Sometimes We Wake is a sound walk reflecting on memory, place and the queer narrative in my songwriting. It centres on the Palm House in Botanic Gardens, and is based on a music performance that took place there in 2009. From the creation of the sound walk, a new performance was held at the Palm House in 2019 featuring Hive Choir. Read about both below.
The sound walk is now available for Sound of Belfast 2023 between 9-19th November 2023. Details of how to access the audio walk can be found below.
I had never thought about creating a sound walk until I visited the Whitechapel Gallery in London and made an impromptu decision to borrow an iPod containing Janet Cardiff’s sound walk The Missing Voice: Case Study B. Whilst being immersed in a fictional crime story set in the surrounding streets of East London, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the places it made me pay attention to, places I had walked past before and never noticed. It inspired a desire to create my own sound walk.
Thinking of possible subjects, the Palm House in Botanic Gardens sprung to mind. In 2009 I had performed an acoustic gig there with another band called Albrecht’s Pencil. (You can see clips from that event on the video page). It was an unusual event; one of those great shows you never forget and remembering it made me reflect on the songs I was writing at that time with their hidden queer expression.
In 2017 I was interviewed by BBC Radio Ulster for a programme about LGBT musicians in Northern Ireland. In the interview I spoke about how music was the only way I found I could express and articulate my queer experiences. It was the first time I had spoke publicly about the gay themes in my song writing and I felt ready to speak about those songs more openly.
I began to visit the Palm House regularly to let the ideas grow, to pay attention to those details it is easy to walk past. One of those days I noticed a hanging frame containing writing by Forrest Reid, a local author born in 1875. In the text he recalled his experiences of the Palm House as a child. The excerpt is taken from his first autobiography Apostate in which he also writes about discovering and dealing with his homosexuality. Although nearly a hundred years apart, his experiences felt so familiar and helped the sound walk to take shape.
This sound walk invites you to walk with me through the Palm House and listen to my experience of being and performing in the venue in 2009, reflecting on the songs I was writing at that time and merging my memories with the writings of a local queer author almost a hundred years before.
How to access the sound walk
The sound walk is intended to be listened to as you walk around the Palm House in Botanic Gardens, Belfast and lasts 14 minutes. Begin the sound walk while standing outside the main entrance to the conservatory and let my voice guide you.
2. Click the search icon and enter Sometimes We Wake. It should appear under Walks, click the poster image to access it.
Alternatively, you might see the walk in the Near You section, or return to this webpage and click this link to take you directly to it: Sometimes We Wake
3. You can either stream the walk or download it to your phone if your signal is not great.
4. Put on your headphones and click Stream Walk or Start. You will see a grey circle over a b/w map of the Palm House location and you should also be able to locate yourself in relation to it.
5. The audio will start when you are standing within this grey area which covers the pedestrian area in front of the Palm House entrance in Botanic Gardens.
6. Listen to the audio as it begins, and you will hear my voice guide you inside and around the building. I hope you enjoy it.
7. If you need to access the audio file at any time to pause or restart it, you can find the audio player by clicking the list icon (3 dots with lines) at the top right of the screen. Then click the blue dropdown arrow to reveal the player and toggle off the Autoplay switch to access it.
Sound Walk Credits
Narration and vocals by Richard Davis
Cello by Laura McFadden
Forrest Reid excerpts are taken from his 1926 autobiography ‘Apostate’ and read by Maurice Macartney
Thanks to Laura McFadden and Chris McCorry for their conversations in remembering the 2009 performance and to all members of Albrecht’s Pencil and Heliopause for their instrumentation on Just this Once. All songs featured in the sound walk are from the album Walk into the Sea.
Sometimes We Wake (live performance)
A performance emerged out of the creation of the sound walk. It was a new rendition of Mon Peu Rimbaud. Collaborating with HIVE Choir, the structure was inspired by the song Parallelograms by Linda Perhacs, the work of Trevor Wishart and the cut-up technique of William S. Burroughs.
Using muscle and motion sensors to control and manipulate sampled vocals of the lyrics, I performed this extended, experimental version of the song in the beautiful resonant setting of the Palm House conservatory on 1st September 2019.
You can watch the 360 video documentation of the performance below.
Note: This video is best viewed within the YouTube app on your mobile device. Set the video quality to full and wear headphones to experience the subtle spatial audio.
Thanks to Hive Choir for their collaboration and voices. Thanks to Miguel Ortiz, Javier Jaimovich and Francisca Morand for their technical and performative knowledge that informed the interactions and thanks to David Bird and Pavlína Horvátová at Sonic Arts Research Centre for their practical support. Thanks to Belfast City Council and the team at Botanic Gardens for hosting the event.