by Jemima Short
This sound project is the product of collaboration between the Wordsworth Trust and the Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership. A group of PhD Students, led by myself and Kate Sweeney of Newcastle University working alongside Lucy Stone (Newcastle University) and Hannah Piercy (Durham University), set out to create sound pieces that bring Wordsworth’s poetry to life whilst also highlighting the equally important work of his sister Dorothy. Students from Keswick School participated in the recording of the texts, which were then edited and mixed by two sound artists, Danny Diamond and Conor Caldwell. Danny and Conor also added their own sound work and instrumentation, mostly improvised, to create the beautiful pieces presented here.
‘Find somewhere secluded and just listen to the birds. … People don’t really appreciate nature anymore and they just sort of take for granted that it’ll always be there … I often go on hikes and things on my own and I think you need to appreciate time like that.’
This quote from a year 10 student at Keswick School can be heard in the first instalment of our four-part sound piece Re-imagining the Wordsworths. This is one of the key ideas behind this project: through reflections on the beauty of nature and the local area around Grasmere, we are encouraged to step away from our distractions to appreciate the wonder of the world around us. The four sound pieces present the writings of William and Dorothy Wordsworth performed by students from Keswick School, and whose discussions are interspersed with the texts. Accompanying music and sounds from artists Danny Diamond and Conor Caldwell set the mood of each piece.
The first of our four sound pieces uses extracts from Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal. It is fitting that a reimagining of Wordsworth should start with words written by his sister, whose own work was so important for William’s creative process. Their relationship was one of collaboration, and Dorothy spent hours transcribing her brother’s texts. In this piece, we hear Dorothy’s beautiful descriptions of the area around Grasmere and the emotions she felt as she moved through the landscape. Her appreciation of the nature around her all those years ago is interspersed with Keswick School students talking about the area they call home. The readings are accompanied by a structured and rhythmic musical background. Layered pizzicato in the opening of this piece adds shape and momentum, mirroring the lightness of the fine showers Dorothy describes. There is a sense of movement to the sounds as we follow Dorothy through the landscapes at the centre of much of the Wordsworths’ writing.
Saturday 5th June 1802
‘A fine showery morning. I made both pies & bread, but we first walked into Easedale, & sate under the oak trees upon the mossy stones. There were one or 2 slight showers. The Gowans were flourishing along the Banks of the stream. The strawberry flower hanging over the Brooke – all things soft & green.-In the afternoon William sate in the orchard. I went there, was tired & fell asleep. William began a letter to John Wilson.’
Friday morning 16th May 1800
‘Warm and mild after a fine night of rain. The woods extremely beautiful with all autumnal variety & softness – I carried a basket for mosses, & gathered some wild plants – Oh! that we had a book of botany – all flowers now are gay & deliciously sweet. The primrose till prominent The later flowers and the shiny foxgloves, very tall, with their heads budding. I was much amused with the business of a pair of stone chats. Their restless voices as they skimmed along the water following each other their shadows under them, & their returning back to the stones on the shore, chirping with the same unwearied voice. Could not cross the water so I went round by the stepping stones. Ryedale was very beautiful with spear-shaped streaks of polished steel. Grasmere very solemn in the last glimpse of twilight it calls home the heart to quietness. I had been very melancholy in my walk back. I had many of my saddest thoughts & I could not keep the tears within me. But when I came to Grasmere I felt that it did me good. I finished my letter to MH.’
Look out for part two, coming soon!
Our thanks go to the following people, without whom this project would not have been possible: Hannah Piercy (Durham University), Lucy Stone, Michael Rossington, Sarah Rylance and Evie Hill (Newcastle University), Jeff Cowton, Bernadette Calvey, Melissa Mitchell, and Susan Allen (Wordsworth Trust), Tracey Messenger, Helen Robinson, and the Students of Keswick School, Deirdre Wildy (Queen’s University Belfast), Robert Mcfarlane, and sound artists Conor Caldwell (Queen’s University Belfast) and Danny Diamond.