Laura Cannell shares the inspiration behind she and Kate Ellis’s latest ‘These Feral Lands’ EP — including bellows, marshland plantlife, and figures of local lore — and introduces an accompanying film by Polly Wright.
This month Kate and I created a musical conversation through wood, strings and fragmented songs, ebbing and interweaving our current emotions through each composition and solitary performance. February Sounds was created with no discussion or explanation between us about the music itself, but we did talk about what was going on outside of that, mainly what we were cooking for dinner, stopping mid-conversation for Kate to bellow her newly installed wood burner in her shed, which is currently doubling as her music studio, office, art studio for her partner, and bedroom. Her time is punctuated by bellows and these seemingly small actions have now become a fixed part of our musical output.
I have been exploring plant folklore and the traditional materials used for making bedding out of marshland plants, which was also used as soundproofing in buildings such as libraries. My sister is an artist and was making inks from plants including acorns, and I fell in love with the idea and poetic sound of ‘writing from acorn inks’. These ideas and tangents all became inspiration for our music.
At one point I set up to record in my kitchen, staring through the glass door pane as I sang some half-remembered melodies from Hildegard von Bingen antiphons. I sent the recordings to Kate, who evoked in turn, facing her window, where she saw the sun beaming in strands through the glass and heard the voices of birds circling an outstretched field. She listened to my voice and brought a breathy, distant cello voice into the piece. The textures of air and space through cello harmonics became the melody.
Our true feelings of the moments have been expressed as spontaneous, untouched improvisations. The music remains largely unedited and settles somewhere between stark beauty and glowing embers. A new world to immerse ourselves in, while our immediate geographies stay the same.
Our final piece for February Sounds is ‘Follow Me to the Lantern Marsh’, evoking the faceless Lantern Men from the marshes of Norfolk; a story about the lantern men luring a man into the mists of the marshes with their lights. Polly and I have talked about Lantern Men a lot — it’s one of our favourite pieces of local folklore, and this particular place is exactly halfway between where she and I both grew up, either side of the River Yare in Norfolk. The story begins at a particular old pub in Norton Subcourse in South Norfolk. The pub — where I used to play baroque chamber music with my very first band The Owls, a group of girls from the surrounding villages lead by our travelling piano teacher — is now a house.
1. THE BELLOWING
Leather bellows creak and wheeze as they breathe life into the wood burner in the corner of the wooden shed on the Essex coast. The February fire crackles and spits, setting the scene for the music that follows. ‘The Bellowing’ is recorded in Kate’s shed and Laura’s thatched cottage.
Shadowy channels are cut through Eelgrass, which was gathered for bedding and used for sound deadening in the library, to keep the silent world in our heads. Where books are written by hand from acorn inks, these are the riverbank offerings. (Words & music inspired by Vickery’s Folk Flora).
3. SUN DROPS CLOSER TO EARTH
As sunlight beams through an open window looking out across an empty field, there is the faint chorus of birdsong in the distance. A voice half-remembers the melody heard while listening through the cathedral stone corridors, a fragment of Hildegard is echoed.
4. FOLLOW ME TO THE LANTERN MARSH
We will plant Blood Hilder beside our people,
So you know we were here.
We’re still here, where Marsh orchids grow, where Lantern Men show their their shape
But not their face. Their beckoning glow.
(Words by Laura inspired by Vickery’s Folk Flora).
The full EP is here and all the digital places.
We are really excited to introduce this short film created by Suffolk-based musician/writer and film-maker Polly Wright. Polly and I met a couple of years ago and within a couple of months of meeting had found much in common; our love of the Norfolk and Suffolk marshes, the folklore of East Anglia and the often missing voices of women through the centuries of nature writing. Our first project together was an impromptu recording in a South Norfolk Norman round tower church, which became our album Sing as the Crow Flies. This time there is a strong East Anglian theme, with Kate currently based on the Essex Coast, Polly in the Waveney Valley, and me slightly further inland for now, in a rolling valley of Mid-Suffolk.
I asked Polly to talk about the film so we could get to know her process even more. I love the journey of creation; even if I personally sometimes find it hard to articulate in any way other than through my music, I always appreciate when someone else can tell me their journey and process.
“I would call myself a hoarder of fragments. My film pieces are often collages of different pieces of footage I have shot, usually at night, and usually of myself, dancing to music. Music informs all my visual work, because it is my main artform. When I edit, I use layering and reverse and alter the speed of the clips I weave together, to create unsettling and haunting pieces. I rebuke traditional narrative and instead go for dreamscape and atmosphere. I am very inspired by the dance works of Pina Bausch, the song cycles of Schubert and Schumann, Victoriana ghost story heroines and the photography of Francesca Goodman.
When I heard ‘Follow Me to the Lantern Marsh’, I knew straight away how I would respond to the piece in visual terms and wanted it to be dark, feminine, barely there in places and elemental. I shot footage of fire and snow and collaged it with multiple figures of myself in a white nightdress. I love dancing in the dark in headphones when nobody is watching and then using the footage to become part of something else. It becomes layers of performance within another performance. I always think of my films as something the viewer can be immersed in, like a performance, and so my note for this film is it is intended to be viewed in a dark room. It was all shot in very low light and so by watching in the dark with the music loud, the voyeur will get the best experience from the piece.” — Polly Wright
‘These Feral Lands – A Year Documented in Sound and Art’ is a year-long collaboration between Laura Cannell and cellist Kate Ellis. New compositions will be featured here each month, along with accompanying films from different UK and Irish artists. The project is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.