Australian Sound Artist

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Day Five at Pollinaria

:: Claudio Pentronio at one of his families barley fields near Castel del Monte ::
Friday 20th June

Today was spent visiting two local farmers and cultivators of grain and wheat. The first was custodian and farmer, Alfonso D'Alfonso. His harvests are found in the Capestrano, Abruzzo  region and include one of the most ancient grains - spelt (Farro in Italian) as well as Barley, Solina and Senatore Cappelli (a wheat). With each visit to the local farmers, I have been fortunate enough to be able ask them a few questions about themselves and their families histories in working with the land. Daniela is an excellent translator (amongst many, other things....) and has helped me gather these personal stories as we go.... The below is a rough transcript of selected questions I asked Alphonso whilst at his property, sitting by a clear stream drinking wine and eating the produce from his land including bread and fresh raspberries.

:: Alphonso with a farmhand ::
TE: Can I ask of your families history in relation to working the land in this part of Italy?

Alphonso: My family arrived in Capestrano from Naples around 1700. We have always been farmers and cultivated the land for produce but it was my father who first planted wheat. My past Grandfathers were known within the community by a nickname. The name was 'Manina' (this means, 'Little Hand'). My Grandfather worked very hard and had very big hands - so much so that friends would call him Manina, as a joke....

TE: Which are the oldest grains that you grow?

Alphonso: We grow a very ancient strain of Spelt and also Saragolla (the Americans call this Camoot). You must understand though that each grain will grow differently, depending on the nutrients of the soil it is planted in and the elements that it grows by. The Spelt that is planted in America will be very different to the same grain, planted and grown here in Italy.. But it all relates back to that ancient strain.

TE: I have heard many stories about the good memories associated with the time of harvest and they are wonderful to hear but I assume there must be the darker memories also? Can I ask what some of the darker aspects of the time of harvest are?

Alphonso: The hardest aspect for me to see at the time of both past and present harvests, is the difference in the workers. You easily differentiate those who have land and the grain and those who do not. Each year at harvest, there are a number of workers who arrive, who travel for the work and support their families by moving around - going where the harvest is in order to labour for a casual employment. It can be hard for them, their children and their partners. They can have very little and sometimes it is made obvious by small things you see, like the condition of the clothes they and their children are wearing. 

:: The last field of the day ::

The last fields we visited for the day were those of the local shepherd. We were met by his son, Claudio Petronio and taken to a couple of 'spots' the last being the image above. This photo was taken with me standing - the stalks were at that height that you see them. Out of all the places I have visited during this residency, this one, will be the one that I revisit most in my memory... The fields were positioned at the base of these huge mountains that surrounded them on three of their four sides. We reached the location at the end of the day - right as the sun was dropping - so the light was changing rapidly - its spectrum shifting from yellows to reds to blues within the timeframe of an hour. The local wildlife was settling in for its evening. Birds and insects alike were preparing for the night. A solitary duo called to each other across the valley in a gentle rhythm, with the pulse of crickets as their backdrop. There was a small wooden shack there - built by hand - out of rough wood, just for shelter. I fought the urge to go inside, drop my bags and remain there indefinitely.

Sheltered by the mountains - you felt calm and satisfied - the world beyond was no longer.........

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Interview (Part 1) on The Field Reporter

:: Tessa Elieff in residence @ Pollinaria, 2014. Image by Daniela d'Arielli ::

Part One of an interview conducted by fellow Australian field recordist, Jay-Dea Lopez
now published at the online journal, "The Field Reporter'. 
Read it HERE

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Day Four at Pollinaria

Thursday 19th June.

Todays tasks to conquer included visiting the small, locally run flour mill - where I will have the opportunity to record the machines and chat (via Daniella's translation) to the owners/operators and - to meet the shepherd who watches over the sheep that roam over the land of Pollinaria. These two elements are some of the most key connections I have (self) discovered during this short stay and I am very lucky that A) The flour mill is active during this week as it not the typical milling time and B) that Gaetano has been able to contact the shepherd and arrange a simpatico of time and place. 

As the focus of this collaboration between Interferenze and Pollinaria is on the two areas of cultivation - Wheat and Honey - I was a little unsure as to why I was so bent on collecting the sounds and speaking with the shepherd… Perhaps I shouldn't be chasing this element? I keep asking myself 'why is it relevant' and 'why do I feel it's so important?' This would be the moment my peripheral vision opens up and the view converts from mono to stereo. After much pondering I reached the conclusion that the shepherd is a quintessential example of the work-traditions of the people of Abruzzo's parents, grand parents great-grand parents etc, being carried on over to the 'NOW'. These practices' profits are not the highest - their purpose is based on the act of participating in life and contributing to the community - not on exploiting all opportunities to make the most amount of cash possible. The rewards from this work are not always monies - sometimes it's trade or barter - for 'favours' like borrowing equipment or lending a helping hand. These trades are more often than not - not an official agreement - just a friendly conversation and subsequent agreement between  neighbours.

The role of the shepherd (as per the wheat farmers and bee keepers in Abruzzo) is - in my opinion - in the middle of transition - from a working role within a community - purely a position to be filled (so-to-speak), to an act not unlike a ritual…… Perhaps not as formal - definitely not as formal but just as revered and with similar complex worth that supersedes a  superficial currency evaluation.. Hmmm .. More thoughts to come on this I'm sure....

The visit to the flour mill was quite an eye opener… Partly owned by the World Wildlife Fund, it is found within the Natural Reserve of Lago di Penne. Sounds terrible doesn't it - a flour mill in a national park… Well it was absolutely beautiful. The 'factory' part of the mill was housed in a small cylindrical building which contained the noise of the machines remarkably well. I experienced no general 'sky drone' you usually associate with factories and the modest size of it meant it was not overbearing in its surroundings. Once again - the purpose of the mill goes well beyond the act of mass production for high profit. All of the produce they handle is organic and comes from the local farmers and cultivators. To begin to understand the people of these regions you really need to look at the efforts they make to sustain a healthy and balanced lifestyle both physically and mentally - with themselves, each other and their surrounding environments.

To read more on the WWF's involvement please have a look HERE 

:: The flour mill - exterior::

:: The flour mill - interior ::

I spent about an hour recording the machines. Using contact and general room microphones I captured their various drones and mechanisms… I only wish I had more time…. I was able to exercise one favourite method of mine that rarely gets used. The process involves using microphones to capture the sounds of the machine and its various tones as heard in the room - but all in one take. The simplest way to explain it is to say that you are moving the microphone across/around/within the machines as they function - changing the resonances, tones and frequencies that are captured, live - as you are recording. Shifting the microphones as you hear the tones shift - waving them around and moving them over the body of a motor - composing live in a sense… It's a liberating way to record… Very meditative and instinctual. It encourages you to listen intently to the sounds as they shift through the changing positions of the microphone - and then react automatically, moving the mic to sculpt the recording as per a composition… It's by no means - a method used by 'the professionals' but it's one that demands you to be in tune with exactly - what you are capturing sonically...  An excellent way to hone your skills and explore a microphones capabilities...