Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Monday, 9 July 2018

Lori Watson - Is It Over? - 2018

New folk music from Scotland - Is It Over? features sounds from the Lindean Community Woodland. This single was supported by Outlandia and Hope Scott Trust. Thanks to Duncan Lyall at Red Deer Recording. Lori Watson was an Outlandia AIR Nov 2017.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Kate Tough AIR 2017

Residencies are often hyper-productive times, and I return home with workaholic amounts of new poetry. Outlandia (in so many regards) was different. I realised early that to focus only on making work would be to lose dimensions of the experience on offer. And to a degree, one doesn’t have a choice; the practicalities of accessing Outlandia, and working in an off-grid space, required a different work rhythm.

It’s common for residencies to be in rural locations, and the arrangement for writers is usually a self-contained ‘cell’ for a month (a room with a bed and a desk, and a kitchen nearby) where you hole up, and take breaks when needed. However, at Outlandia, reaching the desk each day asks a little something of you, and I found that daily odyssey compelling and consuming. I loved it.

It’s a gradual immersion into the Outlandia ‘work zone’ as you get closer to the hut each morning, and a gradual emergence after you leave each afternoon. I had my phone on ‘flight mode’ up in the hut and, down in the Glen, my accommodation had no signal, so the ‘out of touch’ state was pretty total. The rareness of that, nowadays, cannot be overstated. It certainly fed into how I worked – disconnecting from established responsibilities and identities; regaining stamina for focusing on one idea and working it through different versions; having patience and space to allow the next version to arise; having tolerance for knowing it wasn’t ‘done yet’.

Being unable to check a wifi-connected gadget every 10 minutes produced a visceral wash of relief for the whole first week, back in a 1980s existence of just doing the thing I was doing, being in the place I was, and not being diffuse and scattered. I felt more ‘myself’ in that space, and that daily physical routine, than I had all year, and part of the takeaway has been to rearrange my weekly work-life so it doesn’t keep me out of touch with my practice, and my capacity to focus.

I’m not sure whether it was all the fresh air, or the physical hiking, but the working days split themselves into two: four concentrated hours in the hut, down the hill for a shower, nap and meal, then a couple of hours working in the evening.

In a backpack each morning I’d put food and water, the day’s work materials, the camera, and a spare long-sleeved thermal. It was a 45 minute walk to Outlandia along forest roads and up the steep Peat Track. Climbing the path while wearing a thermal, a waterproof jacket and a heavy bag meant the vest was pretty damp on arrival. So in the cabin, I’d put on the fresh thermal and the cosy down jacket I kept up there, so that I’d be warm while working. The damp top was hung to dry on the brush pole… I also kept a hand-warmer in the cabin, so lighting the charcoal stick and gently blowing till it ‘took’ was the next task. Then I’d photograph the space, which I’ve not habitually done before on a residency, but I think it helped me merge with the surroundings before I sat down.

It was the final fortnight of September, but I wanted the window open at all times, and didn’t want to be separated from the outside, so the down-jacket and the charcoal hand-warmer let me sit in comfort.

Outside of high tourist season, I averaged one visitor a day at the cabin door and I enjoyed the randomness of who would appear. In the first week I realised how soundproof the insulated hut is (you don’t hear footsteps on the walkway, so solo visitors are only audible if they try to open the door). So, I tucked a small sign saying, ‘KNOCK TO SEE INSIDE’ by the door handle. And they did. The other main visitors were the birds – tits and finches I presume, which would flutter excitedly from tree to tree outside the window when the lid came off my packed lunch. And my favourite, the robin, who would come and check on me if the hut door was open, cocking its wee head. It (or another creature) ate the line of tiny walnut pieces I laid along on the banister daily…

Can you tell that I’m prevaricating on talking about the actual work that took place in the cabin? It’s strange, I feel reluctant to share too much about it, because it feels fundamentally like ‘my’ time and ‘my’ space, in a way I haven’t felt after residencies at group locations. Also, perhaps, because I wouldn’t be talking about finished pieces, and it’s never as comfortable talking about work-in-progress. While something is in formation, it’s not ready to be aired.

