Park last week

I spent 3 days making music in a variety of contexts across the city, including jamming in roads with multiple people (including another cellist!), singing an amplified set with a beatboxer and drummer at Trafalgar Square, inviting others to join me in an improvised call-and-response and spontaneous harmonies, doing a solo set of my songs in St James’s Park as the police started their attempt at removing protesters’ tents, and performing over the mic at BBC Broadcasting House on Friday to question the BBC’s lack of openness around reporting on climate change.

Being part of these demonstrations – part of a whole, immensely diverse creative attempt to raise mass awareness of the need to change the infrastructure in urgent response to climate change – and the global, social justice issues that are innately part of this, has brought me alive in so many ways.

Seeing how music has the power to bring people together, alleviate tension in edgy circumstances, bring joy and positive messages through the darkness and convey the great grief present too, gives me so much courage to carry on and up my dedication as a creative activist.

It was also a chance to meet other art-ivists and feel more a part of the web of transformation. Perhaps my favourite moment was on coming across an exquisitely beautiful mandala made from drawings depicting endangered animals, set out on the slabwork of Trafalgar Square. The artist invited me to play some cello there, and I very willingly obliged, singing too. I was soon, almost seamlessly, joined by the voices of her and two other women. Our soulful, griefsoaked improvisation felt like an elegy for all the lost ones, all the endangered and those yet to be, and was an incredibly moving, raw unfolding from our hearts, which around the mandala created a space of sacredness amidst the chaos.

Thank you to all the wise&courageous creatives who are keeping the heart and soul of our collective movement for change alive…

Summer Sounds & Silences

Since writing last I have been on many wild adventures in sound as I have travelled around Wales for gigs on train and bus and foot… A storywalk on the very special Borth Bog, where the rare Rosy Marsh moth, living on Bog Myrtle – not to mention a mythical ancient toad – flourishes on, surrounded by a very unique soundscape which felt almost like a forcefield… A visit to a wild mountain garden near Llangollen where the sound of healthy ash trees greeted me… A trip to the Felin Uchaf centre on the Llyn Peninsula, performing with storyteller Deb Winter in a magnificent Celtic Roundhouse built by the incredible man Dafydd Davies-Hughes and his team of volunteers… Summoning my mermaid self whilst playing cello on the seafront in Aberystwyth to the soundscape of waves and a proliferation of jellyfish… and it continues, as I embrace the everyday magic of the natural soundscape.

One thing that has been much less music to the ears has been the deafening sound of low-flying army jets practising their antics over Machynlleth – they approach suddenly and I find them quite intimidating and anger-inducing, not least because of the violent nature of their purpose. There is a link where you can sound out about these planes if they bother you, too – you can find it here:

One day recently in my Wild Notes journal – which I carry with me at most times – I found myself writing ‘How can I hear the wild when there is so much NOISE?!?!?!

Silent walking
Last Sunday, with Pete Stevenson, a long-standing friend, colleague, storyteller, illustrator, folklorist and writer, I went on my first lengthy ‘silent walk’. I am familiar with the practice of silent walking through previous Mindfulness training I have done, but this was different. We took the footpath from Aberystwyth past the base of Pen Dinas and to Plas Tan-y-Bwlch, before pausing on the beach to the swoosh of waves and wind in the unique seaside flora and looping back with the roll of the tide past the marina. Our footsteps made polyrhythms with each other and my attention to sounds both inside and outside myself felt more acute. The only time I forgot to be ‘silent’ was when we met a field of cows, which were all over the path, and I started blurting reassuring words as we negotiated our way past! We are planning a public silent walk and creative workshop experience on September 1st, so watch this space /check my main website for details…

NB: I don’t talk about all my events on here as I do so many collaborations with different folks – but you can find our about the rest either on my main artist website or on my Facebook page ‘Ailsa Mair Music’…

Seasonal Celebrations
In the Celtic calendar, we are at Lammas tide, between ‘Calendar Lammas’ and ‘Lunar Lammas’, which traditionally represents the time of the first grain harvest. I have just been helping my partner harvest his first main crop of vegetables and whilst I was doing so, picking kales, beetroot, field beans, I contemplated the inter-relationship of wildness and cultivation. In the context of music, there is a strong link, when I reflect on how vital to my improvisation my musical training has been and still is… I may strive to be a wild thing but to recognise the value of cultivating my musicality is essential: culture and cultivation surely share the same root! And roots of my wild, improvised song are in many different ‘cultures’, grafted, self-seeded on the wind, carried in bird’s beaks and caught on bee’s wings, blended with the movement of my heart in inspiration and expiration, in delight and mysterious affinity.

Cosmic vegetables inspire cosmic song!

