Rotted music and oak seers: sounds of the haunted forest
This talk will consider the idea of the return of the vocalic uncanny in the forest, from small press texts (including Eric Mottram’s A Book of Herne and Alan Halsey’s A Robin Hood Book), to sound recordings and albums including Theo Brown and the Folklore of Dartmoor and We Are All Pan’s People, and online projects such as Microphones in the Trees!. The forest has long been associated with the philosophical complexities of amplification, residual noise, and sonic rebound, including the canonical writings of the pastoral narrative of Echo, the forest nymph. The talk will balance canonical texts – including Thoreau’s accounts of the sound of telegraph wires in the Concord woods – with contemporary installations which use varied recording technologies, ecological listening devices, and forms of broadcast, such as the Forestry Commission’s recent Living Symphonies project. Using both sounds and visuals, I will track the heroic cycles of the forest and its cultural spectres into 70s and post-70s works where we hear ‘distorted the I song in the greenwood’ (Mottram). I will draw on my research in environmental history to bring out the political contexts of writings and recordings which summon these disembodied and exophonic voices in and from the forest. The burial of historical trauma in European forest landscapes is as much to do with these spectral auditory phenomena as are the actual acoustic and “Aeolian” qualities of woodland observed by David Toop, Murray Schafer and others. This presentation will therefore move between texts, sounds, and histories to consider contemporary examples of the channeling of the forest’s enchantments drear, ‘where more is meant than meets the ear’ (Milton).
Amy Cutler is the Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Environmental Humanities at the University of Leeds. She got her doctorate in Cultural Geography from Royal Holloway, University of London, after completing degrees in English Literature at Oxford. She founded the cultural geography themed cinema PASSENGERFILMS, and has twice in a row received the national award from the British Federation of Film Societies for her work film programming alongside talks on research. In June 2013 she curated the exhibition Time, the deer, is in the wood of Hallaig, on forests, history, social memory, and environmental memory. Her first chapbook was Nostalgia Forest (Oystercatcher Press, 2013), and her most recently exhibited work was at GV Art Gallery in the exhibition Nature Reserves. She was recently selected for AHRC Science in Culture‘s 2014 shortlist of fifteen early career researchers in the UK doing inspiring work in arts-science collaboration, and is the lead academic on a new White Rose funded network, Hearts of Oak: Caring for British Forests, which will include site-specific events related to forest research in the humanities across 2015. She is currently editing an experimental collaborative book of philosophical essays, Were X A Tree, for Punctum Books, due 2015.