Lots of ideas and pieces were started there and now that I'm home, with access to a printer and scanner, I am developing them. About 50% relate to an ongoing poetry project on the theme of Glasgow’s slavery remembrance. I finished a poem in the hut which I was able to read at the Provost's reception in Glasgow City Chambers for Black History Month in October.

I arrived at Outlandia with intentions but no expectations, because it was impossible to predict how the practical requirements would impact on making work, so I had to stay open minded. Serendipity stepped in too – on day one, an object left behind by a previous artist (Alex Findlay’s ink stamp) allowed me to move to the next stage with a piece I’d started in spring (I saw how I could integrate minimal text with maximum effect into a design already decided upon).

In addition to making work, I had time to respond to a set of interview questions I’d been sent by a poetry website, and that facilitated a deep consideration of how I work, and why I work that way, while I was working, which was very useful. 

Having the luxury of time – long days and evenings immersed in nature, with no digital connection and very few distractions – to connect with and develop my practice was possible only because of Outlandia, and for that I am immensely thankful.

All photography courtesy Kate Tough 2017

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Nadja Gabriela Plein AIR 2017

I came to Outlandia looking for solitude, looking for its essence (I am in mind of Patrick Suesskind’s parfumeur), distill it into a little flask of precious water, and mix it into my paints. What would the colours be like, filled with solitude? 
I imagined the taste of solitude to be sweet, but not sugary, like mountain water, a whole lake of it, all to myself. 
What would solitude feel like in my body? And in my mind? Where would it be located? In my chest? Just before my lips? My fingertips? 

Every painting comes from somewhere, even abstract ones. Painting is a conditioned thing, it does not come from nothing, not even from thin air. For me there are two key places where my work comes from, my Buddhist meditation practice and, my background in music composition – I gained a doctorate in music composition from the Royal College of Music in London. Both inform my approach to painting, my working process. 
During my time as a doctoral student, one of my main areas of research in music composition was the idea of pausing within a sound world, exploring the possibility of investigating the dynamic nature of sound non-dynamically, from a still place. Gradually this research led me outside of music, following a path of investigating musicality outside of sound. 

The second important influence on my work is my Buddhist mindfulness and meditation practice. Mindfulness (whether practiced in daily life or during meditation) is the practice of present-moment awareness watching, and sometimes investigating, things arise and pass within our experience. 

It is interesting how intricately linked music and meditation are. Both are acutely aware of time. For music, time is the canvas on which it paints. For meditation, time is the thing that shows us the impermanence of all things. Painting has become my still place from which to watch the flux of things. 
The idea of time and that of impermanence are very closely connected. We see the passing of time through change and change is impermanence. If there were absolutely no change and things were perfectly constant, the concept of time would have no meaning. Yet, still, it is our continuing conflict against change that causes us so much suffering.  

Walking alone along highland trails is a lesson in time, a lesson in impermanence. Alone, unencumbered by social niceties, one has the opportunity to devote oneself to the watching of change. Walking, I can see how things arise in my experience and then cease. Visual objects along my trail: a tree, a mushroom, a broken branch, a bush of heather, a little forest mouse; sounds: the song of a bird, far-off machinery, a brook, a spring, a waterfall, the wind through the leaves, my boots on the ground, twigs breaking, gravel being disturbed; memories and other thoughts, arising, sounding in my mind, colouring what I see, arising and ceasing just like the objects along the trail, objects in my mind.  

At one point, I looked at the mountain, Ben Nevis, and saw its rocky summit; there was a time when it wasn’t here and there will be a time when it will have ceased. Then I saw the waves of the Nevis river, each one standing up with such strength and self-assurance, as if each wave were sure of its own importance in this world, only immediately to cease, again. I wondered about a little being so small and living so quickly that one wave might seem solid and constant like the mountain seems to me. Then I wondered about a being so large and living so long (aeons and aeons of years), that the mountain would seem like a wave, arising, so filled with self-importance and passing in the blink of an eye. 
Everything in my body is like the wave, it arises and passes, everything in my mind is like the wave, every thought, every feeling, every sense of self and identity, like the wave they arise, feel important and pass. It is rather beautiful, this sense of being like a river. 

