La Fatarella, Terra Alta region, Catalonia. 9-19 August 2016.
This acoustic ecology residency was curated by sound artist Linda O Keeffe and composer Tony Doyle. Myself, Susannah Kelly (who assisted as translator), and fellow sound artist Matt Green joined our hosts for the hottest part of the year in the small village of La Fatarella in Catalonia. Details of this residency are on Linda's site.
Many hours were spent on writing, photography, and phonography. I plan on using my multichannel recordings of the local wind turbines for a future installation.
Other recordings have been incorporated into "In that place, the air was very different", which you can read about in detail.
La Fatarella is a village in the Terra Alta region of Catalonia. Every August there are many nights of festivals dedicated to Mare de Déu de la Misericòrdia. This particular evening, devil's armed with fire paraded the streets. They were accompanied by young musicians, loud enough to wake both the living and the dead. This tradition dates back to medieval times.
This video was recorded 10 August 2016 and posted 21 September 2016.
A parade of beating drums and howling reeds, played by children, winds first down one street, then up another. Exploding firecrackers deafen in the narrow passages. Live fireworks are spun about on sticks, spilling sparks everywhere. Flame catches in my hair, burns tiny perfect circles in my shirt. The revellers take turns drinking from a large sack through a narrow tube, encouraging each other to take more. Everywhere are shouts of joy and surprise, but many of those following are quiet enough. They are participants but passive, knowing their place in the proceedings. The active elements are costumed in red and black, many masked.
The thick smell of sulphur coats my throat. I hide in doorways, coughing, while devils attempt to ignite me. A large Catherine Wheel is spiked on a demon head. People refuel from a red cart holding explosives.
The procession finally makes its way to the church square. It's been rigged beforehand with gunpowder, primed for the torch. A young man is held upon the shoulders of another, and reaches upwards with flame. My chest is pounding from the incessant beat while the sizzles of tiny suns tickle my eardrums. Spent firecrackers spin to our feet.
In this ceremony, stars are called down to our planet, by cowled figures dressed in the colours of earth and fire. The entire village dances free of discipline or reprimand. Neither church nor state can touch them.
It is demon night in La Fatarella. We are all complicit in this carnival.
The sun is at its highest. Every day it turns moths to powder. Each night it calls down fragments from some passing comet. The falling stars burn out the river valleys. Every pool of water has been sucked into the sand. The Ebre is a channel of dust, lined with prickle thorns and dessicated flowers. We hide within our chambers of stone, seeking out the faintest traces of wifi on the aether.
The streets hide cats in dark corners. There are more than you think at first. They corner cars and peer out from doorways. Though not particularly shy, they also do not seek attention. Instead, they pad silently from one shadow to another.
But one lithe black cat is different. It howls for attention. As I descend the streets, my focus is on maintaining my footing on broken steps. This is not a sufficient response for this feline, which cries incessantly, following me closely. It appears to crave a special role as my familiar spirit. But I recall how those cautionary stories often end. I keep a certain distance and continue on my path, alone.
Eventually the poor thing gives up, and retreats back out of the baking sun. It disappears the instant it passes penumbra. Was it ever there?
I am lying under the trees as a shadow from a wind turbine scythes the sky. A gust of wind just now pitched up the blades. It's like a distant jet engine, but never so loud that the grasshoppers face any real competition. The landscape is a tinder-keg awaiting a spark.
Harsh pines make a poor bed. Every plant snaps and pierces. The sun rules all. The shadow of the turbine tower measures out time against the brush.
Third session under the turbine blades and I am starting to feel part of this place, a milieu formed of pulsed swooshes from blade rotation, thrumming grasshopper stridulation, dry grasses brushing each other, prickly foot beds, warm spice aromas, and articulated shadow.
I could stay here a while.