Karine Polwart With Pippa Murphy – A Pocket Of Wind Resistance
Hudson Records – 17 November 2017
Early in 2016, Karine Polwart realised her thought-provoking notion to combine music, spoken word, natural history and science (both ancient and modern) in a live performance that explored social and ecological questions. Through her own experiences, the history of her neighbours and local wetlands, and the inspiration of geese in flight; Karine brought the first performance of Wind Resistance to the Breathe festival in Stoke Newington.
Soon after, came an invitation from the Edinburgh International Festival to create a fully fledged stage production for The Royal Lyceum Theatre. Wind Resistance was a resounding success, winning Karine and Sound Designer Pippa Murphy a wealth of critical acclaim, the Best Music and Sound Award at the 2017 Critic’s Awards for Theatre in Scotland, and nominations for Best New Play, Best Direction, Best Producer and Best Actor in the Sunday Herald Culture Awards.
Following a week-long residency at the The Royal Lyceum Theatre, starting Friday 3rd November (dates below), Karine will release a studio adaptation of the work, A Pocket of Wind Resistance, on CD (17 November via Hudson Records).
In the atmospheric opening, All On A Summer’s Evening, Pippa Murphy‘s sonic scene setting joins glockenspiel, thumb piano and the trad song Skippin Barfit Through the Heather. Introducing Roberta and Will Sime, Karine describes the area from Fala Flow, across the moor and down to the farm the couple worked together.
Wind Resistance was initially inspired by Karine’s annual view of the migration of pink-footed geese to the Fala Moor peat moss near her home; and her wonder at their altruistic aerodynamic flying formation (the skein). Informed by her own experiences of childbirth and motherhood, a fascination for her local history and natural habitats, and a burning question about whether humankind can ever hope to emulate the spirit of cooperation shown by migrating geese; she has woven the landscape, its history, its inhabitants into a fascinating work.
The landscape itself takes centre stage for the opening, and open spaces are celebrated with a happy, carefree vocal for Samuel Ferguson’s ‘perfect’ folk song, The Lark In The Clear Air. A warm breeze of harp and marimba offer a musical background to the ancient melody. More specifically, The Moor Speaks; as harp, bass and layers of vocal deliver an inventory of sphagnum mosses that comes across like an invocation, all framed in Pippa’s setting of Gaelic hymn and field recordings.
The question of our dominance over these delicate, precious environments is raised when, in Tyrannic Man’s Dominion, guitar and bass provide a deep serenity and Karine takes a few, very welcome, liberties with the melody for Robert Burns’ early ecological treatise, Now Westlin’ Winds.
The geese fly overhead and the sky turns to autumn.
Moving on to the central theme of geese in flight, Labouring And Resting presents Pippa’s aural landscapes and a hummed pastoral melody. There’s a burst of song before Karine describes and charts the migratory journey of the geese heard overhead, and the song closes with the sound of wing beats.
Those four events, describing the skein in action, epitomise Karine’s hope for the future; a way forward, a method of survival.
The fact that this is not a new idea is confirmed as the natural precursors to modern medicine are whispered histories, sung across lands and across time. The work of a charitable Augustinian medieval hospital compared to our precious NHS, in Place to Rest and Mend.
As Roberta Sime approaches motherhood, the focal point becomes more concentrated, and in A Benediction Karine echoes the promises made in her own celebration of parenthood, Rivers Run; as Roberta contemplates her impending labour and Will is revealed as a horse whisperer and gifted carpenter – one hand on the land, one hand on the hearth. In Small Consolation the overwhelming impulse to protect, to nurture, is brought vividly to life as her 2004 song, Faultlines, finds relevance amid our story.
A barn owl sighting carries us forward in White Old Woman of the Night. Shifting, amid frantic, dramatic percussion, between Karine’s own experience of labour and Roberta’s; the listener is left hoping that neither suffer the fate of Jane Seymour related in Sphagnum Mass For A Dead Queen, where the old cures are listed in Latin, tribal chants and incantations. The sequence closes with Lullaby For A Lost Mother; a short, plaintive song amid birdsong and harp. A reminder that health and well being are not individual responsibilities.
Retrieving the sense of hope, Remember The Geese reprises the opening song, and the call for collective welfare…
“We are each others wind resistance, a human skeine, and we’re not going to make it on our own”
Molly Sime’s Welcome to Salter’s Road sees the significance of Karine’s song Salter’s Road evolve, just as the story of Molly’s parents has. Dusk falls and the album closes with what might be a foetal heartbeat or the beating of wings but confirming that We Are All Bog Born.
In A Pocket Of Wind Resistance, there’s a significant contrast between the peaceful moorland settings, with the natural flow of the Geese’s collective self-preservation, and the fear-filled struggle for human survival. There are also the links between the two; with the moorland grasses that nourish Roberta and Will Sime’s flock, and the medicinal properties of the mosses and lichens, explored by the monks at Soutra Medieval Hospital. Above all, there’s a sense of hope in the view that we can all step up and fall back, not stand alone. This is far more than an album, it’s a journey.
A Pocket Of Wind Resistance isn’t so much a collection of songs, it’s theatre for the ears, but it surpasses radio drama. All the tension, the joy, the craft that’s part of the immersive experience of going to the theatre is achieved without the visual elements. Karine Polwart‘s music and poetry, with Pippa Murphy‘s exquisite settings, haven’t replicated the theatre production; it has brought Wind Resistance to a wider audience, furnished it with portability. Beautiful, potent, and engaging; A Pocket of Wind Resistance gives Karine Polwart’s enthralling theatrical début a satisfying permanence.
Pre-Order A Pocket of Wind Resistance here: https://karinepolwart.lnk.to/windresistanceTW
Royal Lyceum Residency 2017
November 03 | Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
November 04 | (Matinee) – Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
November 04 | Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
November 07 | Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
November 08 | (Matinee) – Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
November 08 | Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
November 09 | Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
November 10 | Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
November 11 | (Matinee) – Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
November 11 | Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Photo Credit: Suzanne Heffron