My paintings are about trying to see the change, the impermanence of all being, about trying to waken up to it and be like the river. A painting is a still place from which to see movement, just like solitude. Being alone gives one the opportunity to watch things arise and pass. A painting does that same thing. Each brushstroke recorded is a something that arose and ceased within time.  
During my time at Outlandia, I painted, drew, wrote, walked and meditated. The paintings included in this documentation were made during the residency. They are all watercolour and ink pencils on paper (approximately A5 size). I intend to extend the work I started at Outlandia and work towards an artist’s book with small works on paper and poems/short texts.  

All images courtesy Nadja Gabriela Plein

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Dave Evans AIR 2017

The Outlandia residency really highlighted the contradictions within my practice. I’m interested in the role of asceticism, of self-denial in art, so being isolated from things in the middle of a forest gave me a great opportunity to be away from all the usual temptations. On the other hand, my practice looks at how this asceticism might work within digital networks so is primarily digitally based. Obviously being off-grid, and camping to boot, mains powered working was problematic. To counter this I decided to split each day in the studio into two, half reading and writing and half working to build a forest Wi-Fi access point populated with a video made in response to the site.  This meant I could do some reading writing in the morning and then work on my laptop or out in the forest for the rest of the day.

The essay I wrote was about art and loyalty (I had originally planned to write a digital ascetic manifesto, but thinking about what it means to write rules ended up being more interesting). I did this by looking at contemporary loyalty through the lens of neo-medievalism, as I’m interested in the lives of early monks and holy men. In my original proposal to Outlandia I said I was going to research Simon Stylites, who lived on a platform on top of a pillar near Aleppo in Syria for 37 years in the fourth century. This developed into a broader consideration of how similar medieval loyalties were to contemporary loyalties, and how eremitic ascetics like Simon and their counterparts the cenobites were not unlike today’s artists. Being on a pillar, in the forest, obviously resonated with this and I enjoyed using the peace and quiet to think about what my loyalties were there, at Outlandia, and to read about neo-medievalism and asceticism.

Obviously the forest and mountain did not have Wi-Fi, which I am sure is one of the main attractions for people, for people to look beyond their screens at the landscape and get away. That said, I’m interested in how these devices and networks we use came to be such a bind. Why not have Wi-Fi? Why not have access to a network? I decided to set one up, a local Wi-Fi network that just broadcast to the immediate area. To do this I needed two things, a mast and an ‘Internet’. I made the mast from stuff in the forest, rope, string, logs and sticks. The Internet, made from a battery powered raspberry pi, consisted of one webpage showing a short film I made during the week called Tribute. It is quite obvious that the Outlandia location is quite remote, so the chances of anyone accessing the network were relatively slim, but again, why should this matter? The film Tribute, was just that, a tribute to a person I can no longer see. The film was a message of sorts, and as I sat on the side of the hill, with the network invisibly circulating around me, I felt an intimate connection via the network that was contrary to the type of connection that, perhaps, we feel is so onerous at times.

All images courtesy dave Evans 2017

All in all I had a great time at Outlandia, I got a lot done and the location brought up some considerations that would probably not have arisen in my own studio. It was good having to choose carefully what I took each day and I enjoyed how clumsy I felt when working to erect the mast in the forest. It made me think a lot about how important limitations are to artists, how we all incorporate them into our practices somehow.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Shona McCombes AIR 2017

In 2009 or thereabouts, when I was 18 or thereabouts, confronted with the long and languid emptiness of a university summer, I decided to take a train alone to a town near Fort William and spend two weeks working and living in a hostel, the first trip I ever made entirely by myself. I did this for no other reason than to see if I could. At 18 I was shy and awkward and unaccustomed to independence and I kept to myself, cleaning the toilets and walking out into the surroundings as far as my feet would take me. Not far, it turned out: at 18 I had barely used my body and, carless, my movements followed the ebb and flow of rural bus timetables. The expansiveness I had imagined might reside there, the wildness and the freedom, turned out to be somewhat elusive, and my 18-year-old heart was left somewhat unfulfilled.

