In 2017, I asked sound and visual artist Cecilie Bjørgas Jordheim if she’d be interested to contribute some work for a footpress that I curate, called rout/e, whereby poems are planted on trails or in areas accessible by trail. Her work would be placed in a black walnut grove, mostly abandoned (by humans), found within the property of what was formerly an agricultural college; in 2017, the college was in stasis, having suspended operations a few years earlier, and certain spaces were slowly reforming as a result. The grove itself was quite active with a variety of species, sounds, and movements in all seasons.
Cecilie initially sent me ten blank notecards marked by hand-drawn lines. These scores were planted at the end of March 2017 and stayed in the grove until May 2017. The timing of ‘spring’ can be variable in eastern Ontario; the scores experienced a few mixed wintry blasts in the transition from late winter to spring, and a month later, summer had arrived. The scores were each numbered as “movements” from one to ten, and titled “Le Printemps”. This was Cecilie’s nod to Antonio Vivaldi’s violin concerto, “The Four Seasons” (written 1716-17 and published in 1725). I placed them in small metal placards already situated at the base of most of the black walnut trees. The grove, I later learned, was part of ECSONG (Eastern Canada Society of Nut Growers), the result of a tree-planting collaboration with the college several decades earlier.
While we were exploring the visual, ecological, and geo-spatial expressions of the grove, as marked on the paper by wind, insects, and other species, or as delineated by absence, we had also intended to record the grove acoustically. Vivaldi’s blending of seasonal activities, sounds and rhythms into “The Four Seasons”, as rendered through language and music (by account, he, or someone, wrote four sonnets to accompany each of the four scores), encouraged us to audiorecord each season within the grove. Yet, sensorially, a relative way of noting rhythm, without recording acoustics, is with respect to certain fluctuations or patterning in what can be observed. Observation occurs alongside a sense of duration: colour changes, species returns, flocking and insect emergence, atmospheric changes in temperature, plant blooms and fungus deliquescence, seed and bur exchanges, mud, grass, leaf underfoot, shadows, and the notation of scents that are familiar, even if not exactly attributed. These sorts of notations are linked to a defined sense of place; place, both imagined and lived, is affected by inter/intra-composed macro and micro recognitions of continuities.
In terms of Cecilie’s own poetics, visuals are sonic, both felt musically and translatable as notes and scores. The scores are a preservation of the grove’s history and represent an encoding of nature, in time — a conservation of each season containing the possibility of direct sonic translation, as opposed to Vivaldi’s sound mimicry of seasonal events to evoke reminiscence in listeners.
We decided to extend the project over a year. At the end of each season, I’d send the scores back to Cecilie by mail, marked by the processes of the grove itself, and install a new set of blank, hand-marked scores which she would have sent me. By 2018, a set of 10 scores per season had been placed in the grove for the variable period of that season, and each had a Vivaldian title: (Le Printemps), Summer (L’estate), Fall (L’autunno) and Winter (L’inverno).
Yet, each season, when the notecards were returned to Cecilie, both the handwritten scores and any visual effects from their time in the grove would conceptually combine with Cecilie’s daily realities and the living interrelationships and activities that compose ‘a life’. In planting, monitoring and writing about the scores in the grove, my routines altered in order to include the grove more regularly, and, when there, to begin to anticipate a variety of consistencies (bird dusting sites, blue jay feathers from predation, squirrel remnants, animal tracks, sound). Aligned to this idea of consistency, the rhythms of this place were influenced and defined by the movement of species ‘through’ it, across seasons, and their pauses (however long) there.
Unexpected events caused delays in the project. Each season, a few of the scores would vanish and be recovered, or refound at another point in another season, buried under leaf litter or tucked under grass. Sometimes they were chewed by other species. On a couple of occasions, by accident, I learned of individuals who took a score home — how many people walked through the grove is unknown.
We wondered what the effects might be of recording audible components of each season within the grove, over a period of time each season, using durational, synchronous (and dyschronous) time constraints. What would the sonic rhythms sound like?
We needed to devise a structure and order in terms of “how” to record the grove given our other life responsibilities. Ultimately, it was impractical in 2017-2018 for me to record, and I could not commit to a schedule. Cecilie and I were working alongside each other, but our distance also affected the implementation of some of the project components. She could not, for example, pop over to the grove and instigate recordings herself. So, by tacit agreement, recording of the grove was suspended, but the idea was not abandoned. The project would be slow.
In spring 2020, Cecilie and I returned to our conversation about recording in the black walnut grove, and decided to proceed with “Le Printemps”.
Once a week for seven weeks, between April 26th and June 13th, we recorded the grove and Cecilie’s day in synchrony— I was recording in the grove, Cecilie was recording whatever was happening in her day at that time. We recorded on the hour progressively each week, advancing one day forward from the week before (e.g. 10:00-10:15; 11:00-11:20, 12:00-12:30 etc.), and then regressed at week four by 10 minutes to return to the original hour start by week seven. Our time zones (Eastern Standard Time and Central European Standard Time) combined “day” and “evening”, as there is a six hour difference between Kemptville, Ontario and Oslo, Norway.
