Sri Lanka Residency - Week 3
3 March 2017
Somehow it’s March and we’re coming to the end of the 3rd week of our residency. This week has been much less eventful than last week, and I’ve deliberately stayed close to “home”. And it really did feel like coming home after our visit to Kandy. I’ve never been so glad to see the ocean – especially after several hours of this:
On Friday night, I did an impromptu live set while Lewis, Mary, and Zoe danced (Joshua had gone on to Nuwara Eliya following our trip to Kandy). It was a lot of fun, and it felt good to be performing – no matter how rough it must have sounded.
The trip to Kandy had yielded a wealth of creative possibilities and my mind has felt a bit like a factory of ideas working overtime ever since. There was a wonderful moment on our last day in Kandy when we were travelling by car to the train station and Zoe gasped “I have an idea!” It was as if the idea – almost fully-formed – had just wandered into her head and made itself known. I was reminded of David Lynch’s fish analogy: “Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper.” Our time on this residency has really been all about going that bit deeper in our own practices, engaging with the incredibly rich culture around us, and reaping the creative benefits of those engagements.
My own ideas feel less disparate and more lucid and interconnected than before. The shape of an audio installation is gradually forming. The phrase “degrees of separation” had come into my head on the first day of the residency in relation to radio as a medium for performance as well as communication. The phrase has stuck as a possible title for the work I hope to produce and resonates with my experience of the residency as a whole.
Six Degrees of Separation, is, of course, a theory that was set out by Frigyes Karinthy in 1929, that all living things and everything else in the world is six or fewer steps away from each other. The idea was also popularised in a 1990 play by John Gaure. I was particularly struck by this quote from Gaure’s play:
I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation between us and everyone else on this planet. The president of the United States, a gondolier in Venice, just fill in the names. I find it A) extremely comforting that we’re so close, and B) like Chinese water torture that we’re so close because you have to find the right six people to make the right connection…I am bound to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people.
I kept thinking about hearing the radio for the first time upon arriving in Sri Lanka and how I had (partly through sleep deprivation) mistaken it for Gaelic radio. The melody of the DJ’s voices was so familiar, and it occurred to me that this kind of universality of musicality in language could be found elsewhere - for example, the calls of the vendors at the Sunday market in Hikkaduwa had an intonation and drive that was reminiscent of those I’ve heard at markets in the UK.
In a podcast that Joshua had shared with us, there is a discussion about “universal melodies” that are identified across languages when parents talk to their children, e.g. a certain bend in pitch depending on approval or prohibition. It seems likely that universal melodies also occur with radio presenters, market vendors, auctioneers, rail announcers, sports commentators, and in many other areas of broadcast and spoken word. What I find equally fascinating is discovering the sounds and melodies which are unique to Sri Lanka (such as the fishermen’s song in Hikkaduwa) and exploring where along those degrees of separation those sounds occur.
In a similar vein, I’m interested in ways that meaning can get lost in translation – or that new meanings can emerge. The other evening I was sent a link to a review of the album I recorded as part of the ambient electronica duo WHɎTE. The review was entirely in Gaelic – which I don’t speak. In an attempt to get a gist of things, I employed Google Translate, with hilarious results. E.g. “It hit me while I was traveling with the two, the seeping gave me this new music.” But I feel that there’s more than just a bit of fun to be had here. I decided to get each of the artists in our group to record Gaure’s quote in a different language after it had been translated by Google. So, the same monologue has been recorded by Zoe (in Greek), Mary (in French), Joshua (in Japanese), and Lewis (in the original English). I’m planning on asking one of the Sunbeach staff if they’ll allow me to record them reading it in (Google Translated) Sinhala.
4 March 2017
This week more than any other has passed alarmingly quickly. I think this is due to us packing so much into the first two weeks, while much of this week has been spent working at Sunbeach. This morning I felt a great urge to break out of the routine that I’d fallen into and made the long overdue trip to the nearby Dutch colonial town of Galle. After a series of disasters (including Galle ATMs not giving me my money, and rising anxiety exacerbated by a lack of water and the heat), I returned to Hikkaduwa with my tail between my shaky legs. After lunch, I was determined to make the trip again, and did so, this time suitably funded, rehydrated, and accompanied by my fellow artists.
The Fort of Galle is a world away from the noise and chaos of Hikkaduwa – or anywhere else in Sri Lanka that I’ve been to so far. It’s an absolute joy to be able to meander slowly through the streets without too much risk of being mowed down by a speeding bus or tuktuk. The appearance and gentle pace is reminiscent of Berwick-Upon-Tweed, albeit with more palm trees. Passing Samanala Park at the edge of the Fort, we could see and hear a cricket match taking place. The park is directly across from Galle International Cricket Stadium, which, we’re told, is the place to play cricket.
After a quick snack, we went off in our separate directions to explore. I could feel myself decompressing from the unpleasantness of the morning and loved being able to wander without a specific direction or goal in mind; just allowing my eyes and ears to guide me through the beautiful, calming streets.
Turning down one street, I heard some kind of marching band bursting into tune. The band turned out to be a group of young men rehearsing in the courtyard of a building, possibly a college. I stop to record them. The music sounds western (particularly in contrast to the Kandyan drumming I’d previously heard) and somehow strangely apt in those colonial surroundings.
5 March 2017
Today I’ve made good progress. The installation is taking the direction of individual headphone compositions and a longer separate ambient backdrop, and I have some plans for what I'm going to do with the radio I've purchased. For now, it's time for a swim in the ocean to clear out the cobwebs.