Palimpsest. ‘Something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form’

– Cathy Turner in Palimpset or Potential Space? Finding a Vocabulary for Site-Specific Performance 

Is it possible for an audio tour to be commemorative? To be able to transport you in to the past? To be an act of remembrance? 

The main emphasis of my Lost Voices project is to make a series of audio episodes. These episodes will link together to make a walk around the village, however, each episode can also be listened to separately.

I have currently made 3 episodes. Two consecutive episodes that link together to make the first part of the walk and a third which will most likely come later in the series once other episodes have been made.

These further episodes are in the process of being created, and has now evolved into two walks which can be done separately or together. The first focuses on the soldiers from the village that fought and survived the war – who may be typically overlooked by most centenary commemorative events – and most of which is currently being researched by Kathy Gee. The second is an extension of the walk made for my university project. Complementing the interview with Phil Mountford, it will include other interviews with village creatives involved in other World War One Commemoration Group commissions, such as the Crown of Thorns installation in the church.

The creation of these 3 episodes has been a real learning experience and it has been incredibly fascinating to talk to the residents of Feckenham. I quickly realised how much research others had been doing in to the history of their houses and the village. There is a real wealth of hidden knowledge around! Everybody has been extremely helpful in sharing what they have found, including old fish hooks, family photos, deeds and long lost relatives, and I am so grateful for their willingness to help me. I am sure I will be back again to see them soon in the creation of the next few episodes… so put the kettle on!

Making Feckenham Flashbacks

As I had specifically focused my project on the village of Feckenham during World War I it seemed sensible to set the scene with a reflection on the village, a consideration of the timescale of 100 years (it is genuinely strange that thinking 100 years in to the past seems closer than thinking 100 years forward) and some local history.

I find with most World War I research, people have a tendency to focus on the soldiers who fought and their stories in the war. Most of the time forgetting about the experiences of those at home. It is almost impossible to explicitly say how families would have felt, but human nature surely remains the same. How would you feel if your son, father, brother went away with the possibility of never coming back? I never actually say this but I wanted to encourage the listener to really think about an active village. The people, the houses they lived in, their work lives and social lives. Connecting this with the houses we live in and what we do now. Introducing a personal reflection and the listener’s observations in to the piece.

I was also encouraged to look for works of fiction written around this area in the early 1900s to help me understand what Feckenham was like. I looked expecting to find nothing, and came across ‘The Feckenham Men’ by John Drinkwater first published in 1912. I was so struck by finding this and thought it would be a great addition to the episode, perfectly illustrating the rural side to the village (and its many pubs!).

The episode’s script was loosely based around an interview I had with Elizabeth Atkins, a Feckenham historian, and many subsequent questions since then via email and phone calls. Parts of our conversation can be heard throughout the episode. I also had a chance conversation with Enid Whitehead about living in the old mill house which can be heard also. Thank you to both for agreeing to be included.

All the background sounds heard in the episode are recorded in the village, mainly The Square, these include birds singing, church bell ringers practicing and horses passing by. I intended to create an authentic soundscape at the beginning to set the scene, which then cuts and allows listeners to hear the live sounds of The Square (for those listening there).

The episode ends asking listeners to tie a red ribbon around one of the crosses placed in the ground by the memorial from Remembrance Sunday. Acting as a reminder that we do not only have to remember those who died once a year. This simple act brings together those who have listened and taken the same journey. Connecting us together in the Feckenham of today and the Feckenham of 100 years ago. This then leads nicely to a moment of reflection at the memorial in the next episode.

Making We Will Remember Them

The main inspiration for this episode was Remembrance Day. It has always struck me how despite hearing the same names for almost 20 years, I did not know anything about them. Therefore, I wanted listeners to gather around the memorial to reflect upon the 12 men from the village and learn about their lives. These are structured in chronological order of when they died.

I decided to keep these biographies short for three reasons. Firstly, you are more likely to have people agree to be recorded to read. Secondly, you do not want to be stood in the same place for over an hour. Thirdly, a more in depth biography of the soldiers can be read on this website. (See ‘The Fallen’) The information used in the soldier’s biographies, read in the episode, was taken from the 1911 Census, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, “Major Swindell’s World War 1 Diary” and the research of Richard Pearce.

Using 14 different voices from the village I wanted to represent Feckenham’s community today. In most cases the person reading lived in the house of that soldier. In other cases, their family had lived in the village for generations, were relatives, knew the family or had the same profession (e.g. a teacher at Feckenham First School).

The voices featured on the episode in order of appearance are: Oliver White, Keith French, Pete Masters, Linda Harris, Isabella Crellin, Phillip Talbot, Kathy Gee, Enid Whitehead, Theresa Howard, Archie Clarke, Chris Fletcher, Alistair Wormington, Joe Roberts and Richard Hillman.

The first and last names of this list both read poems. The first was The Solider by Rupert Brooke and the last was the famous verse from For the Fallen by Robert Laurence Binyon. Both chosen for their poignancy and significance in relation to Remembrance services and World War I. Richard Hillman has read For the Fallen for many years during the Remembrance service in Feckenham and his reading always sticks in my memory.

The backing music used in this episode is entitled Remembrance. It is one of the pieces of music commissioned by the Feckenham WWI commemoration group, composed by Phil Mountford. A striking piece, with appropriate lyrics to this episode.

Running at around 6 minutes in length this episode is a short opportunity for reflection and recognition of the lives behind the names we, as a village, have been reading for years.

Making An Interview with Phil Mountford

This episode is more informal and much less reflective. Providing diversity and contrast in the series.

Not many people are aware of who Phil Mountford is, as he is not local, and what he is doing for the Feckenham WWI commemoration group. I therefore felt it was important to talk to him about his process of composing 9 pieces of music designed to reflect World War I, in the run up to the 3 performances of these pieces in St John the Baptist Church. One in June and two in November.

The episode starts with a recording of the village choir practicing one of his pieces and all of the pieces Phil has composed so far can be heard in the background of the interview.

The questions I asked within the episode were:

How did you get involved with this project?

How many pieces of music have you composed?

How did you find negotiating a subject like WWI that requires to be respectfully dealt with?

Do you think the composing and performance of the music itself could be a form of commemoration and/or some sort of memorial? Had you ever considered that possibility?

The last question was particularly important to me as, much like me, he is creating something performative in response to something he never experienced. To be used in a village performance to remember the events of World War I. I wanted to learn his take on what he considered his process of composition and ultimately performance to be. As a performance studies student I consider performance to be able to do many things, including be a commemorative act. I was curious to see if he thought the same.

… and to answer the question at the top of this post. I don’t know. I think that is a personal opinion. You will have to tell me.