Monday, 20 November 2017

Subsongs by subsong: Passing Place of the Seat

In which I write about the songs on the subsongs album, in order, song by subsong.

The denial of food and drink to a traveller would have been a rare occurrence. The breaching of that code of hospitality brought an uncanny revenge on the women of Allt Beithe township on the coast south of Tarbert. The day was in July, 'a blazing hot summer's day', and a man came down the hill to a house in which the women only were. He stood at the door and said: 'I've been walking since yesterday morning. I've had nothing to eat and nothing to drink. Give me a drink of milk.' The head woman of the house replied: 'We can't give you anything. Go to the burn and take a drink out of that.' - 'Yes' he said, 'is that so?' He stepped into the house and put his hand under his oxter where there was a small leather pouch, and he pulled a hazel twig out of the pouch and began stabbing at the thatch of the ceiling with it. And all the time he was doing that the women could not stop dancing, and he carried on without stopping until they all fell down exhausted. He put the twig back into the little pouch, and he said to them: 'The next time a man comes to this house for a drink of milk, you'll give it to him.' With that, he 'disappeared over to Skipness'. His name was MacFarlane, and he belonged to that family in Tarbert which was distinguished by its reputation for sorcery.  
Kintyre, the Hidden Past, Angus Martin, The Grimsay Press, 1984

Traditionally the dominant land use in the area is sheep grazing on the rough open hill-land.Increasingly, due to the favourably high rainfall and low land prices, commercial tiorestation hasspread and covers more than 50% of the project area. The woodland is densely planted conifer, whichrestricts physical access to some areas. 
The Knapdale area is underlain by metamorphic rocks of the Dalradian Supergroup, a Late Precambrian to possible Cambrian shelf-sediment and turbidite assemblage. This succession accumulated during the progressive rifting and deepening of extensional basins. The older Appin Group rocks, which do not outcrop in the Kintyre Peninsula, comprise quartzite-shale-limestone sequences laid down in a shallow-water shelf environment.

A suite of metabasic sills (formerly termed ‘epidiorite’) is intercalated within the upper Argyll Group metasedimentary succession in the south Knapdale area. These rocks are predominantly dark, fine grained and massive, although both foliated and coarse-grained varieties are found locally. The sills, which vary in thickness from 0.5 to 250m, are mostly concordant but are frequently disrupted bylater, north-west faulting. In areas of relatively shallow dip they occupy broad, elevated areas withgood exposure. 
Gold mineralisation in the Dalradian rocks of Knapdale-Kintyre, south-west Highlands, ScotlandA. G. Gunn, M. H. Shaw, K. E. Rollin and M. T. Styles, British Geological Survey, Department of Trade and Industry, 1996

Following a visit to Kintyre in Scotland, I was interested in new approaches to writing landscape which might consider it in materialist rather than romantic terms. It seemed to me that all or any of the aspects of a landscape contribute to its constitution. In human terms this particular area of Scotland is marked by waves of migration bringing with them different agricultural, fishing, religious, and cultural practices, languages, and so on. In particular the Irish, the Gaelic language, travellers, the ‘Coasters’ who withdrew from society and lived by the coast, but also, the sheep, the goats, rabbits and other wildlife. 

Landscape as a form is conventionally marked by human occupation and activity, becoming a record of that activity, framing views of the place, making some claim to it. Landscape frequently describes its human history, while the romanticism of the awe-inspiring, the sublime, offers a way for human contemplation to contain what is beyond itself, but is ultimately, like ‘nature', inevitably a human invention. But of course it’s not just a human or even animal space, it’s geological, it’s as old as the hills, the mountains, the valleys, the lakes, beyond the timespan of human lifetimes and cultures. 

This song was an attempt then to integrate the human in the form of elements of the myths and stories, which had been formed within and by this place, with the geophysical descriptions, and to invoke them on equal semiotic terms.  While the song restricts itself mainly to the mythical and geophysical, it might offer a proposition which suggests a continuum of description so as to not discriminate against or privilege any aspect of what makes up ‘landscape’, and perhaps could be applied to any other represented form or subject.

Some of the geological names were particularly delicious to sing "the metamorphic rocks... the turbidite assemblage", set in a backing track of sustained guitar drone loops.

Listen to the song and read the lyrics.

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