We rendered our recordings into visual waveforms and, following a hiatus over summer, planted them in the black walnut grove for a seven-day period from 21st to 28th September 2020. By using the sonnet form to accompany “The Four Seasons”, Vivaldi established a verbal and visual reference to seasonal commonalities, through language. Pitching bird song and atmosphere (storm), campfires and falls on ice are key elements of his descriptions of disparate seasonal experiences, in time, that could be evoked and recollected through music (the ordering of sound). We put both his sonnet and a waveform of his “Le Printemps” into the grove.
We were interested to create acoustic and visual sound diaries emanating from both Cecilie’s immediate realities and those of the grove, in tandem. The sound diaries are a way to note that listening, place awareness, and daily activities or encounters often have acoustic rhythms that seem transient but impact on our sense of place, our being-in-time, and the interrelationships that cue an awareness of time, presence, and attendance within our lives. In addition, within the tight framework of our recording schedule, there were marked changes in our recordings — while the pace of the grove and of Cecilie’s daily life, upon reflection, may not seem much different, the sounds we recorded do shift — and these are the sounds and frequencies that our technology picks up; our visual and auditory memories influence our interpretation of these sounds; there are sonic effects from a myriad of other activities that we, or our technology, may not pick up, or sonic effects as a result of elements in the environment that amplify or mute acoustics.
The waveforms that were placed in the grove for a week in September 2020 were marked lightly by insects, birds, and the effects of dry weather. It had been a sunny week, with wind and cool evenings. When I collected them, milkweed beetles, sheltered between the paper and metal placard, scattered up and over many of them. The waveforms had been printed on seed paper; the sun had burned some of the seeds an ochre shade. I sent them onward to Oslo; Cecilie planted them in metal placards in early March 2021. They were separated by different locations and locales, in the places where she had done her audio recordings as part of her routine on the day of recording: the community garden, at her house (inside her flat and on the balcony too), in the backyard of her apartment building, and in Namsos (682 km away), overlooking the harbour.
The project came full circle — from the first planting of scores in the grove in March 2017, to Cecilie’s audio recordings, rendered into waveform and returned as if a translation of frequency and rhythm. As Cecilie noted in an email (March 12 2021):
“We had a hard time sticking the placard in the ground, because it was still frozen; we had to drill it to the ground. Some days after, the piece was totally drowned in snow, the paper was torn and the marks are almost all washed out now.”
In 2017, in my email to Cecilie a few days before I planted the her scores, I wrote:
“The heavy snow falls that we’ve been experiencing the last few weeks have been replaced by warmer temperatures this week and the snow is in melt; the site will be an intriguing mix of grass and snow/wet/ice patches, as well as increased species activity; I gather we return to the colder temperatures next week. In all, perfect for your movements.”
It is difficult to predict what will happen to the grove, but in 2021, the college is being reimagined/revitalized as a mixed educational and agri-business community venture. The fields, model forests and maple production facility, wetlands and creek remain attached to the institutional infrastructure and are components of a master plan process. The black walnut grove is undergoing some revitalization after a member of ECSONG (a ‘nutter’) refound it after several years of searching. While I was sitting under a tree last May, recording, the ‘nutter’ walked into the grove and we struck up a conversation. As it turns out, he had taken one of Cecilie’s blank scores at one point, after re-discovering the grove, and was quite enthusiastic about finding them in the placards. The fluctuations of emergence and change that affected Cecilie’s work within the black walnut grove between 2017-18, and 2020-2021, mimic the fluctuations of the former college and its landscapes.
The first four synchronous recordings of the black walnut grove and Cecilie’s life in Oslo are on Soundcloud. We have included transcriptions of the first recording, with Cecilie’s translated into English from Norwegian.
Cecilie’s scores over the 2017-2018 year were peripatetically written about in rout/e over several blog postings, some were exhibited as part of “Radical Landscapes”, curated by Camilla Nelson, at the Plough Art Centre (Torrington, UK) between March and April 2019, and discussed within the framework of documenting geopoetics as part of essays in Geopoetics in Practice, edited by Eric Magrane, Linda Russo, Sara de Leeuw, and Craig Santos Perez (Routledge, 2019).
Transcription: April 26 2020
RECORDINGS * RYTHM
BWG VS. NO
SELECTED DATES, APRIL-JUNE 2020
Cecilie Bjørgås Jordheim
RECORDING 1, April 26. (16.00-16.15)
(Kitchen. Dishes. Tap running)
(Radio voice: “(..) At E18, the road between Meråker and Stjørdal, where rocks has been removed after the storm yesterday.
The road is now open again. Other than that, it is nice and quiet. (..)
C: Is this dirty? No?
(Radio voice: (..) school and kindergardens are closed. The Municipality of Karmøy will have a press brief at 6.(..)
C: No, not on the floor. Maud, you need to help Mommy clean this up. Can you clean it up?
(Radio voice: (..) quarantine (..) The district Frogner has one case of infection Thursday (..)
Scientist says the virus can spread faster in Norway (..)
C: There! Now you can clean up. There you go..
(Radio voice: (..) just a matter of time before the infection spreads (..)
