This page has been updated regularly as the project unfolded. But now, it is done!

30 May 2015 | performance

To wrap up the residency I "performed" five of the texts from this blog, alternating with five location recordings. Photographs were hung in the gallery. People were free to move about the space, which was especially important as I had made quad mixes. Different locations in the room would reveal different aspects of the sounds. Here are four excerpts:

That's a wrap! I'd like to once again thank everyone who gave their time to show me around Cork, and especially my hosts at The Guesthouse. Thanks to Susannah Kelly for this photo.

29 May 2015 | representations of Shandon

This entry documents some of the ways Shandon is represented in street art and otherwise.

Vibrant mural for the Shandon Street Festival, which I have experienced in all its sights and sounds. By luck it's on again this weekend.

Imaginative mural painted this year by the transition year class of the North Monastery Secondary School.

Voices From Shandon was a community arts project that resulted in bunting strung from St. Anne's, representing many cultures and influences.

A Pride of Place mural decorates a hoarding around a disused site. The Sweet Shop and other local businesses incorporate the iconic St. Anne's tower.

Across the river, the Shandon Tower still holds sway. Two men talk outside a bar, next to a particularly bold representation. Inside The Guesthouse itself, the tower is modeled inside a glass jar that reminds me of the spice container from my first blog entry (see below).

26 May 2015 | the nature construct

The garden has long been a refuge from urban life. We visit a garden or park to recharge our batteries, to escape anxieties, to change the tempo of our day. The pastoral has restorative powers. A visit to a park brings us closer to those ideals we incorporate into the concept of paradise.

This practice of creating a bucolic setting highlights certain contradictions. How can we deliberately construct a place that will stand in for settings that presumably existed before such processes of construction?

The orgins of the word "garden" may be found in the Latin hortus gardinus, meaning a cultivated, enclosed area. This definition reveals that there has never been a garden without limitation. A perimeter delimits the extent of the garden from other territories. The frame is a necessary part of the formulation.

Similarly, "paradise" emphasises the border, the perimeter. The word derives from the Persian paridaeza, which means an enclosed orchard. The various mythological formulations of paradise, of which Virgil's Arcadia and the Christian Garden of Eden are exemplars, all emphasise the circumscribed nature of their respective harmonies. Arcadia may be a land of bountiful natural splendour, but it is ultimately unattainable. Eden is a paradise from which we were cast out, and can never again gain worldly entry.

If every park is there to remind us of what we cannot have, then each garden echoes the thought that nature is a concept we have invented for ourselves. This is not a negative conclusion; it does not leave me melancholy. On the contrary, it grants license to imagination. We are free to construct new places that incorporate aspects of nature (the uncontrolled, the unruly, the rhizomatic) into the formalised topologies of our built environments. We can do so without buying into philosophies that emphasise hierarchy, frustration, and loss.

John explains where the tree used to be, before a visitor cut it down in a rage. He points to the cluster of saplings that survived.

Ollie shows me his tomato plants, apparently the tastiest in all of Cork. He has special methods of tending them, which includes conversation. "Tomatoes love talk", he informs me.

In Bishop Lucey Park a man sits on a step, his head hung down below his knees, an empty bottle between his legs.

Irene gives me a Chinese mixture of herbs for my cough. The detailed list of ingredients is too small to read.

26 May 2015 | some strange geomancy

John Byrne, a local man with deep knowledge about music and history, takes me on a walk. We start downhill from Shandon, passing St. Mary's Pro-Cathedral on its far side, Cathedral Walk. Here we cross over John Street Upper (a trip that can result in escapades such as that recounted in the last entry). On the east side of the highway are stairs going up the hill, the Fever Hospital Steps, as they are known by those who once trod their way down to that sad destination.

Halfway up the hill is Lady's Well, a holy well like 3000 others in Ireland, each claimed to have miraculous properties. This site gave its name to the establishment opposite, Lady's Well Brewery, constructed within the grounds of an 18th century foundling hospital. Today, rather more prosaically, it is Heineken Brewery, not known to have any beneficial properties whatsoever.

The Well itself is in extreme disrepair, the entire area quite blighted by neglect. Further up the stairs Shandon Court presents a more genteel facade. On this day Bell's Field, the green between Richmond Hill and Audley Place, always well-used, is being tended and mowed. This contrast between the kempt and unkempt, in close proximity, is repeated throughout the walk.

Two shops, one to our right facing against the hill (that's Marian Stores), the other before us on the left, a little further up, are now closed. Contemporary residents must brave one hill or another to get their pint of milk, as there is no local vendor.

