Thursday, October 11, 2007

Awakening the Stones

Thursday, October 11, 2007
Barcelona, Spain

Awakening the Stones: playing harps in Ireland’s stone circles

I’ve been off Ireland’s soil for a little less than 24 hours now and I’ve wanted to express my experience playing the harp, or even just letting it sing in the wind, in the stone circles we’ve visited. Debra and I brought harps into 4 circles: 2 near the Co. Kerry town of Kenmare a couple of weeks ago, and 2 more on Monday, as we left Culdaff and the Inishowen Peninsula in Co. Donegal. Each time we found an ideal recording wind, not a coincidence as the circles we’ve visited are all sited on mounds or low hills, surrounded by a circular depression or set of valleys, which in turn are ringed by higher hills or mountains. Of the four circles and winds, I hope that the 2nd one yields a good windharp recording.

As I walk toward and then around a circle, the first thing I’m aware of is the silence…again, no coincidence as the setting has been rural, open, either pasture or hill slope. But the silence is the first thing that registers. Then the wind. There may be sheep or cattle nearby and there may be occasional birds. But these soft and subtle sounds of another presence complete the silence; they do not break or intrude upon it.

We tend not to talk to each other at first. We each take our own path around or into a circle. I don’t fantasize an awareness, but I do sense a presence, if only of time…these are human artifacts still standing in landscape as much as 5000 years after they were placed here. I touch the occasional stone, wondering where it came from, and what it signifies in its location. I lean into its warmth if the day has soaked a little sun into its surface.

Once we pull out the harps and they start responding to the wind, we let that be the substance and foundation of the sound. In an “improvisational tuning” the harps give the most resonant quality of sound, and we also have an easier time improvising both with the wind and with each other. The combination of wind, harps, and stone circles becomes its own iterative or self-perpetuating experience, where one exists within and because of the other.

There is much more beneath this quick summation, but time runs along and I must catch up…but to finish with this:

At the last circle I did not take my harp, it was packed and inaccessible for the short time we had. This was the Beltany Stone Circle near Strabane, and we were en route south and off the island. I began to walk around the outside of the circle as Debra unpacked her harp. I heard its instant windsong over my right shoulder as I progressed and suddenly the notion of “wakening the stones” came to me…as always with me, this was a set of words and images that bubbled up from within, I couldn’t and wouldn’t go so far as to say it came from anywhere “out there”. So with that careful (science-based!) caveat, I maintain that the idea of “wakening the stones” was a valid one, and so I let it be…the stones were wakening with the presence and sound of harps in their midst. And when was the last time that happened?

Go here: for visual and a bit of sound at the Uragh circle near Kenmare, Co. Kerry, shot by a woman on a Celtic mystery tour.

No comments: