Laura Cannell presents the third of she and Kate Ellis’s monthly collaborative EPs, this month conjured from phone calls and scrabbling talons.
This month has been a time of heavy contrast, upheaval and exploration. In March Sounds we present music we never knew we needed. This being the third month of our series, it almost feels like we are in the swing of it, and although we have a structure in the form of a release date and a known format of a CD and digital release, we never know what the music will be. This is intentional; we need it to be a living, breathing, growing project so that we don’t feel restricted by creating too many internal rules.
We definitely don’t want to plan too far ahead or even discuss the feel or mood of the music. We decided early on that the only way this project will work for us is if we let our real ‘current mood’ come through organically. We both work on other music and collaborations which have in-depth rehearsals, and this is an opportunity to avoid that precision or external direction, allowing a flow of improvisation and creation.
We played music together live for the first time this month…over the phone. We are in neighbouring counties at the moment, but not close enough to justify going out of our immediate areas. We should have been recording at Snape Maltings in the last week of March on a residency, but this has been postponed until the autumn, so here we are with our phones with our remote studios set up.
It’s very strange to play music with someone for the first time over the phone. I felt very emotional, yet very connected. The phone was not able to pick up all the frequencies of Kate’s cello singing back to me as I played my violin, but the magic was there, and it was really there once we put the two tracks together. We have made the leap from call and response to playing in real-time, responding and intuiting the music as it happens.
Nature finds its way in; scrabbling talons remind us that every day is important and that those who have gone before us have walked where we walk and seen the seasons change. Sometimes it feels as though all the seasons appear in one day, and it is the same with our instruments; they can take us anywhere in a split second, like a swift cloud sharded by sunbeams.
1. EARTHLY UNEARTHLY
Rooted and light, our thoughts are dreams in a star-speckled sky. Breathing motions in the bass and hopeful tears and dancing winds emerge from the ground.
The real-life moments have started creeping into the music: a Little Owl caught in the chimney flue took hours to release after being stuck for a couple of days. Now it begins its day with yelping calls at dusk, and never seems to stray far from the fateful chimney. Scrabbling violin talons below sweeping cello wings.
3. FOXGLOVE AND HEATHER
Ancient clans, tribes and rivalling families have always existed, and here they are brought to their core. The people are silent but will always be rooted in the plants around us. The plant names were gathered into a song by Laura from a collection about plant folklore, and these plants represent the clans and the old families.
Roseroot, Deergrass, Foxglove and Heather, Ivy and Alder, and Holly forever.
Bracken, Thistle, and Lovers’ White Clover. Bramble and Blackthorn, and Ash Eagle Feathers.
4. SHADOW DISRUPTED
This piece was created live over the phone. Having still only met once in person and never performed together, we decided to set up our recording studios and press record at the same time. Tentative listening as though tuning in to some distant alien radio station; a station which aired the music you were thinking, live as you imagined it. We disrupted the distance between us by finding a new way to perform together.
Our artists this month are the collaborative partnership JAMESPLUMB (James Russell & Hannah Plumb).
I first came across JAMESPLUMB when they asked me to perform at an installation they were commissioned to create for the fashion label Hermés. They took over an entire mansion in central London and one of their first questions when we met was, “How would you feel about performing in a ballroom with a horse?” as we sat on benches outside the Barbican having coffee. This initial discussion not only drew me into their visual world, but their project was also the inspiration for my release Hunter Huntress Hawker, which began as sketches of frantic horse evocations on the violin that I had sent to them while creating the installation. (The brilliant Hannah Peel wrote about the album here on Caught by the River).
Now it’s my turn to invite them to collaborate, something I’ve wanted to do for the past 4 years. I find their view of the world and work utterly inspiring, and I had heard that they were starting to explore film and video more. I was mesmerised by images from their 2020 project ‘SILENT LIGHT’ (Exhibition, 2020) for the National Trust Northern Ireland, a light installation and dark sky experience at Downhill Demesne and Mussenden Temple. Something happens to me when I see their work — to me it is like music, rich minimalist music. They can create from something so small, broken, discarded — a mark made by lichen on an old glass house window, a two-hundred-year-old chair frame, a block of Himalayan salt; or, as they have for this project, the icy crystals of falling snow.
Shadow Disrupted was created simultaneously after Kate, Hannah, James and I spoke on a ubiquitous zoom call. We decided to approach this month’s film differently to January and February’s films. Instead of sending JAMESPLUMB the tracks from the EP, we asked them to create something visual based on our discussions together, for us to then do the same sonically, neither collaborating duo having seen or heard the other’s final piece, or having set rules about timing. But we must have been on the same page, as the result was a film of mesmerising minimalism which married to our as yet un-named track, which has now taken the title of the film.
“We are rigorous and exacting in our making, and we make things that are real and solid, even when they are temporary. For us the distinction between art and design is blurred and interchangeable – both in our own work and in our perception of the world at large. A table becomes an artwork, or a sculpture becomes a chair. An art installation is designed to be inhabited, and an interior design is approached as an artwork. We are artists who conceive, create, and direct work across a wide range of industries and disciplines, but we are less worried about how to define our work, than with what it adds to the sensation of the world around us.” — JAMESPLUMB
These Feral Lands – A Year Documented in Sound and Art’ is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.