No, I haven’t posted to the Colston’s Last Journey blog for quite a while (say 9 months…). The whole project has been considerably delayed because of serious illness, so I asked the Arts Council if I could launch in Spring 2023 instead of the intended ‘Autumn 2022’, to which they acquiesced (thanks, ACE!). It also makes sense now to tie the project in with Bristol650 – the celebrations of 650 years of Bristol’s history in 2023.
So here we are now – end of December 2022, 28th, to be precise. Not that Colston’s Last Journey has simply sat there since April, and, though I perhaps shouldn’t say this, the delay has been good for me and for the project – a bit like a maturation period, where experimentations, thoughts, the content, the expression, feelings etc have had the time and space to mature, find their own expression, rather than being pushed by a deadline and my own preconceptions of what the work should be.
Structurally, it’s now quite clear (or it is until it all changes! Plus ça change..)
- COLSTON AT THE COLSTON PLINTH: enter the soundscape at the Colston Plinth. Listen to contemporary (to the time) expressions of Colston’s philanthropy
- THE SEA OF SOUND #1: interactive audio which changes with what you do when navigating the sea of sound by moving through it
- THE ROYAL AFRICAN COMPANY THEIR CHARTER
- ONBOARDING: introduction to the soundscape/how it works etc
- SEA OF SOUND #2: as above, with different audio
- SLAVE SHIPS: discover and board each of the eight slave ships which sailed from Bristol in the 17th and 18th centuries, each one of which represents one aspect of the transatlantic trafficking of enslaved Africans.
- PERO’S BRIDGE; continue on over Pero’s Bridge to the end of the soundscape
Conceptually, I think I’m much clearer now on the conceptual space the soundscape inhabits. My heritage-based located audio work always involves re-imagining authentic historical scenarios from as many angles as there are available (from my research and my partnership with the Regional History Centre of the University of the West of England). I script-write these multiple POV scenarios and layer them over physical locations. It is up to the participant, the hearer – the navigator, literally, of the soundpools – to create their own experience, their own angle on what is going on/what went on, without this being prescribed to them. A somewhat difficult approach to stick to when such highly emotive protagonists so inextricably interwoven into Bristol history amid such contested (well, the history is uncontestable) histories as Edward Colston are involved. Nevertheless.
The soundscape thus starts at the Colston Plinth. You will have downloaded the app from the appstore or Google Play beforehand and brought your headphones/earbuds along with you.
You open the app at the Colston Plinth. You will hear contemporary accounts of what the name ‘Colston’ meant to Bristol and Bristolians during his life and for a long time afterwards: no apologies, no ‘context’, no interpretation, no filters – exactly as reported.
We then cross the road and enter the first sea of interactive sound. Lost voices keen and call, swear, sing, curse, spiral in to you, spiral out again. We bump into a recitation of The Royal African Company Their Charter – again, played with a straight bat from original documents.
Suitably primed, we next encounter what is called in the games industry a bit of ‘onboarding’ – an introduction to the soundscape and how it is built and a few tips as to how to navigate it. Not too many- I hope it is fairly intuitive.
Over the road again where the historical drawbridge used to be located. We are now on Broadquay, one of the quays from where the slave ships actually sailed in the 18th and 17th centuries.
Afloat, again, on another sea of sound. A time warp, Dr Who-type ‘swoosh’ hits you – and you’ve found and boarded the first slave ship. You will experience one aspect of the slave trade as symbolised by this ghost ship. Swooooosh! leave the ship, re-embark on the sea of sound. Continue moving towards the Cascade and the open waters of the Bristol Floating Harbour. Continue discovering slave ships.
Move to the left of the open quay’s waters and continue down towards Pero’s Bridge. Here the soundscape changes again as you go over the bridge. HIt the far end of the bridge.
SPLASH! This is where the Colston statue was flung into the docks in June 2021. An appropriate end to the soundscape. Go and get a coffee from one of the many cafes or bars which are now around here. Listen to the sounds of the water, the boats, the people with different ears.