Hither Green Drone Orchestra - sketch by JCM

A Community of Musicians Celebrates the Coming of Summer

A drone, a hum, a whisper, a flutter, the sound of a horse in the clouds.

The park behind the station in SE London’s Hither Green performs Pauline Oliveros ‘Horse Sings from Cloud’. The park sits in the sunshine, shines in the mid-May air.

Accordions squeak, trumpets fuzz, vocalists buzz and flurry. The molecules are energised. The park becomes living and breathing sound.

Richard Sanderson, maestro and magician stands proud with melodeon, pushing and pulling the weather inside and out. A greyhound with a badly-mended paw shuffles in-between the performers.

A fine day for coming outside to celebrate the early summer. A beautiful day for meeting friends and family.

If this was a pagan country, and perhaps it still is, I would say this is a ritual to bring the sun, to bring the wind and call the birds to prayer.

Office workers, weekday architects, shopkeepers and computer engineers are here for the weekend with their loved ones. Children push toys, get inside plastic cars, and today they also bash and clang sound sculptures including the grown-up toys created by artist-musician Giles Leaman.

Since Sanderson decided to dedicate his musical and personal talents for unique curation to his local area Manor Park by the Quaggy River has been reborn in alternative sounds, with the support of the fine people of the Arts Cafe, Fred and Banu Schmid, patrons of the arts, leaders in kindness and creating affirmative spaces where good things should happen, and do.

I am out for the afternoon, too hot in my big scarf, too hot in my tights, but expectant and enlightened by the complex sound drone. There’s faces I know behind the instruments. Julie Pickard with her accordion. Faces that are familiar but which I don’t know so well. Lou Barnell using her voice through whirling tubes. A complexity of texture at low volume. Evocative. Lurca. Anthony Osborne. Eye Spirit. Hannah White. Richard with his melodeon.

Perhaps above, horses really are singing in the clouds. Dreams come true in the city as well as in the past. We need outdoor rituals at this time of the year to drag the summer in.

There is a principle of positive energy on which some ideas of pagan magic may draw. An idea of sympathetic magic. If we display vivacity that will pull the sun around the earth and make a good summer.

And many spells depend upon sound. Upon rhythm. Upon sound makers.

Tak tak tak. Such banging and tapping is meaningful. These sounds may speed up the sun. This is expected to happen in at least one Latvian sun cycle song when the sun is called upon to set sooner so that the peasant workers may go home to rest.

Today the dominant sound is a drone. A bee buzz, and rustle, a long drawn-out breath. Drones are powerful, meditative, reflective sounds. They draw the ego inside the self. The brain becomes less judgemental. They custion anxiety, decrease the cognitive barrier between our sense of who we are and the outside world.

The church have nurtured sounds that encourage this loss of sense of self. Through reverb they have expanded them further with their sound chambers. Church musicians also know the power of the ensemble. And of the procession. The know the value of surround sound. Of the drone. Of multiple voices, quiet, together, cleverly staggering breath so that who knows where they begin and when they stop. Like the voices of angels the sound becomes long and smooth, longer than a natural breath. Many join into one impossible breath. Angels are not human and do not need to break. And so, the sound of the chorus mimics the sound of the heavenly choir.

Up above us, the clouds are forming shapes. Here is a horse, rearing out of a cumulus. There is a snake, sliding into the blue. Here a dog, here a horse. Our two old allies.

The horse is our friend, although we have grown away from horse culture and continue to grow further away every day. For now we have a newer friend, the machine. The horse is still a symbol of comradeship and intense physicality, warm and sweaty, noisey and temperamental. The machine is not, cannot be, will never be that, or maybe with AI and hybrid developments it may be one day but not yet. The horse is a symbol of life, It may stand for the summer, for the temperamental earth.

We have survived another winter, together with our friend the horse. The motley choir of the Hither Green Drone Orchestra plays us on towards the middle of the year. This new tradition that draws on

ancient ideas because ancient ways are the only ways, as long as the seasons last. There is nothing new under the sun.

Sanderson is a Morris Dancer. He knows the relationship between May and music,. We are in the middle of a folk revival fusing with Extinction Rebellion and rewilding, with leader Sam Lee singing along the nightingales and the salmon. Folk art knows that simplicity and connection between nature and human is what affects us. Sanderson touches this truth today on an ordinary day in suburban London, making modern folk art.

To connect he turned to the work of Pauline Oliveros whose composing work with electronics, meditation, myth and ritual has brought much together that has appeared to be broken in times of fragmented modernism where cities have fenced us apart from nature and walled us in away from the elements.

The approach of Oliveros gives an alternative to the passive consumerism of the peddlars of musical plastic. It is participatory. It is, if we open our ears, so easy to open our mouths and join in a new church music, and feed a secular pagan concert that has the energy of nature and makes an emotional connection with the changing months. Art galleries are not the only places to gain contemporary enlightenment on Sundays for the intellectual seeker of higher things. It feels good, I think as I boil, overdressed, to collectively enjoy this open air spirituality when minds breathe and hearts flower in undirected harmony, individuals expressing together in the summer weather. A bit like a classic village fete populated by artniks.

Other pieces performed by the drone orchestra were by John White and Robert Barry.

JOHN WHITE – John White (born 5 April 1936 in Berlin) is an English experimental composer and musical performer. He invented the early British form of minimalism known as systems music, with his early Machines. Some of his works (including “The Drinking and Hooting Machine”) were recorded for Brian Eno’s “Obscure” label in the 1970s. ROBERT BARRY – (born 1981) is a British composer, songwriter, writer and journalist. His composition “Hither Green Flocking Action #2” was composed especially for this event.

The Hither Green Drone Orchestra performed as part of the Linear Obsessional Festival and in conjuction with the Hither Green Community Association and the ArtsCafe.

19 May 2019

Jude Cowan Montague is an artist and broadcaster. She produces 'The News Agents' for Resonance FM, a weekly show experimenting with international story and the arts. She worked at Reuters Television News for many years as an archivist and this has informed her poetry and some of her art. She's an award winning printmaker and a composer. Her graphic memoir 'Love on the Isle of Dogs' is available from Central Books.

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