This blog has a main title ‘The pontoon only squeaks at high tide’, it refers directly to the soundscape by my riverside studio in Medway, UK. It’s the working title for a longer term body of work I’ll make with individual women who live by different bodies of water, asking them to identify and describe what sounds define the here and now of their day to day. I’m keen that the work will be outward looking and encompass women from different countries, cultures and types of water environment. It was something I intended to explore during my Sura Medura residency, I thought it had taken a back seat until I realised it had been bubbling along under the surface all the time, just not in the way I had thought it might! Originally I said I’d connect with women in the fishing community but the flow took me away from the sea to the lagoon and paddy instead.
I spent time with Mangalika who lives on a hill that rises @1km inland up the jungle road, featured in the binaural recording I made in Hikkaduwa for my Sura Medura Blog 2. Her tropical garden, full of banana & coconut palms, flowers, vegetables and birds, slopes steeply down to a uncultivated paddy land behind. ‘Paddy’ is essentially a man made wetland ¹. This paddy has grazing cattle tethered along it, with their constant egret companions, and the occasional vegetable plot, in places it’s lumpy to walk on with sudden invisible dips reminiscent of a bog especially after heavy rain.
Over a few visits with Mangalika sharing photos, drinking vanilla tea talking about family, life, friendship and loss we began listening together. We exchanged the unique-nesses in our home soundscapes and which particular sounds describe or define their here and now.
When I asked Mangalika what her definitive sound of home is she chose a sound I hadn’t yet heard.. the call of peacocks. (aka Indian Pea Fowl ²) They roost in the tall palms, fly up on her roof and feed along the paddy. She immediately took me for one of several barefoot walks along the paddy listening for peacocks. This began a search, verging on obsession, that evolved from being a search for Mangalika’s personal sound into involving everyone I met in Hikkaduwa who all gave me tips for where best to hear them call and at what time of day. Some say dawn is best, but not too early or too late, others dusk, Aruni found them in her paddy-side garden at 3pm one day. I followed all the tips and directions, some brought peacocks, they all brought wonders of everyday magic. Walks before sunrise watching the Flying Foxes long slow glide flap to their roosts, a porcupine snuffling across the road into the trees, monks chanting in temples, the volume of layer upon layer of insect and bird dawn choruses, women carrying flowers to shrines, the distinct sound of morning sweeping. Dusk visits to Aruni’s garden and Tuk Tuk rides with Rasika as the light faded were full of shared hushed excitement, exchange of latest sightings with neighbours and conversation about the local topography.
This process of looking for peacocks also began to resolve some ideas I’d had about traveling sound, call and response and how to make live sound performance using a megaphone and Sudu’s TukTuk sound system. I’ll talk about this in the next blog…
¹ It’s estimated that Sri Lanka has possibly the highest number of man-made water bodies in the world with an estimated total of more than 10,000 Wewas (tanks) countrywide. Linked to these tanks are many kilometers of canal systems and thousands of hectares of cultivated and uncultivated paddy fields. http://trip2lanka.com/2017/05/wetlands-and-marshlands-in-sri-lanka/
² Peacocks are common and much loved, their numbers are increasing in Sri Lanka. Like in the UK it’s unlucky to bring the feathers inside your home. The Raksha mask theatre culture Kolam Dance includes a Peacock mask meant to bring peace, harmony and prosperity.