Hidden depths – a review of “Written in Water”

Last week I spent a sunny afternoon in Gosport trying out Ben Mawson’s sound experience package for Gosport, Written in Water.   On the face of it, it’s a simple enough idea.  You walk round Gosport with a small handset encased in a plastic box and mp3 style headphones, and listen to different sounds embedded in different parts of the city, in the form of ‘circles’ which you can see on the display in your handset.
That in itself is a really pleasant and informative experience.  As you walk around, you hear a synthesis of historic material, such as Churchill’s speeches near the DDay embarkation point, and the sounds of a parade, enhanced by Ben’s own atmospheric musical compositions.  The experience is enhanced by many interviews from local people, juxtaposed with the historic material, sometimes in unexpected ways.  For example the stirring military history is aligned with a veteran of later conflicts talking about his troubles since he left the forces.
So far so good – I walked down the High Street, along the seafront, past the Trinity Church and back via the Sail Boating Lake.  I learned a great deal about local history and people’s visions of themselves and the town.  I was also conscious that in my hour or so of pleasure, I was also missing out on much of the material – it is such a rich tapestry, it could support many, many listenings.  Yet in writing this, I haven’t really captured the essence of the real joy of Written in Water.  From what I’ve said so far, well, really, you could have got that far, and better, and more, from reading the publicity….soooo……
When I was walking around, on so many occasions, sounds around me in the present merged seamlessly with the material in the headphones and became part of the piece.  For example, a man walking past me talking loudly into his mobile phone; a group of sailboat enthusiasts shouting with excitement as they launched boats for today’s race; new birdsong mixing with old.  This makes every listening, even of the same walk, or circle, a unique experience where the listener forges new compositions from the material provided with what is going on around them – and of course, interpreting it differently in the light of individual experience.  You really have to try this yourself to understand the hidden depths I valued so much in my afternoon, which was unlike any other afternoon.  Gosport, and Ben, should be proud of themselves and I look forward to his future work.
Professor Lorraine Warren
Massey University
New Zealand
L.Warren /at/ massey.ac.nz