Soundings from the Estuary was a collaborative project about the Thames Estuary, involving photographer Frank Watson, sound artist Dave Lawrence, and Germander Speedwell, with the work being exhibited at the Novas Gallery, Southwark, 20 June - 20 July 2008, as part of the London Festival of Architecture 2008.
Germander Speedwell's work for the Soundings from the Estuary exhibition:
For Soundings from the Estuary, Germander foraged on foreshores, pored over pilot maps, quizzed twitchers, apprehended historians, and intercepted the internet for information – both old and new,
formal and local – and arranged her findings in a Germanderly manner into pieces on the following subjects.
A few sample lines are shown from each, with the full versions downloadable, and full notes/glossaries
on each piece available free on request.
The Rise and Fall of the Lower Hope
Physical features in and along the Thames Estuary, and their names
Islands and inlets, settlements and sandbanks, towns and attractions, including some lost due to erosion or human intervention, and some newly created by development. Names both ancient and modern are included, from those found on maps and on location, to nicknames used only by locals.
“...Fleets, creeks, guts and gores
Bights, banks, hithes and havens
Dozens of Hundreds
And the Lathe of Scray…”
Reports of birds, and other flighted activity, in the Thames Estuary
The birdlife of the Thames Estuary, as interpreted and described by its human inhabitants. Including local names and nicknames for birds, the language of birdwatchers, the misinterpretations and mis-spellings of amateurs, the reporting of sightings in bird hide record books and on birdwatchers’ websites, and the curious contradictions of wildfowling, which continues adjacent to bird conservation. There are also a few lines from the fascinating 1950 ornithological classic, The Birds of the North Kent Marshes, from the time before cameras routinely took over from guns as a means of capturing sightings, lightships were still manned by humans, and the last corncrakes were seen in the estuary.
“...Avocet egg watch
Pipits on pit-stops
Godwits on slipway
And ducks flushed from ditches…”
Descriptions and interpretations of the songs and calls of birds found in the Thames Estuary
A list of human attempts at describing and interpreting bird sounds, as found on birdsong record narrations, in bird identification books, in sighting reports, or observed by Germander.
"A squeaky trolley
A windy whistle
A curious purring
And whimpering trill..."
The How, What, Where and Why of Hoo
The Hoo Peninsula of Kent is surprisingly remote and unknown for somewhere so close to London. In response to finding the same limited, and sometimes inaccurate, information about the area constantly repeated, Germander has collected the lesser-mentioned minutiae of Hoo – its hidden institutions, industries, agriculture and histories, names of places, houses and characters, and re-asserted the correct meaning of its enigmatic name!
“...Mudflats to saltmarsh to cliff of chalk ridge
Launching of seaplanes and assembly of airships
Summer walkers, overwintering waders
Spring onions year-round and autumnal intermittents…”
Trade conveyed via the Thames today
The curious and multifarious items, from rubbish to richnesses, which are conveyed via the Thames today, though rather more invisibly than in the past.
“...Ballast and bitumen, cement clinker and gypsum
Pallets of bricks and waste silt for landfill
Sand to Battersea, dredgings to Greenwich
Crushed rock to Dagenham Dock
And gravel to the Isle of Grain….”
Shipping movements in the Thames Estuary
The grand, evocative or curious names of vessels and ships that work in the Thames Estuary today, and their journeys, locally and internationally. Most of these were found in the Port of London's shipping movement listings over a few months in 2007/2008.
"...CELTIC CARRIER to Hamburg
BRITANNIA BEAVER off to dredge the Wash
TRANS ARCTIC arriving from Algeciras
And GLOBAL HARVEST in to Sheerness..."
All pieces © Germander Speedwell 2008.
Design and formatting by Stephanie Thomson.
The exhibition included photographs, video works with soundscapes, other sound pieces, and Germander’s word pieces which were presented as recordings to listen to in the gallery, live readings, and written displays.
Events as part of the exhibition included Germander's live readings and background talks, a radio show on Resonance FM presented by the architects Amenity Space, and a talk/discussion held at the Tate Modern, with guests Michael Edwards from the Bartlett School of Architecture, the writer/commentator Patrick Wright, and Sheppey historian David Hughes.
On the Gull Lightship, Grays. Photo by Frank Watson.
The exhibition was featured on Guardian Online, with some of Frank's photos and a recording from Germander:
All of Germander's pieces were produced in a booklet together with detailed background information and notes on the sources - this is now out of print, but individual pieces can be downloaded below and the full notes emailed on request.