Part of the Fife Coastal Path between North Queensferry and Inverkeithing. Supposedly named by Norse sailors, given its physical resemblance to an old witch’s nose.
The carlin caught her by the rump, And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.
For a small area, it has clearly always been a site of fortification and strategic importance given its extensive outlook over the Forth. Evidence of anti-aircraft defences still exist and the silent dolorite stacks show the extent of quarrying in the 1800s to help build the bases of the Forth Rail Bridge. The area is now a SSSI designated site and given its relatively small size supports a diverse range of habitat and plant life.
Delightful and profound cultural ‘happenings’ at the last Le Weekend festival which has taken place at The Tolbooth in Stirling over the past thirteen years. Arguably, the most inventive, adventurous music festival in the UK, it has consistently delivered a stellar mix of old and new sounds, film and ‘happenings’ which cut across and dissolve styles and genres. On the purely musical front, this years line up included highlights such as Ben Frost’s glacial noise minimalism, a new commissioned piece Oceans of Silver and Blood and Marilyn Crispell’s stunning piano improvisations.
One of the most enjoyable events for the collective was an audience with Jean-Herve Peron and Zappi Diemer from the legendary, iconoclastic, Faust. A touch of Fluxus style performance as they riffed on the theme of the festival: All Things Must Pass. Diemer, filmed and projected the room/audience in real-time whilst another screen projected some legendary performances of the band. Peron recited some text whilst performing drip painting and gradually uncovering the layers of wrapping over a lumpen shape to reveal their iconic cement mixer. It all worked seamlessly, carried by Peron’s infectious enthusiasm and charisma. What was of most interest, however was how the ‘setting’ had made an impression on his text. He recounted how he had been wandering in the graveyard next to the Church of the Holy Rude, blown away by the spectacular outlook from the ridge under the Castle with its vista onto the landscape of centuries of Scottish history – Stirling Bridge, The Wallace Monument, Highlands to the North, Fife to the East…. All of this had made an impact on Peron and was reflected in this clearly psychogeographically inspired happening.
The other event of the festival that stood out for the collective was a realisation of Alvin Lucier’s I am sitting in a room. Lucier’s electro acoustic music and sound installations have long explored the physical properties of sound itself, the limits of auditory perception and the resonating properties of material objects. In this piece, which by its very nature is unique in every performance, he examines the specific dimensions, acoustic properties and atmospheres of certain rooms.
The realisation took place in The Cowane Hospital, built next door to the The Church of the Holy Rude between 1637 and 1649. John Cowane aka the poetically named
‘auld staney breeks’ was a very wealthy Stirling merchant and Dean of the Merchant Guild who left funds for this building to be used as an alms house and the maintenance of thirteen elderly Guild members. It was also used for many years as the Guildhall where the Merchants gathered for meetings and dinners. The Guildry fixed the prices of goods, and dominated town council affairs. Later the building was used as a schoolhouse and a hospital during epidemics. It is once again being used for concerts, meetings and ceilidhs, but the statue of John Cowane above the entrance and the portraits of Guild Deans inside remind us of its multi-layered history.
It is said that at midnight on Hogmanay the statue of Cowane will come to life and do a little jig in the forecourt before returning to his post.To return to Lucier’s piece, it works by recording a short speech text which is then played back into the room where it is again re-recorded. The new recording is then once again played back and re-recorded, and this process is repeated over and over. Since all rooms have a characteristic resonance, the effect is that certain frequencies are gradually emphasised as they resonate in the room. Eventually the words become unintelligible, replaced by the pure resonant harmonies and tones of the room itself. This process takes around 45 mins in Lucier’s recorded version. I forgot to check how long the Cowane Hospital realisation lasted but it did not seem as long as 45 mins although by its very nature, ‘time’ appears to become suspended as one is drawn in by the minute variations of each repetition. It is a very meditative piece and sitting in the oak panelled room, with the fading light, dribbling through the stained glass windows, all those years of history appeared to be isolated in these ghostly, disembodied harmonies.