Experimenting with Geography

Last month I attended the international training school Experimenting with Geography: See, Hear, Make-do; a workshop aimed at thinking through and trying out new methods of collaboration between art and geography.

EwG participants on a visit to the University of Edinburgh's physics department © Michael Gallagher

For those who weren’t there, EwG was a week-long workshop exploring experimental audio, visual and site-specific research methods organised by social geographer and experimental musician Dr Michael Gallagher, University of Edinburgh. It was funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and hosted by the Institute of Geography at the University of Edinburgh, with support from the Department of Geographical and Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow.

Inside an anechoic chamber at the University of Edinburgh physics department © Michael Gallagher

The workshop largely consisted of practice-based workshop sessions led by guest presenters of an international calibre whose work lies on the boundary between social research and artistic practice. The workshop leaders included: Louise K. Wilson – an artist and fine art lecturer who makes installations, sound works and videos, Dr. Matt Rogalsky – a composer and sound artist based at Queens University, Canada, Sans Facon – a collaboration between French architect Charles Blanc and British artist Tristan Surtees, Professor Nigel Thrift – one of the world’s leading human geographers and the academic who originated the term ‘non-representational theory’, Dr. Eric Laurier a cultural geographer at the University of Edinburgh and my old supervisor Dr. Hayden Lorimer a cultural geographer based at the University of Glasgow.

Some of the highlights of the week included:

  • A trigger-happy Matt Rogalsky wandering about shooting a starting pistol, to record the acoustics of various spaces.
  • Louise K Wilson showing people how to build their own contact mics and hydrophones (picture below)
  • Victoria Clare Bernie exploring how storyboarding might work in the context of creative research.
  • Sans Facon inviting people to compose their own sound walks.
  • Nigel Thrift giving us a big dollop of theory in the middle of the week.
  • Perdita Phillips installing mics on the roof of the geography building to record the seagulls.
  • Tansy Spinks conducting an impromptu participatory performance on the main stairs.
  • David Paton and friends presenting audio-visual work about a disused quarry which once supplied much of the stone used in Edinburgh’s grand buildings.
  • Hilary Ramsden triangulating Ennio Morricone, a side street in Morningside, and dogs barking on the meadows.
  • Hayden Lorimer describing the early history of wildlife recording, before the invention of magnetic tape. This included such things as cables running for two miles from mics in the woods to a van full of machines which would cut sound waves into discs of heated-up wax.
  • Murray Campbell from physics showing us round the acoustics labs, and answering questions such as ‘can you make a kettle boil by shouting?’ (answer: in theory perhaps, but not in practice).
  • An evening of experimental films curated by Edinburgh-based film-maker Matt Lloyd, and an evening of experimental music courtesy of Martin Parker’s Dialogues festival.

Louise K Wilson giving a contact-mic DIY session which I took part in

Eric Laurier summed up the mood of all the participants in an email sent to attendees the following week once the event had ended and we had all resumed our ‘normal’ lives:

“Can you come again next week? This one has lacked crackly birdsong, vibrating balloons, soldering irons, city symphonies, anechoic chambers, autumn salmon roe, centrifuges, quarry hammers, avian corpses, men on scaffolding (well it hasn’t, but has in that storyboard way), violin-voices in the foyer, cycle rides to the Wild West and most importantly, the music of your enthusiasm.”

I am personally already eagerly anticipating EwG take two…..

To give a wee taster of what we got up to Jonathan Prior (a co-host of the event) has made an audio-visual slideshow which nicely captures the flow of the event:

This entry was posted in Creativity in the City, Cultural Cartography, Events, Presentations, Happenings etc., Experimental Geographies, Geographer-artists, Spatial Encounters, Spatial Theory and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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