In the time since, my only contact with the area has been in brief window-framed flashes, passing through on the way to or from other places. Eight years later, to be back in the same landscape is a strange experience, revisiting a small slice of life that I had mostly forgotten, everything filtered and coloured by the time between. In those eight years I’ve lived in eight different houses across three countries and circled right back round to where I started, confronted again with the overwhelming freedom of an empty summer, a layover between two lives. Halfway through a two-year, two-country MA, I am back in Scotland but not really home, drifting between friends and family scattered across the country, spending my nights in spare rooms and on sofas, trying to slot myself back into old ways of being. In this erratic, formless life, the two weeks carved out for my research and writing residency at Outlandia feel like a space in which to breathe. The cycle along the glen and the steep hike up the peat track sculpt the shape of my days, a straining movement up and away from an everyday life crowded with questions and decisions and replies and obligations and lists and notifications. The emptiness of the space clears me.

I am a city dweller; ‘nature’, for me, is always an excursion, always elsewhere. I have become the kind of person who aspires to outdoorsiness, but I’ve never quite managed to successfully embody it – always some item of clothing not quite appropriate, some essential piece of equipment missing, always leaving too late and not taking enough water or taking too much and sagging under the weight of a poorly adjusted rucksack. I am exhausted by the consumer side of the wilderness industry: so many jackets and bags and tents and torches to choose from, so many different kinds of fabric and just-in-case gadgets. Getting back to nature involves a lot of buying.

It’s this and related points of tension that underpin the research and writing I’ve been doing. A place like Outlandia enters the imagination as something wild and remote, something closer to a natural state than everyday urban life, but really it’s embedded in one of the most well-trodden landscapes in the country, a central node in a national network of nature tourism. Each day a steady trickle of walkers find themselves at the end of the boardwalk – camping families and local dog-walkers, munro-baggers and mountain-bikers, organised tours and lone travellers, of scattered origin and varying levels of curiosity about this space they have stumbled into. They express different degrees of romanticism when they comment on the view: for some the landscape is pure aesthetics and awe, for others an obstacle course to be conquered and checked off a list, for others simply the fabric of their everyday lives seen from a new angle. For many the central sensation seems to have something to do with unreality: the word “fairytale” is uttered frequently. Outside, birds and small creatures of the undergrowth go about their lives, and the sky shifts ceaselessly through a spectrum of blues and greys.

All landscapes are heavy with layers of contradictory meaning; all landscapes are etched with invisible lines that mark ownership, heritage, history – and with other lines, the tracks of animals and trajectories of flight that pay no heed to borders or title deeds. From the Clearances to the hunting estates to windfarms and Wild Land Areas, the politics of land, in which animals and plant life are inextricably caught up, have been at the heart of Scotland’s structures of power and its processes of national meaning-making. I have been reading about the laws of landownership and histories of hillwalking, about strange hypnotic relations between people and other living things. I have been writing stories about encounters and exploitations between people, animals, landscapes – about hunting and culling and conserving, and the imbrications of life and death in any attempt to care for the non-human world.

This is not the most obvious choice of topic, perhaps, for a thesis in Gender Studies. But the relations we weave between ourselves and the land and the other beings that inhabit it, the stories we tell about what certain places mean and who they are for, are never by or about a neutral, universal “human”, because such a creature has never existed; they are about the gendering of space and sexuality, the racialising of nation and migration, the class relations of labour, leisure and ownership. They are about oppositions and tensions between threat and vulnerability, between the wild and the domestic, between native and alien, between saving and killing, between nature and culture. In thinking about the wild I am interested in exploring the routes by which power circulates through bodies and spaces, the kinds of national imaginaries and identities that emerge in encounters with dramatic landscapes and endangered ecosystems. The natural sciences and the tourist industries, the environmental policy-makers and the history-making nation-builders, the hikers and the campers, the lairds and the workers all play their part in weaving these stories, and my research is attempting to trace their histories and explore their implications in an age where our relationship to the non-human world becomes ever more urgent and ever more politically volatile.

