The Spirit of Saint Mary

Brendan from Pixadelica approached me to be a part of this exciting project which itself serves as part of the launch of the 2010 Whitley Arts Festival.

I was invited to create a soundscape for the festival and decided that I'd like to try something really new and exciting.

So here we go...

I will create a half hour soundscape that will be played around different parts of Saint Mary's exterior (that's St Mary's Church )in the Centre of Reading) on Friday October 15th.

And here's the challenge...

The soundscape will be made up from sounds from in and around Saint Mary's and ONLY from that area.


Friday 3rd September - Recording 1

I cycle into town after work and visit The Butler to drop off posters for a very different kind of gig on November 6th.

Then I'm off and ready.

I walk through the Broad Street Shopping Mall (I have a quick look in Poundland for Halloween stuff as you do) and then on go the headphones and the wav. recorder on I record...

The Market

Wearing headphones whilst recording on this marvelous machine feels like having super hearing. I can hear everything. Drunks swearing. I wipe my nose at one point and am told to stop picking it. Market traders. A really loud trolley crashing past me. Will need to use that. Very noisy buses.

Kall Kwik

Then I nip into Kall Kwik. The photocopiers have lovely rhythm, the nice man in there looks at me like I am mad and lets me record the sound in the shop.The idea of using the rhythm of the photocopier makes me feel like Tyres from Spaced dancing to the pedestrian crossing, which reminds me I mustn't forget the crossing...











The nice man from Kall Kwik                                         Tyres from Spaced


Then the Sahara, Zero Degrees, a hairdressers, an Estate Agent lots of good noise in there...

White Stuff won't let me record in case people think I am spying on them, fair enough but there's no-one there!


  Zero Degrees pots and pans                     Sahara chaps think I'm mad. One rattles a spoon

                                                                  inside a cup which he thinks might annoy me but

                                                                  sadly I love it!


The Horn was really welcoming and they had a great buzz (literally) that I looked like an absolute muppet trying to find with my headphones on. I think it was a heating unit at one point I had the recorder held high above my head to get the dull throbbing sound. I felt like Egon Spengler.



  Cheers barman!                                            Now I'm Egon.  (Only less cool)                  

The issue now is that the pubs serve really nice beer and by the time I've finished at the Allied Arms who have a beer festival too! Damn their eyes! I feel quite sleepy and head home. However it's sounding good...

 Gawd bless the Allied Arms

Tuesday 7th September - Recording 2

After work I'm off to catch the bells, however they don't seem to be there, so I get some more ambience - the clock striking 8 and a man shouting at cars. "Stop polluting my air! You're a disgrace!" Be lovely to play that really loud.

Monday 20th September - Recording 3

With all the work on "Vampire Hospital" this has been put to one side for the last week. Now I find myself at Saint Mary's Church to record the organ. Peter West does a wonderful job and the sound is immense. We record several processionals and he is kind enough to play through a scale and some chords which should be useful. Peter tells me of other sounds I could catch around Saint Mary's, a penny whistle player, a busker, a big issue seller. He also invites me to record a choir practice on Wednesday, excellent.


The bells are ringing and so once Peter has finished I sit outside and record the steady peals for a good five minutes.


Wednesday 21st September - Recording 4

I quickly pop and record the St Mary's Choir at Downshire square, they sing the Angus Dei. Really great bunch with fantastic voices.

I have started to put things together and am tentatively creating the first layer.

I have already utilised the organ and photocopier (hooray!) and am finding places to put the choir.

I have decided to create four separate sources - two which will carry the bulk of the soundscape, one that will be ethereal and I am thinking that one will be made up of voices and I'd quite like that to be by the tree.

It seems to be working...

Friday 23rd September - Recording 5

Final recordings -  as well as this I interview the Canon of Reading Minster who gives me a great deal of fantastic info about the church and the surrounding area. Also the landlady of the lovely Allied Arms also agrees to be interviewed, these guys will be coming out of the tree!

Saturday 2nd October and Sunday 3rd October

Firstly I create what I call the base. It's like the chopped onions and tomatoes that you might start off a good bolognese sauce with.This is made up of a variety of different sounds that are mixed together, messed with and slowed down. This  now lasts 30 minutes which is the length of the show. It has a good eerie sound which is nice to layer other elements on top of. For the last few years I have been using an Open Source programme called Audacity. It is great and the reason I like it is because geniuses keep making new plug-ins that allow for more play. A lot of what I do is about serendipity, the choice of sounds I find and then finding the best way of manipulating that sound to create well... that depends what I find!

And on the I start making the first layers built from bells, organs and voices. More layers will come but it gets me thinking that this idea of the sounds of Saint Mary's being fed back to the square suggests that the church itself is like a great big recorder. What would it have heard and seen since the 7th century? This reminds me of The Stone Tape, the fantastic drama by Nigel Neale in which the stones of a house record sound and image from the past and play it back.


And so the piece now has a story, more than just the sounds now, the ethereal quality can hint at the church and square of the past. So with that in mind I create a backstory to go with the piece. These will be handed out to passers by and parts of them will be used on the flier prior to the performance. More to follow! Only two weeks to go...



Saturday 9th October

Been working on this whenever I can this week and have now put the finishing touches to the main scape. I have a little extract here, it's hard to capture the full sweep of the piece but this may give you a bit of an idea of what to expect.

Friday 15th October

God this came around quickly, there'll be loads more info up shortly, for now click below for the full track which is available as a free download...



The Spirit of Saint Mary by Music for Zombies