Phone Box Artist – Tina Hitchens – Christchurch

Tina Hitchens

Location of phone box Christchurch

Tina is a composer and sound artist who works with a range of sounds including field recordings, electronic and acoustic elements, and voices. She then collaborates with groups and artists from other disciplines. Recent projects include as a recipient of an ‘Interpreting Isolation’ grant from the British Music Collection and Sound & Music: Tina collaborated with artist Sam Francis to produce a new work, High Tide. She was also composer for Freya Gabie’s Grafted Chorus – a project for the ‘Future Perfect‘ public arts programme, a Halftone collaboration with artist Benjamin A Owen at Supernormal Festival, and Amalgams produced by the ONOMATO collective. She was a composer / improviser for artist Benjamin A Owen’s Goldfinch film events, collaborated with Field Sports / Fold Music, and was a flautist for Song 5 of Welsh National Opera’s Occupation – Five songs that shook the world.

Tina has worked with the Welsh National Opera, NaDonal Dance Company Wales, PM Music Ensemble, National Theatre Wales, The Sherman Theatre, and multiple smaller groups. She co-founded Cardiff New Music Collective, a group dedicated to performing rarely-heard repertoire, as well as commissioning new works. Tina was a composer / performer for Dots.filmband, who composed and improvised live soundscapes for contemporary short films.

I engaged with:

GSS – glosspeleosoc / Gloucester Speleological Society

Research at Christchurch:

Originally I had a few different ideas for the research phase of the Phone Box Project. I had thought that I could concentrate on collecting people’s stories about their lives in the Forest, with some emphasis on also recording environmental sounds. Over time though, after making contact with a group of cavers (GSS / glosspeleosoc / Gloucester Speleological Society), I decided to focus on collecting sounds from the caves and mines across the Forest area. I anticipated that I would be able to gather lots of sound material to weave into a final sound piece.

I went on lots of trips into caves and mines. This wasn’t without challenges in terms of recording sound; some of which I had anticipated and some I hadn’t. Finding a way to carry a field recorder inside a cave suit, in very wet and muddy caves, took a bit of experimentation. I did manage to capture some great sounds, and I was aware that it was a great opportunity to be able to bring those sounds ‘to the surface’, to those who might not usually have the opportunity to experience them. I was surprised by the acoustics of different areas – I had expected big chambers and huge sounds, but actually some caves can be pretty quiet! However, the GSS cavers were great in helping me capture exciting sounds – lobbing rocks into underground water, doing some glorious singing in a cavern, and placing ourselves in different passages to see how much we could hear each other. Being underground was physically challenging and meant I had to stay really aware of my movements – but this also meant I focused more on the environment around me; including it’s sounds and how I might use them in the final project.

Stories from my research:

Seeing Daubenton’s, Greater Horseshoe and Horseshoe bats was a highlight of the trips. It’s easy to miss them if you’re not looking carefully; they tend to tuck themselves away nearer the surface. We made sure we passed them quietly as we could – and they seemed to sleep through and be unbothered by us.

I also learned that there’s such a thing as ‘cave scum’. It’s a foam that appears on the surface of underground water, though it’s unclear where its source is. Somehow the Forest cavers have worked out that it’s repelled by ear wax, as was beautifully demonstrated by one of the group!

My trips into the caves were done in the evenings during January and February 2019. Usually we’d meet around 7pm which meant getting kitted out with our caving gear by the light of car headlights – usually in a small lane somewhere quite remote, which added to the sense of adventure. The weather was pretty stormy during those months, but going into the caves removed us from the outside world – often it was quite a lot warmer, certainly less windy, and felt like a bit of a cocoon. The trips could last a few hours, and it was a surprise to emerge back out into the wild night afterwards.

I’d expected that the experience would be physically challenging, but the trips really were more exhausting that I imagined. Some of the caves and mines stretch for miles underground, and there’s a lot of scrambling, squeezing and wriggling involved. Amazingly, the cavers often have full mental maps of the area, having memorised all the passages and how they connect. In the old mines there was evidence of history everywhere, which GSS members were really knowledgeable about. We saw deposits of ore, old pick marks, wooden struts, ochre, and smaller mining areas where children would have been put to work.

Links

Audio is online at: https://tinahitchens.bandcamp.com/album/caves.

What I enjoyed about the research period and our hopes for future development:

I loved having the opportunity to explore the Forest area more, and make connections with people in the community. The idea of going underground into caves was really scary at first, but it was such an achievement to be able to do it under the kind guidance of the GSS people. They were really encouraging, and I felt safe with them. It felt like such an adventure, to be suddenly immersed into a new type of underground world with its strange sounds. GSS members have huge knowledge about the history of the Forest area, both in terms of mining / caving and in terms of social history; language, customs, etc. It was a privilege to be able to record some of these stories at the same Dme as joining them on their underground adventures. I think it attuned my listening skills too – it helped me develop my appreciation for subtle, nuanced sounds.

I really hope it’ll be possible for us to deliver our work soon! At the moment the pieces I’ve produced are a work in progress; they use only the sounds I’ve captured in the caves. In some cases the sounds have been treated and effected, but in others they have been left exactly as they were recorded. For the final piece of work I will weave these sounds into a bigger composition, using instruments and voices to expand and develop. I would also love to return to the caves to record more environmental sounds – but also I’d like to record more of the cavers’ stories about their lives in the Forest and the history of the caves and mines to use in the final piece. My intention is to place the final sound piece into an old phone in one of the phone boxes. As visitors pick up the phone my hope is that they’ll be given an opportunity to pause and be taken into an intimate underground realm, expanded with stories and the music inspired by them.

Email  tinahitchens0@gmail.com

Website www.tinahitchens.com