But part of my aim at Outlandia was also to disentangle myself from the rigid structures of academia, which can be stifling to thought. After months spent writing research proposals and literature reviews and bibliographies, I chose to use my time here not for systematic study but for free association, reading and writing without a quantifiable goal. For the first days I wrote by hand, and I found myself writing about writing by hand – about what it means to leave a physical mark, bearing the trace of the body that made it, a different texture of language than clean anonymous lines of type. Sometimes the page is damp and the ink smudged from a heavy rainfall that soaked through my rucksack; sometimes the text is messy and sloping from an aching wrist; sometimes the heavy score-marks of indecision eradicate what was beneath them, sometimes fragments glimpse through. The stories I started writing at Outlandia all remain unfinished, but my hope is to nurture them into a loosely connected collection of narratives – a series of characters whose stories do not intersect but who inhabit the same small piece of land, who encounter the same animals in different states of animation, in different modes of interspecies relating. As my academic research continues to influence and infest my fictions, I hope these fictions in turn will contaminate my research, make it into something more speculative and imaginative, less constricted by frameworks and categories, something more fluent and flowing. The time I spent at Outlandia was not strictly productive in a measurable, completed sense, but it has been invaluable in beginning to create the space in my mind for this kind of thinking.

 All images courtesy Shona McCombes

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Alex Mackay AIR 2017

These days, if I’m asked what I do, my most frequent response is simply ‘musician’; however in the past, myself and others have used terms including composer, sound artist, performer, sound designer and multimedia artist. My output, both by necessity and desire, has been quite diverse in terms of style and format, often working on very contrasting projects simultaneously. Over the past year however - again both by necessity and desire - I’ve felt the need to consolidate the diverse components of my practice into a kind of work which I feel is a true representation of what I do as an artist as a whole.
I’ve spent a lot of time as a touring musician for the band Mogwai, which has been a fantastic experience in its own right, but also put me firmly back in touch with my roots as an electric guitarist and keyboard player - something I spent a fair bit less time on as I focussed on composition and multimedia work in recent years. Being away on tour and spending limited amounts of time in my current home city of Glasgow meant I was thinking less about making work to be performed by other people and more about what I could write, perform and record myself using only the tools at my immediate disposal. Essentially, what I wanted to make was simply a ‘solo record’. So much of the music I love and experience regularly are in the ‘album format; it’s a format with which I have a deep relationship, but not a format I’ve made anything substantial for so far.
I also knew, however, that this wouldn’t simply be a case of just writing some music and then recording it. I knew that my primary tools were going to be synthesizers, guitars and software (tools that I feel very much at home with), but I wanted to go about it in a way that draws conceptually and methodologically on my works in other areas such as notated composition or field recording.

The objective of this residency then became to explore how I can incorporate some of these concepts and methodologies from other areas of my work into the making of this record, and begin working on creating some material that could then be used once I begin putting together the record with my tools in my usual workspace. I will talk about how this unfolded during my time in Outlandia, as well as how the surrounding environment impacted this and became part of the process.

In my initial experiments in preparation for this project, I had been exploring the potential of different sequencers. Sequencers are commonplace in electronic music making, from entry-level right up to the most advanced and academic circles; I had been using them from my teenage years, however I had recently come across a particular one which gives one greater control over the parameters at play, to the extent of creating near-infinitely evolving patterns out of a single set of input data. I found this expanded approach to sequencing really exciting from both a compositional and performative point of view, and it became clear quite quickly that this would play an important part in the work I was embarking upon making. Whilst preparing for the residency, I began thinking about the parallels between the grid-like structures of representing data in sequencers like this one, and geographical charts; i.e. using a grid to plot information on over a period of time or quantity space. The thought of relating the two approaches to each other appealed to me greatly; taking the practice of being able to use data analysis to look at geographic features that can often look and feel so massive from a perspective that is easier to grasp and relating this to musical practices, through a combination of - what I choose to term for the purposes of this work and discussion - objective and subjective techniques (I’ll discuss how I am using these techniques in more detail later).
This connection between geographic data and musical/sonic material has been there in my work for a while; environmental field recording has been a feature of a lot of my work, as has converting geographic data (in digital form) into sound files, and using these two things as opposing forces within a work. I feel it’s important to note that I’m not particularly interested in direct sonification of data for it’s own sake; it’s the relationship between data and perceptive experience (this relates to what I mean with the terms objective and subjective) that I’m interested in, and how this can manifest and be explored in music. However, working with materials such as field recordings and data translations requires quite different thought processes from the consideration of the implications of such data on how I compose with abstract musical material. This was one of the main objectives of the residency, to make this consideration and deduce whether there could be something of value in this approach to composition.