Youghal Old Road presents a daunting gauntlet run between two high walls. Gates to the sporting grounds are locked. A black helicopter circles Collins Barracks. What once were passable walkways between roads have been long since choked with thick weed. Bells toll for a funeral. Shattered glass rims the top of stone walls. John points out where soldiers once assembled for the march from their lodgings to the military grounds. The entire zone is a strange vortex of conflicting energies.

Two particular spots are emblematic. On Military Road a large enigmatic structure looms between residential houses. It might be a tower with its head lopped off, or a large pedestal for a missing statue. But, no, it is in fact an exhaust chimney for the rail line that runs underground, from Kent Station to Limerick and Dublin.

The second site is even more obscure. John tells me he once peered through a gate here and found "a portal to a load of plastic hurleys". Now it's been concreted over, in a strange geometry I find compelling.

I present the two photos above as evidence of some strange geomancy operational in this area.

22 May 2015 | Man, you tried

I was returning from an hour spent sampling the city's nightscape from Patrick's Hill... the sights and sounds, the way the city changes its aspect under artificial illumination. This was time happily spent, which I might document in a further entry. I walked down Richmond Hill and zigzagged to Devonshire Street. It was late enough that the bars had closed. Streets were empty.

To make my way I needed to cross John Street Upper, which is also the N20 motorway to Limerick, already at this point a divided highway with brisk traffic.

I was halfway across the divide when a car came across me with no lights. Luckily, I was attentive, so was in no personal danger. But I worried for others, especially those pedestrians with drink taken. So I tried to flag the car down, crossing back half-way across the highway to get their attention. But they were oblivious in their cocoon of darkness.

Making it safely to the Shandon side, I started up the little alley that climbs the hill. Another vehicle turned in beside me and an excited driver called out.

"Hey, man! I saw that guy! They had no lights and you tried to tell them. Wow, man!"

We had a short exchange in which he permuted the same lines, in fascinating fashion. I bid him goodnight. I made my way up the hill and right over to Shandon Street, in a vain attempt at finding somewhere open for food. But, no luck; it was later than I had thought.

I change direction to my flat, by way of one of the little alleys, perhaps the rather grandiosely named Eason's Ave. There, putting the key in the lock of his house, was the same man I'd seen on the other side of Shandon ten minutes prior.

"Hey, man! You tried. I saw what that guy did, driving with no lights. And you tried to tell them!"

I again wish him a good night. In the remaining 100 meters to my own front door I wonder if I'll see him a third time. Perhaps he will appear magically on Chapel Street, to once more encourage and congratulate me.

Walking up the stairs to my room, I break into spontaneous laughter. In my mind's eye I imagine him still, standing in his living room, gesticulating wildly and talking to no-one in particular.

"You tried to tell them, man, you tried!"

18 and 26 May 2015 | A View of Cork

If there is one painting that provides a perspective (literally and figuratively) on Cork, it is "A View of Cork From Audley Place". On my first Monday in the city I find it in The Crawford Gallery; it's mentioned to me in conversation almost immediately; John Byrne tells me about it again a week later. It's a well-known painting and everyone in Cork would like to share it with me.

The canvas was painted in oils around 1750 by John Butts (ca. 1728-1764) of the rather obviously named Irish School. It is historically significant for portraying a Huguenot Cork now largely disappeared. None of the distinctive gable-fronted houses have survived the intervening changes, which included significant land reclamation. The current-day Patrick Street, which winds its way through the central shopping district, was pictured here as it was in the eighteenth century -- a river!

The painting is also notable for two particular landmarks it displays. The first is St. Anne's Tower in Shandon. The perspective is from the top of Patrick's Hill, which unusually places the tower below us. This is what drew my own attention to the painting, since I was interested in how this tower, meters away from my flat, would influence my own stay in Cork.

If you look at the full canvas (available here) then you will see the second landmark, the Old Custom House (built 1724). This is significant in that it is the very Crawford Art Gallery in which the picture hangs. Once I realised this, I experienced the strange effect of being re-placed; can one be looking at the building from a distance and be inside it at the same time?

This uncanny experience was reinforced by the feeling that something is amiss about the vista as framed. I decided I would have to climb the hill to be sure, but in the meantime read a commentary that points to a cheat. The painting in fact combines two different perspectives on the city, though it is not specified where one would have to stand to see the second of these. (I would like to know.)