I am more and more passionate about celebrating the seasonal shifts (which are becoming less and less in line with what we are told to expect, as the planet warms), and sharing music through ceremony, as one part of events which honour the movements of nature, its abundance and its challenges. Currently, MOONCHOIR is one of these offerings (see my Facebook Group of that name for more info), and there will be more – I am especially being called to work with the cycle of the moon.

It is a process of consolidating the many parts of our creativity, in the growing and foraging of food, the singing of folk-song (spontaneous or composed!), the sharing of troubles and hopes, the crafting, the skill-sharing, swapping, the togetherness of community.

Quite possibly my favourite author, Jay Griffiths, writes exquisitely about wild soundscape, and how it is being threatened by modern life. I truly recommend reading her book ‘WILD’ – it has been awing me as it paints sound-pictures of other lands and the depths of the oceans…
My favourite album of the last month has been The Lost Words ‘Spell Songs’ – it is a moving tribute to many words that have been becoming lost to the English language, most of them from nature – which in turn, to me, is an artistic tribute to extinction at large.

Summer Solstice en France

So it’s technically not Solstice anymore but over the weekend, on residency with Tinc y Tannau en France at an amazing farm-venue called le Trouillet (, I’ve been listening to the very lively natural soundscape here and tentatively experimenting with new songs, as well as revisiting some older ones on my bass viol, and doing some reflective writing. I’m going to share bits of these here….

Soundscape at Le Trouillet, 22nd June

the fairy-frog pond

As I walk round the corner past the pond of invisible frogs – or are they indeed even more invisible ducks? – avoiding offerings of cow muck, I begin to hear the distant, gentle polyphony of cow bells. But again, the eyes and ears are not quite in the same plain, as they turn out to belong to sheep, two herds a few separate fields away. I have never known sheep-bells before, and change my yodelling tones (which made the farm’s many dogs bark anyway), which were inspired by the idea of cows and what I know of cow-summoning song, to a more subdued, woollier substance… As I walked on down the grassy track I began to think of songlines, of displaced sounds – if these can exist – and hearing with new ears. Round the corner again, I got full view of the two resident yurts, purple&green and cream, and my instinct to overtone Mongolian style (i.e. to try to) kicked in. I think of musical intuition/’idea’ of what sounds should weave with an experience or place, and the inevitable cosmopolitanism and juxtaposition we face and create as travelling musicians. As I sit here on the sunny patio with chattering birds, the flute of Ceri Rhys Matthews begins weaving beautiful Welsh melodies, closely followed by a phone conversation en Francais.


Whilst tuning into Solstice energy today in my lovely room with the bass viol, I ended up revisiting an old song that I wrote on cello years and years ago, called Facing the Sun;

For the first time in my life, I faced the Sun
For the first time in my life, I faced the Sun
For the First time n my life, I bared my bones, and
For the first time, the Sun saw them,
So my bones were warm.

Simple lyrics with a drone and melody that came from I don’t know where – some depths somewhere – and turned out to fit the limited notes of a small&beautiful wooden double-flute I bought around the time of writing for £3 at a jumble sale.

I will record this later.
{I did but it wasn’t perfect – I will probably share it anyway at some point though}

St John’s Day, 23rd Juin
My dreams last night ended with a small, blonde-haired child handing me a bright, glowing orange-yellow light. I woke up and saw a sabre of such light coming through the crack in my black velveteen curtains: it was sunrise! Yonder come day… Little sleep as I had had I was drawn outside onto the balcony to do some early morning yoga – and the sound of those frogs was immense. I actually saw them, too! As though sunrise gave them such joy they took to forgetting to be invisible…

A solstice drawing I made with oak ink and cherry juice

Half an hour later, they stopped jumping, and sounding too (I don’t even know how to describe their song – croaking? rIBBETTing? They don’t seem to fit the stereotype, these frogs… qUACKING? Maybe! A strange thing that has happened EVERY time I’ve heard the frogs so far has been that at some point my stomach has appeared to make frog-like sounds, as though an inner frog has been awakened. I haven’t noticed it at any other times. However, today I wondered whether I was hearing a frog that sounded like a stomach sounding like a frog. A mystery yet to unfold…