One of the first exercises I undertook during the residency was to sketch impressions of a particular geographic landscape at varying resolutions (i.e. using 10mm, 5mm and 1mm square) on graph paper. The number of units on the X and Y axes were determined arbitrarily/instinctually. While these generated some interesting shapes, as the values were all arbitrary and everything else was instinctual, it was hard to see where the value and meaning in trying to generate material through this material was; I may as well have been sketching notes on a stave in the approximate shape of the mountain in question. The exercise was not entirely futile though; I took some interest in the intersections between the shapes, and identified them as where notes may be positioned on a sequencer. This was not entirely useful in itself, however, when I experimented with writing out scales with pitches at regular intervals on the Y axis, using these intersections to trigger a specific pitch a t a point in time yielded some interesting results. When the points fall between distinct pitches on the graph, this implies microtonal pitches, e.g. the note that would be between, let’s say, a C and a C sharp. Of course, this is nothing new, and I have explicitly utilised microtonality in my works before; however, it isn’t the notes in themselves that necessarily interested me, but the potential in the context of a work for tuning and harmony to be shifting. For example, a line on a graph could be determining how different notes are ‘tuned’, so you perhaps have a chord sequence where the same chords occur (on paper), but the tunings of the constituent notes shifting would make it sound different every time it returned. This, of course, has implications for melodic material too; for example you have seven points marked on a graph, and derive pitch information accordingly to make a scale. If you then decided to make a more detailed analysis of the same data to produce fourteen points on the graph, you have essentially what is the same scale but in twice the detail. Thinking of the potential of having different ‘resolutions’ of a set of pitches (or a scale) was something that excited me, particularly as a parameter in a piece of music to be manipulated as the piece develops. Needless to say, the less ‘straight’ the line that produced, the more interesting and irregular the pitch sets become (this also creates the potential for varying degrees of microtonality throughout the pitch set). So in short, while this provided some valuable insights into how I can use graphs to work with musical material, it didn’t provide a method to link experiences of environment with material in a meaningful way.

The second approach I took to graph work went right back to my geography studies at school; cross sections of map contours. This consists of plotting the contours of a map on a graph in order to create a visualisation of a cross-section of that landscape. While similar ways of working with pitch and rhythm could also be applied as with the other graphs. I realised there was a connection here with envelopes. Envelopes, in a music technology context, are essentially shapes which dictate the rising and falling of a parameter over time. These envelopes could be drawn on a graph like the cross- sections; they are usually very simple however, normally one straight line for each stage of the envelope. I began to think of what it would sound like if the cross-sections were envelopes; you would essentially be able to have musical parameters controlled by the contours of a landscape - it could manifest in how the volume of a sound swells, the spatialisation of a sound, its pitch, the list could go on and on. While some pieces of software allow you to draw in envelope shapes, I don’t currently know of a specific program that could achieve this to the desired degree of accuracy and ability to scale them and apply them in different ways; I will have to do some more research into this, or perhaps write a program of my own to do it. Regardless, it means there is a way of relating at least physical properties of these environments to musical material in a clear, useful and perhaps meaningful way.
Having come to these conclusions around objective and subjective information and how the might and might not relate to the creating and manipulation of musical material, it revealed to me something about my creative process and how this relates to it. How I make and work with material could be broken down into two broad categories; instinctual and systematic. Not only can the material I use be described in these terms, but also how I compose with them; I find that I tend to thrive when working with material which I have differing levels of emotional attachment to, working with instinctual responses against systematic material to create tension and complications to drive the work forward. What I found out from these experiments was, perhaps rather obviously, that the graph making - which is an essentially systematic process - lent itself well to working with the objective information. Unsurprisingly, trying to work with subjective, unquantifiable experiences and information in a systematic way wasn’t going to work very well. That side of it required the engagement of my instinctual ways of working; that however would require having my instruments and other tools to work with, which I didn’t have in Outlandia, therefore making it beyond the scope of what I could achieve during the residency. However, it did mean I had to focus 100% on the systematic aspect of the work, which led me to develop these new methodologies to create material derived from the environment and the data we use to make sense of it. How I then respond to the material in the next stage of the process can then be led more by instinct and emotion, which I suppose is closer to how I respond to these environments when I am in them.

