Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Glaciers, Shipping Forecasts and Songs

Music, Word and Landscape: Limits of the Visual at the SouthBank Club, Bristol

November 7th: 12:00 - 19:30 

Buy Tickets here

Back in June I posted on the work of Esther Vonplon's  Gletscherfahrt work. It's a project about the meliting glaciers in Switzerland, and the sheets that are used to cover them, to slow the melting. It's a project for our times. 

I saw the work on her laptop at Vienna Photobook Festival and was touched to the core by the mix of images where soot and ash and carbon fallout mixed with snow, ice and sheets that, by the end of the melting, looked like something from Tracey Emin's bed. 

It didn't look like a glacier, it didn't look like Switzerland. So the pictures were great, something I hadn't seen before, but then came the soundtrack; the sound of cracking ice, of drips turning to dribbles and flows, all mixed in with a quite beautiful score. And that ripped right through me. I don't know how or why the images, the music and the ambient sounds resonated so much, so I asked Esther if she could come to Bristol in November, and she said yes. 

Later in the summer, I was listening to the radio and heard a programme on the Shipping Forecast. The Shipping Forecast is the weather forecast for the shipping zones around Britain and Ireland. You hear it on the radio, telling the ships about the gale force winds and rain in places with magical sounding names like Bailey, German Bight, South Utsire; places I've never been to but which are instantly recognisable to me, with a mystery provided merely by their name. 

Knapp also sang a song, the lyrics of which are basically the names of the shipping areas with a bit of weather thrown in, but she gives them a landborn magic which is added to in the documentary which looks at the Shipping Forecast '...from the perspective of artists, poets, musicians and all the rest of us who aren't sailors but love it nonetheless.'

So I was thinking about Knapp and the Shipping Forecast and of course Mark Power and his great book, The Shipping Forecast came to mind.

For this project, Power went and photographed in each of the shipping areas. He made a book (which sold in the tens of thousands) and then he made an audio-visual, mixing the pictures with the forecast itself. So this is yesterday's forecast for Forth, and this is what is read out on the radio (almost verbatim), in the most lyrical of voices.

Wind -- Cyclonic 4 or 5, becoming northwesterly 5 to 7.
Sea state -- Slight, becoming moderate, occasionally rough later.
Weather -- Rain.
Visibility -- Moderate or poor, occasionally very poor.

It's different to Knapp's, slower and sadder in some ways. At the start, there's more of the sense of being at sea, but keep going and it becomes a homage to the radio and hearing this strange forecast in the comfort of one's own home. The perspective shifts as you listen. I'm not quite sure what the difference is between Knapp's and Power's Shipping Forecast, but there is a huge one. And it got me wondering what Power and Knapp would look like together, how they would sound together, how the pictures would change if accompanied by Knapp's beautiful, haunting voice.

Then a week ago, I saw him speak at the Gazebook Festival in Sicily. He talked about the work and showed the slideshow against a wall, under a lighthouse in the town of Punta Secca. It was quite magnificent and added another element to how person, place, image and sound can come together so perfectly, how easily one glides into the other and takes us in all kinds of unexpected directions.

At the end of his talk, Power showed his Berlin work (now published in book form as Die Mauer ist Weg - er, sold out). Which was great. He said it wasn't important work, or ground-breaking work, but I don't know. I think it is, especially when he showed the audio-visual, the pictures accompanied by the Lambada - and a more perfect fit I don't really know.

So sound, picture, person, place. How does it all tie together? I haven't got a clue, but in November, I'm hoping to find out a little when Ester Vonplon talks about her Gleischfahrt and other work!

Get your tickets here (this will be a bit of a theme in coming weeks).

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