C: Yeah, that’s great!
C: Now it’s fine.
M: Oh, buuun! Yeah!
(scraping off dishes)
(radio: “Scarborough fair/Canticle”, Simon & Garfunkel)
M: Ooooh, buuuun! Yeah!
C: Like this. Have you wiped off your fingers? Like this.
M: Yeah! Yeah! Woohoo! Oh, buun!
C: Want a bun?
C: Waiting for a bun?
C: Oh, yes.
M: 1-2-3! 1-2-3! 1-2-3! 1-2-3! 1-2-3!
B: What are you doing, Maud?
C: Let’s see?
C: Yes, 1-2-3!
(laughter, kids babbeling and cheering)
C: Should we sit her and eat buns?
C: Want mineral water?
B: Yes, please.
(opening door) (wind in microphone, birds chirping, cars passing) (closing door)
(tap running) (dishes) (children singing, cheering)
(radio: “Voulez-Vous”, ABBA)
(drawers opening and closing)
M: Here, Maud.
C: This wasn’t quite..
(children screaming of joy)
C: (laughing) Oh, the screaming!
C: Did you take.. that was here?
B: Hm? Yes.
C: Edith, do you want some dessert? Cinnamon buns and chocolate muffins?
M: (cheering) Yeeah!
M: (cheering) Yeeaheeah! Yeeaheeah! Yeah!
C: Yes, wait.
C: You will have one.
M: It is empty. It is empty. It is empty.
C: You will have one. Do like this.
C: Yes, Maud can have one.
C: Yes, there you go. Here’s a tissue to wipe off with. Yeahyeah.
C: Like this. Like this. Do you want one?
C: Yes, do they look good?
B: Are they warm?
C: A little?
M: Are they frozen?
C: No, they are not frozen. Maybe a little cold in the middle, but it’ll be fine.
C: Aah! (laughter) Sit on your chair, then.
Edith, come and have a bun!
C: Sit on your chair.
B: Sit here, Maud.
(children screaming, laughing)
C: Come! Look!
B: Sit like this? Do you want a bun or a chocolade muffin, Edith?
E: Haha! Haha!
C: Mmm. Smells good.
E: Smells good.
(long silence, radio, ABBA)
B: So, are you done?
C: Yes, I’m going to toss what needs to be tossed and sell what is to be sold. Selling boxes of childrens clothes. Thinking the whole box. Just have to figure out the price.
B: Not sure if you’ll get anything for it, though..
(radio: “Fever”, Peggy Lee)
C: Here. Mineral Water?
(moving of plates)
B: Edith, don’t you want the rest of your bun?
(long silence) (knocking on table)
C: Is this a bruise or has she been drawing?
B: I don’t know.. Looks a little bit blue.
C: Maybe it’s from when she fell and then (..) could easily become blue around the eye.
B: Was it tasteful?
C: What are you eating?
B: Been in all day.
(radio: weather forcast)
C: Tomorrow it’s supposted to rain, we should be sowing that lawn.
B: Edith! Bun?
C: Do you want it?
(radio: “Sugar Sugar”, The Archies)
C: Eat your bun first, then. Here you go!
C: There you go. Aaa!
M: Aaaa, Bun!
Transcription: April 26 2020
BWG VS. NO
SELECTED DATES, APRIL-JUNE 2020
RECORDINGS * RECORDING 1, April 26.(10:00-10:15)
wind, leaf click, warbler, squirrel chewing, goldfinches, vehicle accelerating
leaf click, wind, squirrel chewing, vehicle accelerating, squirrel call,
leaf click, wind, gust, leaf click, crow, gust
traffic, crow, traffic, wind, squirrel chewing
vehicle accelerating, airplane, click, squirrel chewing, flock
traffic, wind gust, warbler
vehicle accelerating, click, warbler, leaf click, vehicle, wind, chew, airplane, squirrel chew
bird chatter (chickadee?), car accelerating, click, chickadee, airplane, squirrel chew, movement through leaves, leaf click
vehicle accelerating, leaf click, wind
flock, vehicles, leaf click, flock, vehicle acceleration
flock, vehicle, airplane/helicopter, mixed flock, wind, leaf click, wind
leaf click, traffic, leaf click, gust, traffic
traffic, mixed songbird flock, leaf click,
mixed songbird flock, leaf click, gust, leaf click, airplane, rustle, bird song
rustle, leaf click, gust, traffic, crows caw-ing, traffic, crow
leaf click, traffic, leaf click
*note: immediate and louder sounds captured most effectively by the recording technology; while sitting quietly somewhat away from the recorder, I wished I had brought my binoculars. I saw flocks of birds (and a chickadee was right behind me), some warblers, some goldfinches, and some mixed. These, therefore, are not the only sounds from the grove during the 15 minute period. More subtle sounds were muted by constant sounds (traffic from a major road 1 km away) or periodic loud calls, or the wind. We are “in” constant rhythms and frequencies.
This is part of RHYTHM, a section of The Learned Pig devoted to exploring rhythm as individual and collective, as poetic and biological, and the ways that rhythm dictates life. RHYTHM is conceived and edited by Rachel Goldblatt.