Listening to Pendle Hill

Dad just asked us to be quiet for a minute and said, one day you will really learn to appreciate listening to the silence… go up Pendle, and listen to the silence.

– Kellie Walsh, local resident

Pendlesound was commissioned by In-Situ as part of the Testing Ground artist residencies. To create the piece, local artist Georgia Lomax Thorpe journeyed over and around the hill collecting sounds and stories to plot onto this map. She engaged with local groups and people, from choirs to archeologists, to learn as much as possible about people’s relationships with Pendle Hill and the surrounding areas.

Georgia approached her residency with the aim to gain two layers of experience: a sensory experience of the landscape itself, and engaging with and talking to people about the landscape (often remotely for Covid safety). The resulting map offers audiences an opportunity to connect with Pendle Hill in a new way: to listen closely to its environments and people.

On this page you can find the notes, images and videos Georgia collected throughout the process of making her piece.

“Yesterday I decided to practice more patience so I worked slowly around my walk, not allowing myself to tighten with the pressure of getting round as efficiently as possible. I was rewarded with interesting sounds to record, meaningful interactions with people, and closer insights into the places I journeyed through. If I had been rushing to get round, I perhaps wouldn’t have learned from a local runner about where the best place to see lapwings is, or the fact that peregrine falcons used to nest in a particular local escarpment, or that an ermine had been spotted nearby.

I didn’t let the wind frustrate me or get agitated with the faff of using my equipment. I tried to listen first before recording, becoming present and sensitive to the sounds around me rather than demanding the world provide me with what I wanted. By listening, pausing and sensitising myself to the sounds around me I could expose myself to more of what was present in the atmosphere. I was patient, hitting record and then awaiting the gift of a curlew call, and respecting whatever I pick up on my mic in that moment. It isn’t the curlew’s fault that it trills out its song before I have the chance to squish in my earphones, turn on my recorder, check the input level, adjust, turn away from the wind, press record, check it is recording, hold it below the shock mount so as not to clonk the mic and then keep completely still in case my coat makes annoying creaking noises.

The phenomenological practice of accepting whatever is present around you, as it appears to you in that moment, is forcing me to respect my surrounding environments. Recognising that my auditory experience is what it is, I can never hear what a tree looks like, I can’t record the sound of sunlight, is just another challenge of acceptance and respect. I am ending up teaching myself moral lessons through the practice of sensory experience which is surprising and wonderful, because most of the time I don’t really expect anything profound to happen to me just by listening.”

“Of course there is so much visually that I cannot capture on audio tape, if I point my microphone at a tree, it doesn’t make a sound, only when the wind blows can I capture any audio print of the tree. If I want to inscribe the branches, bark and leaves into my microphone, I am forced to interact with it. I touch its rough trunk, scratch it, rub it, rustle its leaves with my hands, so the outcome is the sound of my interaction with the tree, not the tree itself. This is the only way to go beyond the sound of the wind or water or sheep, which produce sounds of themselves. The product is not a true documentation of the sonic environment as it is, but my disruption within that environment.

I can’t remove myself from any of it. I literally cannot be fully absent from the sounds of a place, because there will always be a breath or brush or a squeak from my person that interjects the sound space. I find myself getting caught up in the purity of only collecting the sound of the thing I am listening to or interacting with, but it is inevitable that my human clonk will interrupt the recording. Again, it feels like a lesson of accepting my own role in it all. I have to be present and a part of it, it would be silly to try and detach my own sonic pollution within the space.”

“What we think of as the natural world in the pennines is still almost entirely man-made and man-structured. Being out in nature is a lie. Reservoirs should not exist yet they do. The tree-less fields are not a natural state of being. Quarries are entirely unnatural but many lie at the hill’s feet. Awareness of these facts are necessary, as the ecological and geological life of the hill is certainly aware of them.” 

“I had never walked up Pendle hill, and barely know the towns and villages that surround it, yet I still feel close to the hill, connected by my experience of my own moorlands. I have experienced the same winds and weathers that the hill has. I am familiar with the grasses, bushes, trees and styles of agriculture as well as accents and similar sense of grit. I feel like the hill is still within my world, and that I can find my own belonging to it, whilst respecting its historical autonomy.”

‘Old Pendle’ – originally composed by Ted Edwards with lyrics by Milton and Allen Lambert. Arranged and recorded by Georgia.

“There are different perspectives on each side of the hill. Limestones belong to the upper side, the millstone grit groups lie on the lower side of the hill. I find myself considering the contrasting moods of opposite villages, such as Barley and Downham, the former feels stronger, sturdier, and the latter gentle, delicate and soft. There are linking paths from either side of the hill, meeting on the top, connecting places that can’t physically see one another, or ever really touch, which you can’t help but find rather romantic.”

“I have had so many lovely interactions with people while out walking on the hill, even though I often have to overcome the self-aware awkwardness that comes with doing something that looks a bit weird, like sticking a microphone into a bunch of grass. Nobody is negative, its hard to be out there. I haven’t felt nervous about chatting to people and I am glad that I haven’t lost any social skills to the pandemic. With the amount of wind blowing through its easier to talk to people without being constantly burdened by the awareness of confined, potentially infectious aerosols drifting between us. I wish I could capture these friendly interactions on tape, but the idea of explaining my project and then asking for permission to interview someone in the moment feels ashamedly intrusive. It isn’t the same as stopping people on a main street in Manchester to ask their opinion for news commentary. Ethically, I would feel guilty about requesting an impromptu recording. These places are places of respite and recovery for the majority, and it feels right to leave it this way.”

Singing and chatting with Janet, Barbara and Peter from the East Lancs Clarion Choir

A lot of people, their eyes are down all the time, and they never look up… Pendle demands you look up. Pendle draws you up the hill. Pendle then gives you a wider vision.

– Bob Sproule from Clarion House

 Cross the clough to start
 Indulge in the romance of the clear flow over your boots
 A smugness when you arrive safely at the other side
 This is soon wiped clean.
 Shame fills it’s place on your face
 As you start to climb
 Cursing your legs 
 Making them concrete even further
 They curse you back and refuse to ease
 You feel your weight
 And long to plunge into the pale whispery beds either side 
 Yet up you go
 Pleading with the worn peat
 The hill hump eventually rewarding a fattening
 Soothing slightly.
 Vapour that clinged to each steep side
 Is now brushed away lightly 
 By breezes that cool sweat 
 As you learn to nurture yourself again,
 Trust your feet 
 And let skylarks warn others of your invasion 
 Soon it all burns away 
 And you allow yourself to sit in the grass
 And write a poem.