In the evening we (Tinc y Tannau and Christine Watkins, with live artist Maria Hayes) performed a musical-storytelling ‘Spectacle’ in the woods on the farm, and one thing that made it incredibly special was how different the natural soundscape is here: yes, more frogs, in another pond very near to where we were playing, who, at brilliant moments, began chorusing enthusiastically, and a duck quacking (it could have course been another frog!) at perfect timing just at the end of a wild 2 voice improvisation between me and Sianed. NB it’s never ever just two voices when out in nature! There are loads of birds of prey here and the birdsongscape has a different richness to that at home. Whilst we played and told, Maria painted sounds and stories in her uniquely beautiful way using pigments of the land: earth, cherries, stone, feathers…

live earth art by Maria Hayes for Saint Jean celebrations, Le Trouillet , 2019

Later, after a special fire ritual shared with us by Christine Watkins, involving putting our intentions into pieces of sheeps wool wrapped in walnut shells and throwing them into the flames, teaching the group a song in round around the fire, many Welsh folksongs unfolded, sometimes led by Carreg Bica, the other band in residence here, and sometimes by a man who happens to be living in the Ardeche but comes from New Quay in Ceredigion! The evening ended with the simple crackling of burning wood and a frog encore, accompanied by the appearance of thousands of stars, and hundreds of bats, flying underlit by the firelight.

found a spot in 35degree heat to play viol in the shade…

Wild Notes offerings…

In the future, I see Wild Notes journeying in the direction of a social enterprise or some other kind of community organisation that aims to engage people through sound and music with the natural environment… For now, I will let it evolve organically with this blog as a base, and and here share the events and activities that I want to offer in its name. First up, the Summer Programme for my MOONCHOIR (‘spontaneous sacred song’ held at new &full moons around Machynlleth, mid-Wales):


Setting healing intentions to begin each new cycle
Weaving ‘musical spells’ with our voices
Playing with different ways of improvising vocally together

Co-creating ‘spontaneous sacred song’
Expanding out our healing intentions
Connecting with the land


• Monday 3rd June, 11am-1pm: Machynlleth
O Saturday 15th June, 3.30-7.30 (as part of cacao ceremony with Lucy Morus-Baird & Milly Jackdaw): nr. Tre’r Ddol
• Tuesday 2nd July, 8-10pm: Machynlleth
O Tuesday 16th July, 8-10pm: TBC
• Thursday 1st August, 11-1pm: Machynlleth
O Thursday 15th August, 8-10pm: TBC
• Friday 30th August, 11-1pm: Machynlleth

O Saturday 14th September, 7-9pm: TBC

Sessions held by Ailsa Mair Hughes. All voices are welcome. Contributions for each session suggested £3-7 (except 15th June Moonchoir-Cacao event: for this, follow the link below and Contact Lucy to book).
If you have a special drum/rattle, please feel free to bring it! Please contact Ailsa if you intend to come by emailing or asking to join the MOONCHOIR group on Facebook

Sound Map #2 @ Gerddi Bro Ddyfi

Wild Notes SOUND MAP #2 MAP SAIN Nodau Gwyllt:
Gerddi Bro Ddyfi & surrounding area 23rd May 2019, 6.45-8.45am

Early this sunny – but surprisingly cold – morning, a small group of us, garden volunteers, friends and new acquaintances, were led by the expert skills of Ben Porter in learning how to recognise bird songs and calls of the area around our beautiful local community garden, Gerddi Bro Ddyfi. To complement this, I led the second Wild Notes ‘Sound Map’, which began humbly as a large piece of wallpaper that I invited people to depict their favourite sounds from the walk on as we gathered back at the garden afterwards. I had introduced the process at the beginning, suggesting people imagine how they would describe or draw the sounds they were hearing, as they listened and walked. The idea is experimental but I think it has lots of potential for helping us engage with the natural soundscape, and remember what we are hearing. We will see (or hear)!

Sounds on the Map:
Have a look at the pictures below to see how we collectively created a visual depiction of the following, all heard today…

Blue Tit
Ducks (honk, honk!)
Starlings (cheeo cheeo cheeo)
Cuckoo (we probably know that one!)
Willow warbler (descending pattern)
Nuthatch (brief, bubbly, fruity repeating sound)
Wren (clear & high-pitched)
Wood pigeon (5 ‘coos’, plus sometimes extra on end, breathy)
Collared dove (fewer coos)
Greenfinch (one sustained, raspy cry)
Garden Warbler (fast-paced, bubbly)
Blackbird (loud, mellifluous, liquidy)
Songthrush (loud, clear, groups of notes returning to same pitch 3/4/5 times)
Goldfinch (twinkly, like splitting ice, or stars)
Chaffinch (song ends in ‘achoo!’)
Dunnock (flitting, high-pitched, two layers of pitch alternating)
Swallows (chattering)

It’s important to remember that there are many variations, and differences between birds’ ‘songs’ which are sung to assert territory or attract mates, and their ‘calls’, which are generally for contact / to alarm fellow birds.
It was wonderful to work together in deciding how to represent what we heard on the map – people imagine and remember in different ways and it is a great opportunity to embrace this fact!