Magic Hour

On arriving back from my holidays I found myself faced with a new job. The job is amazing; it is to think up creative ways of getting feedback from people about their experiences at Magic Hour. Magic Hour is the latest exciting endeavour from Oxford Contemporary Music. I love working with Oxford Contemporary Music and the line up for this event looks absolutely fantastic.

Dubbed as ‘Sonic adventures inspired by dusk in Oxford’s beautiful Botanic Garden,’ the event promises to showcase new work made in response to and in collaboration with the Oxford Botanic Gardens from the likes of David Rothenburg (author of ‘Why do birds sing?’) and Max Eastley (whose work I have long admired). An installation featuring a handkerchief tree covered in handkerchiefs printed with giant images of pollen and the sounds of bees and traffic is also promised – which I personally can’t wait to see – along with vegetable-inspired instruments and other joy.

So I met with OCM and the Botanic Gardens last week to commence work on my feedback station. We were all agreed that a garden shed is the perfect location in which to situate fun, site-specific feedback-related activities. Now I have always considered the humble garden shed to be a bog-standard enough item, easily acquired from DIY stores, Freecycle or gardening centres. People: this is not the case. The Garden Shed is something that is easy to acquire within a 3 week timeframe but if you need one within a week, be prepared to make your acquisition some kind of epic mission. After my day yesterday of haplessly bidding on ebay and telephoning countless Garden Shed stockists and experts, Mark commented that perhaps there is a gap in the market for ‘Sheds to Go.’ I countered that in 99.9% of cases, a shed is probably a planned purchase rather than an impulse buy. But there you go: for anyone racking their brains for a new capitalist enterprise, Sheds to Go is the project for you.

At 5pm yesterday, I finally won an ebay auction, snapping up this baby for sixty of my fine English Pounds:

In a flurry of optimism I assured myself that it would be fine to drive to Hampshire and shove it in the back of my car, but a few simple measurements revealed the folly of this plan. My lovely estate car with its large dumping-ground back-seats-folded-down + roomy boot (I only got a car because transit vans don’t come with automatic gear transmission) has tonnes of room in it if what you are transporting is a few bags of clothes or some large floor cushions or all the things required to make The Fantastical Reality Radio Show come alive in Brighton. But a 6 x 4 foot shed is perhaps beyond its capacity.

It is quite a little shed and rather too red for what I have planned, but I will give it a coat of paint or stain or something on Monday and mend its broken window and then it shall be a wondrous space for housing the collection of saved sounds I hope to accrue during Magic Hour. I have ordered many of the glassine envelopes used by libraries, archivists and The Oxford Botanic Gardens themselves, for storing and indexing precious items like seeds or slides or – in this case – ideas.

I am hoping that people will ‘save’ a sound/idea/thought they had while walking around Magic Hour, and pin a copy onto the inside of the shed, which will be warmly lit and glowing. I might put some good old garden centre compost on the floor to make the space smell right. But I am hoping that by the end of Magic Hour, we will have a wonderful collection of saved sounds/ideas/thoughts, in these glassine seed envelopes.

The other idea I have is to create a map which people can tag with their own experiences, so they can tag (on the map) especially notable places to stand and be in around The Oxford Botanic Gardens while the installations are running. I found it very interesting to see what people tagged during EXPO although the tags for Magic Hour will be slightly different to the FRRS tags. I think it is vital to have a way of collecting individual peoples’ experiences at sound events, because sound installations – more than any other artform – bleed into one another and blend, mingle and intertwine imaginatively. Which means that until everything is up running, it is simply impossible to envisage how all the different pieces will work with each other. And often, unexpected sound events occur which are just as much a part of the audience’s experience as the planned events. A bird may come and sing during a particular moment. I also think sound art needs a more coherent and honest dialogue around it.

…and finally, I am working on some forms to go in a com(ments) post bin. The idea is to somehow show how essential creative feedback is for the artist and to demonstrate how awesome it is when someone takes the time to form an opinion – even a negative one – and then hands it over to nourish the thought process for the next project. So the comments box here will be a compost bin and I am going to make feedback forms which declare FEEDBACK = FERTILISER uncompromisingly across the top.

I hope these elements all eventually look like I hope they will and that my little shed-space will make sense and not be alientingly hippyish. I want it all to be in uncharacteristically earthy greens, browns and neutrals and to sit well within the lush green loveliness of the gardens themselves. I shall be there, knitting vegetables in preparation for my improvised knitted vegetable workshop, in full gardening garb including happy red wellington boots and perhaps an apron made from pea/cabbage fabric if I can stop being so precious about the fabric.

Putting this together at short notice has caused me to notice certain trends running through my work. I am fascinated by the role that tending a garden plays in my creative process and vice versa. I don’t know how many of you will remember the Manifest seed packets that we designed on the MA programme as our graduate show invitations? As a group, we designed and screenprinted seedpacket invitations and this year, I planted my seeds and put the seedpacket out into the elements to see what would become of it. Here is the seedpacket on May 5th this year and the seedlings:

And here are the seedlings and the packet now:

I am not sad that the woodlice have completely destroyed the seedpacket; it would have only been hoarded otherwise and now it has become part of the munched up soil and dust that make my garden grow so gorgeously.

I still have the poster we made on the wall inside the house and whenever I pass by it, I am reminded of the imaginative potency of the process of making Manifest. The sunflowers have been a constant reminder of that time for me.

Additionally, during the making of FRRS I was in my studio the whole time and the sounds of the garden – the blackbird, the planes, the wind in the tree, the rain on the roof etc. – all went into the show in various places. My garage studio space from which I constantly took short breaks amongst the things I’ve planted, was one of the great underlying supports for the Fantastical Reality Radio Show. It is an imaginative resource par excellence. I am currently saving seeds from my garden on the window ledge in my studio and the sunflower heads are mostly being frozen to dye yarn with.

On the last episode of the Fantastical Reality Radio Show, I planted the cabbage seeds that Claudia sent to me at the time and recorded the sound, and it occurred to me that planting something from a project is a great way of extending an imaginative process outwards into an environment and allowing it to stay alive in one’s mind. The cabbage seedlings are a constant reminder of many things FRRS and when I harvest them in the spring, I will be reminded of everything that happened around the time I planted them. I would love eventually for my creative life and my garden to become totally indivisible; for the garden to reflect all the many projects I am involved with. But maybe it already does this.

If you come along to Magic Hour and give me some honest feedback, you can get a complimentary cabbage, pea or bird button badge in thanks for your efforts! Here’s a teasing preview.

Hope to see you there… Ravelympics (I have won no medals in this, I assure you…) updates, further Pompeii and Vesuvius revelations plus Heston Blumenthal’s pizza trail of perfection will all have to wait until the other side of the Magic Hour.

The Magic Hour

Sonic adventures inspired by dusk in Oxford’s beautiful Botanic Garden

4th – 6th September 2008


£5 advance / £5.50 Thurs / £6 Fri / £6.50 Sat

1 under 18 free per family

* Please contact Box Office for access details

6 Responses to Magic Hour

  1. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Blog Archive » Words and Pictures

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