We are well used to being fooled by video editing, optical illusion, photo manipulation, and so on. Though sceptical of contemporary technologies, we might be tempted to put more trust in a classical method like oil painting. But this would be to ignore many distortin ginfluences: phenomenological subjectivities, aesthetic considerations, pedagogical imperatives, political and social bias. There are a whole host of forces that might have trumped any "simple" desire the painter had to represent a landscape.

"A View of Cork From Audley Place" misleads in its very title. Or maybe it is a clever invitation to question the role of painting in the representation of place... and our own role in this formulation.

This goes some way to explaining my in situ photograph of the painting (above). I am often uncomfortable photographing art, since this generally serves no real purpose outside simple replication. I wanted to ensure that this photo marked the occasion, reflecting this particular viewing. I suppose I wanted to make the canvas mine, in some sense.

My first decision was to frame the scene so as to place St. Anne's in the middle, since it's the epicentre of my explorations. Second, I chose to emphasise the reflection rather than the canvas surface. The has the amusing effect of recasting the figures as actors in a different sort of spectacle. "What is that bright blue light?" one exclaims, pointing at the phantasm before them.

It's the wake of a time-traveller, but they'll never know.

20 May 2015 | Ballincollig Royal Gunpowder Works

Special Rules To Be Observed By The Workmen And Others Employed On The Gunpowder Works Ballincollig, Ireland, 1901

1. Smoking is strictly prohibited in any part of the Works, Grounds, Roads etc belonging to the Factory.

2. Lucifer matches, Cigar Lights, or other combustibles, are on no account to be brought into any part of the Works or Grounds, excepting by those persons who have residence within the Factory grounds, and then only for their use within their houses.

3. The workpeople are not to carry Keys, Knives, or other articles of Iron or Steel about their persons when employed in or about the Factory.

4. The Workpeople employed in any Powder House, Mill or Boat, or in the Watch Houses, are to change their clothes and boots and put on working dress (without pockets or metal buttons) and slippers before commencing work. The practice of turning up the working trousers at the ankle is strictly forbidden, as experience proves that small stones and gritty particles are very apt to be carried into the Houses thereby.

5. No persons shall enter a Powder House or Boat without first putting on Magazine shoes and leaving the ordinary shoes in the Box provided for the purpose.

19 May 2015 | as bottles turn softly in careful hands

You can't escape the sound of the rail. It travels through window frame and glass and brick alike. But having grown up by the tracks, the sound is not heard as noise. It's soothing, rendered so by long familiarity. It might wake you in the morning, but it's a comfort, something you can rely on. A something which seems to rely on you. It's there to nestle you in sleep. It forms out of dreams and instantiates itself through the floors and wallpaper. It counts away the hours, a reliable schedule, like the tide.

He works behind the bar at The Oval. It's a split shift, with two hours off starting at 7pm. The first shift is slow, so he fills the time by cleaning the spirit bottles, dusting each in turn. You can never keep up with the dust, he says, with a smile. But his attitude is plain as porter. This is not a task, but a responsibility. There is no finer thing to be doing at this moment than talking shite with a customer and cleaning the bottles of dust.

He's lived his whole life above the tracks. In three different homes, but always near the railway, in the vicinity of Kent Station. In Cork your life is spent on the up and the down, on hill and valley. Walking the steps and inclines. This defines experience from the ankles, up through sinew and muscle.

The first time he stood on the track bed he experienced the uncanny. It was his boldest and most absolute taste of "flat". The artificially graded surface extended from bank to platform and as far as the railway ties are laid. So perfectly, unrealistically flat. This geometry haunts his memories still. As bottles turn softly in careful hands.

22 May 2015 | planing with Harry

sound of the plane that goes snicker
drift of the plane that sounds snack

sound of the plane that goes snicker
drift of the plane that sounds snack

sound of the plane that goes snicker
drift of the plane that sounds snack

sound of the wood grit and
slide snick scratch
grate as it catch...

"see, there's the knot!"

grind it down
slide it down
level it out
grind around
and, now...

sound of the plane that goes snicker
drift of the plane that sounds snack

sound of the plane that goes snicker
drift of the plane that sounds snack

18 May 2015 | modesty

Sculpture in the window of The Crawford Gallery.

18 May 2015 | stripped to the waist

This weekend it's the Eurovision finals. And there's a pub in Shandon where the men will gather to cheer on the contestants, stripped to the waist. Tony tells me this with a cunning gleam in his eye. He tells me of his great passion for Eurovision. And how this pub will be the place to be to watch the finals.

We've just been talking about anthropology and musicology, about which Tony has great knowledge and passion. So I am not sure, really, whether his interest in this gathering of half-naked men is a professional one.

