• Orla Stevens

Connecting to Place through Sound

Updated: Sep 2


The current project ‘Sagas and Seascapes’ has provided an opportunity to reflect on and develop ongoing research into the relationships between soundscapes and landscapes: How we connect with landscapes, our memories of these wild locations, and what I have learnt from this multidisciplinary collaboration between music and visual art.


The paintings of 'Sagas and Seascapes' compositions will be featured in a documentary / video concert for Orkney International Science Festival, releasing 3rd September 2021, available to watch here:


https://oisf.org/fest-event/sagas-and-seascapes/



Research trip to Orkney, July 2021.


First, a little diversion for some context, into past work with sound / music:


I first started exploring the potentials of sound recordings as a way of researching and connecting to the landscape through a project named ‘Aural Textiles’ in 2018. The project sought to explore how sound could be used as the driving visual force behind textile design.


https://www.auraltextiles.com



The ‘Aural Textiles’ project flowed naturally from my degree in 2018, where I had been exploring how to draw in response to recordings of waulking songs, gathered from the Tobar an Dulchais / Kist O Riches Sound Archives, through Edinburgh University.


https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk



This was part of a project, looking to explore the landscape and history of my local area within the Trossachs National Park, and my connection to it. Growing up playing a great deal of traditional music, I wanted to link music with the local historical textile industry, to represent a personal relationship with place and its past. These Waulking songs acted as a connection to the local tradition of weaving, that Killin, a neighbouring town

was a stronghold for in the late 1700’s. From these songs developed a series of drawings and marks which provided inspiration for my textile designs at the time. Again, this work focused on mark and texture to express sound and rhythm.



Moving through the Aural Textiles project (which ran from 2018-2021) offered another opportunity to explore sound, and in turn helped form a deeper awareness of my surroundings when exploring inspirational landscapes for my art. It opened various questions;


How does listening to the sound from the landscape make you feel?


Can the use of that extra sensory experience help stimulate new ways of exploring the landscape?


And, how in turn might this be translated in a visual format, and form a more personal connection to place within paintings?



Sagas and Seascapes - work in progress.


For the commissioned series of work for Nordic Viola, I sought to build on these past two projects working with sound. How else might I respond to sound outside line and texture?

I was also looking reference the composers thoughts, ideas and inspiration, whilst including my own interpretation of Orkney and the pieces of music as I feel and hear them. My answer to push this work forward has been to explore how to translate sound and emotion as colour - the paintings created for the project use a blend of colours directed by the music, as well as visual inspiration from the landscapes.


I'm delighted to have completed the series of commissioned paintings for Nordic Viola, which will be shown in the video performance (see top of page) and exhibited alongside live performances of the music - Dates TBC. Below I share a little insight to each of the three commissioned paintings. Originals and prints will be available to purchase online & alongside the performances soon!

Early Stages in the Studio.



Work in response to Linda Buckley’s ‘Aud’ were a painted improvisation to the music; thinking about the narrative of Aud journeying to and from Orkney. Creating a layered landscape/soundscape of colour and texture to reflect the many layers of Lindas music. The largest painting in response to ‘Aud' was made by painting to the music on repeat, with no visual reference - this piece in particularly focuses on relating colours to the atmosphere of the music.



Mind Map, research stages in the studio.

For ‘Carry his Relics’ by Gemma McGregor, I created a triptych of paintings to echo the use of thirds. Hidden amongst the layers are parts of the score that peek through on one panel. The paintings mirror the story of St Magnus, who was martyred on the isle of Egilsay, shown on the central painting. The wave in the left painting references his journey sailing to the island; his boat shaken by a giant wave where the two seas and currents meet. The painting on the right leads out along the St Magnus way - a pilgrimage and walk I will need to return to complete another time!



'Elsewhen' - in response to the composition by Lillie Harris.


The paintings for ‘Elsewhen’ by Lillie Harris concentrate on the intangible, almost haunting quality of our history and past - nodding to figures past and present: dancing, observing, perhaps worshiping around the Stones of Stenness, with Hoy looming in the background.


Throughout our time together on Orkney sprung many conversations - how to connect to place, the emotional experience of engaging with historical sites, and how to translate experiences and influences into differing disciplines are ones that have stuck in my mind on return. As a visual artist, I’m fascinated with learning how other disciplines translate inspiration. What are the similarities in processes between making a musical composition, and creating a painting? Do musicians and composers think visually when creating and performing? So many more questions were asked on this research trip, which has given me much to think about when developing the series of paintings for Sagas and Seascapes - and I am sure, will keep me busy exploring and questioning through further paintings to come!


Fine Art Prints of the final pieces will be shared in late August / September, available to purchase online in both A4 and A3 sizes.