Ann Rutherford investigates the human relationship with the natural environment, transforming journeys, explorations and physical activities into images and soundscapes. Her soundwalk The Gathering takes the listener back in time to the Mesolithic era, imagining people traveling through the landscape, visiting locations of ritual importance to their tribal communities.
My interest in soundwalks began a few years ago when I suffered hearing loss. I had so many questions about how ‘sound’ works.
I transferred this new interest into my work as an artist and managed to get grant funding to experiment with making a sound walk. At about this time I moved to a new area of North Yorkshire, a place very set in the past and of course that’s part of the charm. I started to walk more, especially on the hill of Ingleborough. I felt the mystery of Ingleborough.
I got to the tops and looked at the other mountains around. The mountains seemed connected by a great plain – a plain that would once have been deeply forested with a river winding through it. I imagined the people living there, cutting down the trees and beginning to develop the landscape that is there now, a landscape of sheep. Sheep have made and maintained the barren, srtipped bare appearence of the land.
As I walked and researched further, I discovered more of the mysteries of the mountain. It became clear to me that ancient people had spent a long time in this landscape. The Mountain looms darkly, and the mountain has to be the focus, the centre of the world.
The mountain has the foundations of round stone buildings on the top, it has steep sides where water runs off into streams and ghylls. Most importantly the Mountain is surrounded by caves. Not only does life giving water issue from the caves but the caves are a way to enter the mountain itself. A cave is like a womb.
It is no coincidence that there is a large meadow of burial cairns next to one of the caves. On both sides of this cave were large neolithic settlements. This particular part of the circumference of the mountain has all the ingredients of a deeply significant cultural location – a centre of the spiritual world for people who do not question their place as part of the natural world of rock, animals and trees that surround them. Even the rock has the potential to be alive.
After the last ice age (the Late Devensian Glaciation), people returned to this landscape later than elsewhere in Europe. The Mesolithic period came late as the glacial ice receded in the 10th century. The transition from hunter gatherer to farmers was slow to take hold. People traveled between the mountains and the forested lowland. Ingleborough wsa a gathering place for tribes occupying this small area of mountain, bog, exposed rock and forest.
All of this was the foundation for my soundwalk The Gathering. It is part historical and part imaginative reconstruction. It takes us on a journey travelling from the road of the 20th Century to Great Douk cave of 7000 years BC. We travel back in time with the narrator, but we remain with hints of now in the sounds of a walker, an airoplane and the sheep, making their presence felt.
The birdsong is a strong element of the sound walk, and the woodland birds help us to feel the canopy of trees over our heads. You would struggle to find anything larger than a sapling on Ingleborough now.
We visit the burial cairn where our ancestors reside in the shadow of the mountain. No reverential peace in this spiritual place, but the burial ground is a noisy marketplace, people play instruments, there is joy, bartering, eating and greeting friends as they gather. We hear the call of the mountain in the form of the common snipe. Finally we reach the cave and experience the cave’s own voice speaking and singing to us.
I wanted the effect of a culmination, a finale celebration of the ever present water flowing through the life giving cave. We are used to the idea of a cave with paintings as symbols of spiritual life of ancient peoples. Here we consider all the other elements, the feel of the rock, the sound, the echo, music making, bodies moving through restricted space, bright burning torches and the pitch dark; the spiritual qualities of the cave in full.
This sound walk was very much an experiment in what I can achieve with the medium. I worked with a narrator, a singer, a musician and a technician, all of us new to the medium. I produced a linked PDF that can be downloaded with the soundwalk that features extra material for those with hearing impairment.
This soundwalk is a starting place for a greater exploration of the potential of the soundwalk.
This text is the fifth in a series of the artists shortlisted for the Sound Walk September 2022 Awards talking about their work.