The Lekking Grounds, a single 15 minute track, is the culmination of a 2013 North Yorkshire residency. Last spring, Kingsley Ash spent a week recording, led two field recording workshops in local schools, blended the results and performed this piece live. We are enchanted by the idea that students might bring home sound art instead of florescent handprints or macaroni boxes.
As in any project with the younger generation, one asks, “How can I make this interesting, informative and fun?” Ash succeeds by offering his work in three formats. The first is a Sound Map (which we last encountered via Kate Carr’s recent Lost in Doi Saket), with digital pins representing each recording site. The second is the Soundcloud page itself (connected to the Sound Map), which includes 11 samples of source material: plantations, rivers, moors. It’s a pleasure to be able to hear these sounds unadorned. The third is the live performance in which these sounds are sculpted into a composition. By offering choices, Ash opens a window into the world of the sound artist, demonstrating the different parts of the craft.
When one hears the individual recordings, one feels the pleasure of recognition. These are not miscellaneous birds, but woodpigeons, finches and geese. At nearly half an hour, the longest piece is nearly twice as long as The Lekking Grounds. “Druids Plantation Dawn Chorus Stereo” is a track we might expect to find on Gruenrekorder: a clear, character-filled recording for the enthusiast. But most schoolchildren would be bored, drawn instead to the more active pieces, one river-based and three wind-based. “Hut in Knowie Wood + Wind” is especially busy, with creaks, velocity-based shifts in timbre, and one big crash (3:02).
This is where things get interesting. What does one do with all these recordings when presenting them for a general audience? Ash shapes them into something resembling verses and choruses, the form of which can be seen in the Soundcloud silhouette. The birds are present throughout, but layered; the opening minutes are especially lovely. The river and the wind appear at decisive intervals. The constant feed of new sonic data keeps the listener interested throughout: telling more by telling less. The third minute introduces light musical tones as well: a rising and falling drone, accompanied by light electronic pops. The aforementioned creaks come in handy here, sounding more like studio instruments than trees in the wind. When these sound dissipate in the seventh minute, one can see the trough, as if a belt has been tightened. Then a second chorus, darker in tone but just as lovely.
One can imagine the crowd wanting more, because we want more. Ash’s success is in creating the curiosity that leads to greater learning. (Richard Allen)