“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.
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.
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!
Thought I would share a few ideas for things we can do to stay connected whilst self-isolating…
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: https://www.british-birdsongs.uk
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.)
6) SIT SPOT 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.
7) PLANT SEEDS 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.
8) SHIFTING 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)
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.
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
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 email@example.com, 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.
‘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.
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…
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: SWKfirstname.lastname@example.org
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 www.ailsamairsong.com or on my Facebook page ‘Ailsa Mair Music’…
SeasonalCelebrations 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.
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.
INSPIRATIONS / AWEN 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.