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Brighton Festival 2014

Walking Stories

Charlotte Spencer Projects

Venue: Stanmer Park


Low Down


Contemplative and profound, Charlotte Spencer Project’s audio walk through woods in Stanmer Park draws you effortlessly into an experience of natural choreography. It is a choreography of groups and solitude; of the natural world and the rhythms and patterns that emerge from everyday living. It is one of the most calming, quietly beautiful and evocative outdoor pieces I have ever experienced.  


We put on our headphones. After a brief flicking between radio channels we are allowed to settle on an audioscape of an urban environment – kids playing on basketball courts in the back ground and city noises. On this gloriously sunny day with families in the distance clustered around picnics in this vast green open space, the sound track contradicts our surroundings and begins to transport us elsewhere. We are being tuned in to a different frequency.

At first I found myself slightly critical of our audio host’s tone of voice. Sound designer Tristan Shorr is not an actor and his delivery is gentle but somewhat flat. After a short time however, as with all the other elements in the piece, the poetry and beauty emerge unexpectedly from the ordinary.

We set off, walking as a group of about 20 along a path. Instantly we are a tribe; a community of walkers. A group with shared direction. We are immersed in an intoxicating sound design, by Tristan Shorr and Tom Spencer combining found sounds, field recordings and lush, organic electronic music.

I cant really disclose the details of what we are instructed to do with out spoiling the experience for you. But there are unexpected divisions, departures, reunions and divergences. There are times we come together and reform new variants on the group. Times we are running. Times we are still. There are opportunities for us to follow an individual impulse and invitations to collaborate. Metaphors begin to bubble up almost immediately. I become aware of patterns emerging from the natural chaos of our different rhythms. Fractals emerging from the natural chaos of the environment around us.

What essentially we are invited into is an altered state of consciousness. A journey. A trip.

Some of my notes:

Build a thing. Leave it. Move on. Our pounding feet as the earth. Our sight as the sky. Infinite choice v/s doing one simple clear thing. Life ending and beginning again endlessly. A butterfly flaps its wings…

My circle returns me to its point of origin, but I am changed by the doing of it.

And some quotes and their associations:

‘What you’ve built can disappear in a single moment.’ and I am awake to the ephemerality of life.

‘a season changed and left you behind’ the inevitability of death.

‘What do you keep? What do you leave behind?’ My first thought was LOVE! We should keep love!… instead so often we keep resentments, judgements, cynicism.

As I said… a trip.

Choreographer Charlotte Spencer and her team of dancers, sound designers, a film maker and a chef (!) developed this piece over a long period of time. They lived, ate, worked and travelled together by bicycle across England and France for two months gradually collecting sound recordings and materials. The richness and clarity of the work are the fruits of this slow burn organic process. There is a clarity of execution here that is a result of trying, testing, failing and trying again. The piece is rooted in our kinaesthetic experience and guided by an intelligent but invisible host. We feel held and like we also have agency which is a very tricky thing to get right, and Charlotte Spencer Projects gets it exactly right whilst making it all look deceptively simple.

I sit down on a tree stump and run my hand over a mossy bough. The branch is old and gnarled, pock marked with lines, lumps and scaring. I think about age spots, wrinkles and scars as being the song lines of our existence in a body. The trail marks of our living. It occurs to me that in nature, each age has an inherent value, beauty, function and importance, but in the human realm, we seem to have lost touch with this somehow. We want to eliminate evidence of aging and turn a blind eye to the wisdom of the elder.

Then there is a quiet gathering back together of the people we have been on this journey with. I am surprised at how far afield we have each ventured in solitude. I notice our quietness. The audio track has faded out and we are returning from our other world to ordinary reality. Children are playing cricket. Families are having picnics. The sound of the wind in the trees. The guy ahead of me reaches down to pick a flower and I notice how my attention is drawn to the little actions of each of us. I bring my hand up to my face to brush my hair from my eyes. I am returning from a collective dream.  


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