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Deveron Projects

The Town Is The Venue
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Catriona McKay

Skimmerin'

2009

Response to the use and felling of local woodlands with Clarsach and electronic music

Catriona McKay, an internationally renowned master of the Clarsach (Scottish harp), came to Huntly in 2009 from Glasgow.

In 2008 a proposal was made by the local authority to access public funding in order to fell major parts of two local woods: the Battlehill and the Meadows. The woods themselves were planted many years ago in order to provide firewood for the local community, but have since then developed into park-like local amenities. Now policies have changed and in the name of biodiversity previous plantations of ‘foreign’ Sitka spruce are felled to make way for deciduous and indigenous alternatives. The clearing of the land will impact leisure use for many years to come, and in particular the use of large scale machinery in these relatively small plantations is under question.

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Working with leading electro-acoustic composer, Alistair MacDonald, Catriona explored the boundaries of her traditional instrument through experimental music and improvisation in the natural environment. Their work incorporates the acoustic sound of the harp, the use of recorded environmental sound and the transformation of these sounds to create hybrid musical textures in composed and improvised performance.

The work created relates to political developments in relation to biodiversity in the forestry industry and the impact this will have on recreational users of woodland areas around Huntly, once the planned felling takes place. For this Catriona and Alistair sampled the aural environment of the woodlands and forests around our town. This included not only natural sounds like the birdsong, the trees in the wind and the sound of the inhabiting animals, but also the sound of wood-cutting machines and the debates over the felling. As such the artists undertook research in a number of spaces, reflecting not only the different acoustics of the forests (deep forest, marginal town forest etc.), but also the use and purpose of the places themselves (commercial, leisure, bio-diverse plantations, etc.)

Skimmerin’ took performance back into the environment, from where some of the source sound-materials for the work were recorded, to create public awareness through the soundscapes. Three performances took place in the Battlehill woods themselves, providing the community with a catalyst to consider their relationship with these special places.

     

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