This year in Ireland there is a referendum on marriage equality. Tony tells me that the timing is unfortunate. The referendum is stealing the limelight from Eurovision. Nonetheless, campaigners will be going directly from the polling stations to the pub, to celebrate the victories of equality in a melange of pop songs. Stripped to the waist.

It is safe to say that I have never understood Irish politics.

18 May 2015 | bells, bells, bells

Any stay in Shandon is dominated by the bells of St. Anne's, which toll all day and all night. They are disruptive to sleep and everyday activities. Some residents adjust in time, but others never do, and continue to be woken at odd hours of the morning by the persistent ringing.

It is almost worse in the daytime, when tourists try their hand at "Singing in the Rain" or "Over the Rainbow", inevitably getting notes and rhythm incorrect.

When a Shandon resident has finally had enough, they complain at the church or to city hall. Why do bells have to sound at 4am? They are not calling anyone to mass and serve litle function in an age where every device we touch will tell us the time quite accurately.

The answer seems to be that they have sounded since 1752 and will continue. It's a tradition.

But I am sure that there is more to it than that. The bells act to define Shandon, to distinguish it from areas to the east or west, but most especially to mark out the north side of the city from the south. The people here have a special character, and part of that arises from a tolerance for the bells themselves.

Though some say the incessant tolling also accounts for the large number of pubs in the area. People are driven to drink by the Shandon Bells.

17 May 2015 | stones and detritus

Since they have nowhere else to be, they are here, a group of young people on a Sunday night. Some gather on the benches on one side of the rail platform. Three jump into the pit that houses the track, scurry to the other side, then sit and take up gravel in their hands. A girl, maybe fourteen, throws a large stone, attempting to hit her friends on the other side of the channel. It falls heavily and lands on the metal track.

There is a dull clang that I hear only as compression waves in the air. I must imagine the vibrations along the track, repercussions ringing all the way to the front wheels of the approaching locomotive. And when the news is sent back, these almost-adults laugh and scream in mock terror, running across the path of the lumbering metal, climbing back onto the platform.

The train brought them here; they brought the train here. It is a ritual, an invocation, a conjuring.

17 May 2015 | sounding without sound

I have made a decision already, two days into the project. This diary will not contain any sounds, though it is indeed a sounding. This rather unorthodox decision should be explained.

We are well used to visual language defining our perception. Of all our many senses (and we have far more than five), the visual dominates language and philosophy. We "see clearly" to the "horizon" of our experience while hopefully not turning "a blind eye". As a sound artist, I know that a world view (oops!) formed of only one sense isn't enough to accurately represent our experience. But neither do I want to replace one sensual hegemony with another.

I use the term "sounding" to express a certain active engagement with our environment (I should write more about this later), but I don't restrict this engagement to the acoustic. After all, if the ocular can stand in for our entire sensorium, why not the aural?

We can sound out a street by walking. We can sound a room by breathing. We can sound out a person through conversation.

It is these sorts of experiences I will write about and illustrate here. Though, yes, there will also be sounds, in time. For now I give you a Pope, a bargain at only 30 Euro.

It's the sale of the century. It's Ireland in 2015.

17 May 2015 | a child sounds a room

A small girl walks into the exhibit, which commemorates the sinking of the Lusitania. She is oblivious to the photos on the wall or the text on the transluscent hanging banners. She sings as she enters, sounding out the space. Her young clear voice wavers only briefly, then settles around one particular pitch. Through the wide glass doors, we can watch the waves crash in silence. Rain approaches on the disturbed surface of the bay. The child's wavering tone is the resonant frequency of this particular topology. Now that it has defined her, she is free to dart away to the next room, immediately switching song. As the tide comes in, so does the storm.

16 May 2015 | a convivial gathering

The project is launched with a dinner hosted by Mick O'Shea and Irene Murphy, two of the directors of The Guesthouse. Also present are Susannah Kelly and artist and art historian Deborah Barkun, an outgoing resident here. On the menu are Dublin Bay prawns in Szechuan sauce and Seafood Udon Soup, both featuring the daily catch from Cork's famous market. I make a note to visit the source of these fantastic ingredients as soon as possible.

Every now and then I meet people who are not fascinated by the aesthetic possibilities of food, but they must surely be in the minority. What else but food brings together sight, smell, taste, texture -- and good conversation -- in the same way? I make it a point to try anything I am offered, and in this household that might mean boar's head stew or cinder toffee.

10 May 2015 | an invitation

There is always something before the beginning. Prior to this residency I send out invitations.

© 2015 Robin Parmar