Although I was primarily concerned with how I could apply existing methodologies relating to engaging with an environment through field recording to abstract material, I still felt it was necessary to engage in some field recording itself. One of the things I particularly like about the experience of field recording (although it’s by no means exclusive to it) is the disciplined listening and stillness it requires on the part of the recordist, and the necessity to step back from being at the creative centre of your own work for a brief moment. Although field recording practices are very diverse, I tend to enjoy de-centralising myself as much as possible (of course, this is not entirely possible, as the decisions involved with what you choose to record, microphone placement etc are very much a centralised artistic act) in the recording phase and then putting my creative decision making and technical skills right back in the centre when working with that material. I see this as being clearly related to my process of working with data-related material; the data being presented in a relatively clean form which is then contextualised by my creative response to that material.
So, I decided to establish a daily task of a walk which would feature recording/focussed listening. Where and when I would record, and what would be the focus of the recording was not predetermined, and often I wouldn’t decided upon the route to walk (if at all) until shortly before setting off. Upon reviewing the recordings at the end of the process, I noticed I tended to gravitate towards capturing sensations of motion; for example, a band of rain moving across where I was recording, wind causing metal structures to resonate, water from a river entering a loch (using a hydrophone). It occurred to me that this bears at least some relation to the ideas I was thinking a lot about regarding time-based elements of 'static' experiences.
In order to consider how I might apply methods I would usually employ when working with field recording material like this to other material, I had to first think of how I would deal with this material as it is. Of course, this is usually heavily dependent on the conceptual basis for the work, but for the purposes of this work I decided to think of it purely in terms of the potential of the material for its own sake and what I could bring out of it. I made a list of ideas of how I would approach working with these recordings - here are a few examples (simplified for summary here):

1. process to emphasise/manipulate sensation of movement in the recording 
2. introduce other elements/material that would provide resistance to the movement/cause the movement to change
in intensity 
3. subdue movement to draw attention to detail of other elements (to contextualise how they are impacted by the
movement or not) 
4. use envelope following on the parts of the recording where the sensation of movement is prevalent and use these
values to control other parameters (e.g apply the movement to other elements)
Although this is quite a simple thought excercise, it was very valuable to think in clear and concise terms (as opposed to more heady technical processes or aesthetic/poetic terms) about how exactly approach that material, and as a result, it became quite clear how these processes can translate into methods to work with abstract material. For example;

1. amplify/manipulate dynamics and timbral intensity of the ‘movement’ 
2. introduce contrapuntal material to work against the ‘movement’ 
3. suppress/deconstruct/bring ‘movement’ material to the background of the texture 
4. make other material imitate aspects of the ‘movement’ material, e.g. with pitch, dynamics, gesture etc.
Of course, these are extremely simplified (and quite obviously literal) examples of potential ways of translating the methodologies, but I plan on exploring these in much more detail as I begin to actually work with the material in the near future.

