To capture, reproduce, and deconstruct

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Birling Gap is a wild and cliffy landscape on the edge of East Sussex popular with walkers and hikers. The protagonist of Tony Onuchukwu‘s piece, also called Birling Gap, travels there and is touched, consumed and irrevocably impacted.

Birling Gap is one of the shortlisted pieces in the Sound Walk September Awards 2022. Tony reflects on the landscape and creating his soundwalk.

Maps give us security – a way in and a route out. They are a constructed technology which allow us to stratify and contain the otherwise boundlessness of our world, to feel grounded in a location we can situate with certainty.

My interdisciplinary approach of thinking, writing and creating have all revolved around the same point on a map – not just a geographical location, but a specific moment in space/time. A particular affect I experienced at Birling Gap, a cliffy wild landscape on the edge of East Sussex. My first visit occurred in the brief COVID-19 hopeful hiatus of summer 2020. Without preconception, I travelled to Birling Gap and was touched, consumed and irrevocably impacted by my destination.

Attempting to capture, reproduce and deconstruct this sensation has become the most prevalent and interestingly unattainable focal point of my work and research. The task of endeavouring to conjure the ineffable and emotionally transform an audience is extremely demanding, yet much can be gained from the locations of failure, the inevitable lacuna between intent and reception. Through this practice I have begun to understand my work around Birling Gap as an inner journey, which mirrors the literal repeated journeys I have taken there. Like a lost traveller, within my practice, I am constantly looping back on myself, repeating, returning and discovering. I have sought to understand the challenges of producing such a complex affect as akin to the literal barriers of my route and the aim of journeying back to the space and time of my first visit as a mythical, dreamlike and almost hypersitional practice – a resistant attempt to move outside of space/time as it is usually constructed.

Isabella Bonner-Evans

I was struck by Isabella’s compelling way of communicating her affinity for a location on a map that at the time I had only ever heard in passing. So when she contacted me with the proposal of producing an audio piece with Birling Gap as the centre point, I jumped at the chance.

We began communicating over email and I was struck how smooth conversation was and how easy ideas flowed between us. Isabella told me that she was creating a living grass/flora and fauna installation in the style of a grassy mound. This eventually accompanied the sound work, which was played on 2 speakers in a small space on campus at Goldsmith’s University, South London.

One thing to note was that we are huge fans of the NTS affiliated collective, Time Is Away and their beautiful audio piece on Derek Jarman was a huge inspiration in our creation of this piece of work

Isabella had recorded her voice over and made field recordings that she wanted to be included as part of the sound design. She sent me a rough script which provided direction in terms of voice over, order of music, breaks and possible sound design, but left it open to me in terms of creative direction.

As I wrote in the brief description accompanying the piece:

I wanted the music to touch on the liminal space between geographical marvel and the subtle signs of a tragic history hidden within the landscape, a sense of fascination and foreboding beneath the joyful and sunny surface.

I also wanted the sound design and field recordings to be held close to the music as possible and intertwined with the voice over in a way that the listener sees/hears them as one. Married in a sense to the idea of singular experience.

Since releasing this piece and submitting it on walk · listen · create, I have visited Seven Sisters cliffs numerous times during the summer of 2020, and 2021, and I too have been captivated by its beauty. I am humbled to have been part of this production and honoured to be considered for the SWS Awards 2022.

This text is the ninth in a series of the artists shortlisted for the Sound Walk September 2022 Awards talking about their work.

Tony Onuchukwu

Tony Onuchukwu

Award winner

Tony is a multidisciplinary artist, sound designer, musician and former doctor whose practice explores counter culture, memory and innovation

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