Four Walks Around A Year: Summer
Within the so-called ‘gallery arts’ walking has long been an established, if marginal, artistic form; well-known practitioners include Turner Prize winner Richard Long and the criminally underrated Hamish Fulton. Sound art, which according to some recent commentators too has its mind set on joining the official gallery club, has its own tradition of the sound walk, typically taking the form of a single unedited field recording in which the microphone is carried from one location to another as the sounding world slowly changes around it. My feeling is that this summer instalment of Sebastiane Hegarty’s series “Four Walks Around A Year”, a project exploring the sounds of Hampshire’s Winnall Moors, draws on a different source again: that of the radio broadcast, a form the artist has already explored in works such as the recent “It’s Just Where I Put My Words: A Voice Remembered” for BBC Radio 3. Hegarty eschews the single long take in favour of the montage techniques that have characterised experimental radio since its early days in 1920s Weimar Germany, allowing him to bring together the planning and execution of fence repairs and the rumbling of a tractor with the field recording staples of humming insects, chirruping birds, and distant churchbells. The brief snatch of an ice-cream van’s clumsy melody is a nice, humourous touch.
In his review for The Field Reporter of “Spring”, the episode with which this series began, Patrick Farmer located Hegarty’s artistry in precisely this deployment of montage, a view I’m inclined to agree with. In creating a narrative framework that is loose and seemingly non-linear, with sounds that abruptly come and go, Hegarty presents a listening experience that is more like a walk remembered than one re-enacted. He thus treats the microphone as a proxy or prosthesis for memory, rather than its more perfect replacement: the difference, at the level of audibility, is subtle but important. More obvious is the artist’s technical skill, both in the recording of each sound and its placement within the mix. As a document of Winnall Moors, the piece is more than adequate, but for me it’s the understanding of field recording as an art of memory, implied through the thoughtful use of montage, that really engages and provokes. A fine release — bring on the autumn!