All images courtesy Alex MacKay

The limits imposed on what I could practically achieve and how I could work during the residency by the nature of the environment meant I was restricted to working on ideas and theoretical concepts rather than practically realising them; this was positive in terms of having the time and space to really focus on the ideas themselves without the temptation of jumping too quickly into having them mediated by my usual sets of tools. While I couldn’t realise the ideas there and then, by the end of the residency I had a whole bank of ideas - some were simple ideas for technical processes that could be developed into something bigger, while some were bigger ideas for pieces or over-arching themes for the pieces as a whole - which I felt really excited about working with in the coming days/weeks/months.
The harmonic and melodic material, particularly the material involving microtones, and the structures I developed for them were some of the most exciting and valuable material to have come out of the residency - I have already discussed the technical details of this earlier; usually after a period of preparation for a new work I would go straight into working with my ideas with my usual tools, i.e. computer programs and instrument, however this time, I also had ideas for creating some new tools specifically for the purpose of realising these ideas.
I use a programming platform called Max/MSP, which is very popular with sound artists - as well as visual artists and other artists working with data - who wish to build their own programs to process data. The possibilities are near- infinite as you can build programs from scratch, and is relatively easy to work with due to its primarily visual interface. Whilst I have used other people’s programs built in Max/MSP extensively, I have not built a great deal of my own programs; however as I developed some ideas which were quite technically specific, I saw this is as an opportunity to both improve my programming skills and create some bespoke software which would be better suited to this project than anything I could find pre-made.
I came away with three main ideas for programs to pursue; the first is a program to enable me to send microtonal note information to MIDI instruments, in order achieve notes that lie in between the conventional 12-notes on a keyboard. In this case, there are readily available programs already existing that could do this, however making one myself would not only be a good warm up, but would also allow me to integrate it into sequencers that I use for example. I will be able to control each pitch to the detail of cents, which are very fine units of pitch in between each semitone; one semitone consists of 100 cents. This will allow me achieve notes such as half and quarter sharps/flats and even microtonal inflections upon these notes. Being able to modify a monophonic sequencer to achieve these notes should be relatively easy, however building something capable of producing chords may be significantly more difficult as it may require constructing a whole new interface rather than being able to easily modify another one.
The second idea is to build a program capable of either drawing or importing complex envelope shapes and applying them to other parameters. Envelopes, as discussed earlier, are usually a simple shape with 2-4 stages; however I want to try to create envelopes that could be as complex as the cross-sections of a map. This would allow me to contour sounds in a much more specific way than usual, and work with the ‘shape’ of sounds in relation to each other in a more complex way. This will perhaps be the most challenging to create of the programs, as it will require a lot more research into how to involve drawing or recognising lines in Max/MSP and also scaling them to represent particular values and periods of time, but could be one of the most exciting in terms of potential and versatility, as the ‘shapes' could be assigned to any parameter I’m working with.
Third and finally, is a program to expand or contract intervals between a set of notes to a specific factor (essentially multiplying or dividing the spaces between the notes), accurate to cents as opposed to semitone intervals. This in effect means you could take a conventional set of notes in tones and semitones, and multiply or divide them to create a more complex set of microtonal pitches. This would actually be very easy to do in Max/MSP, as it would simply involve converting the MIDI notes into numeric values (a very simple operation in Max), and applying the calculation.
The first period of time spent after the residency is going to be particularly focussed on programming and building these tools - again avoiding diving straight into making noise - after which I’ll be putting all the material gathered and generated to the test with these new tools and begin to form them into the pieces which will be making up the new work. It’s hard to tell at this point how much time I’ll be needing to spend programming and what obstacles I might come up against but it’s a challenge I’m really looking forward to.

The two weeks I spent in Outlandia were without a doubt a really unique experience which has already played an integral part in a substantial amount of work I’m currently beginning. It’s been quite a while since I’ve emerged from a period of research and development with such an abundance of fresh approaches and plans for venturing into new creative territories like this, and it's a really exciting feeling to have these new tools at my disposal with a clear conceptual direction to pursue with them.
I’m really excited about seeing this new work come to fruition; not only the finished product but also what develops in the process, such as the pieces of software I’m working on and new compositional techniques. If, in the meantime you’re interested in seeing how some of these technical tools I’m working on are coming along, please feel free to get in touch ( and I’d be happy to share with you. For now, I’d like to thank those who created Outlandia and made it possible for me to spend time there and start the journey of this new work, particularly London Fieldworks and the Nevis Landscape Partnership, and all those working in the Glen Nevis area for making such a wonderful place to spend time renewing my creative relationship with landscapes and taking it to new places.