A unique event in the sand dunes of Forvie will bring together haunting music, folklore, the sounds of nature and the story of an ancient curse, this weekend.
The sound walk will be staged at Forvie National Nature Reserve on Saturday and Sunday by north-east artist Fiona Soe Paing to launch her ambitious song cycle project, Sand, Silt, Flint.
As visitors walk through a 20-minute loop of the dunes, they can listen on headphones to a rich tapestry of sounds, triggered by GPS, inspired by the legend of the sands of Forvie that buried the village.
Electronic musician Fiona said: “As you pass through each zone the audio snippets are sections of the song I wrote, interspersed with spoken words and archive recordings, and field recordings of wildlife.
Curse conjured a massive storm
“It is to give an impressionistic audio story of how the Forvie sands came in to being based on the legend of the three sisters.”
The ancient folklore tells of three sisters who were due to come into a large fortune in Forvie. But a jealous relative wanted to claim the money for himself and tricked the sisters into setting out to sea in a leaking boat.
“They survived it and in revenge put a curse on the village. The story goes the curse said: ‘Let nought be found in Forvie’s glebe, but thistle, bent and sand’,” said Fiona.
“Their curse was supposed to have conjured up a massive storm which eventually engulfed the village in sand and that’s the dunes we see today.”
As a historical footnote, old records do indeed talk of a 14th century storm that lasted nine-days and buried Forvie in sand, added Fiona.
From this starting point, Fiona created a piece of music and has interspersed it with other sounds to create what will be the first of 12 songs and sound walks, all telling a story rooted in place across the north-east.
She describes her Forvie walk, as “soundscapey” and mixing both her electronic music and voice with traditional folk instruments, such as fiddle – played by acclaimed musician Paul Anderson – and clarsach, played by Irene Watt.
Vocals sound like waves and wind
“It’s using really sparse instrumentation with a kind of medieval feel to it. I do a lot of processing of my vocals so they sound like waves and swishing sound and wind, interspersed with my vocals which use the lyrics of the sisters’ curse.”
There is also a personal family touch to the soundscape. It features the spoken word of a distant relative of Fiona’s, John Strachan, a famed bothy ballad singer of the 1930s. The link was discovered after Fiona’s mother had started researching their family history.
“He was actually recorded by the folk music historian Alex Lomax and Hamish Henderson,” said the Turriff-based artist.
“I came across recordings of him actually talking to Hamish Henderson, so I’ve edited his voice and interspersed it with snippets of my music. That made me feel quite shivery.”
The end result of Fiona’s work a compelling experience, as walking through the dunes the soundscape – accessed via the Echoes mobile app – bursts into life at various points, creating a hypnotic effect, firmly rooted in place, with the sand dunes stretching away around you.
Seeing Forvie reserve with different eyes
Fiona hopes this weekend will offer a unique experience for listeners, followed by a short film – created with Huntly-based Dudendance – in the Forvie Nature Reserve visitors centre.
“This is a very popular place and I hope it will help people look at it with different eyes and fresh perspective and maybe think about it in a way they hadn’t realised before,” she said.
“A lot of people come here to appreciate the amazing landscape, but maybe don’t know more about the history of it and the amazing stories that go behind it.”
Fiona said this weekend will be a pilot project for the other pieces she is working on to create a full album of music, plus an accompanying sound walk for each – touching on legends and stories around the region, including Bennachie, the Lecht and Fyvie.
“It will be out in February next year. 2022 is VisitScotland’s Year of Scotland’s Stories so I thought it would be really apt to hold back the release until 2022 so I can tie it in,” said Fiona, whose project has been supported Aberdeen arts organisation Open Road, as well as Creative Scotland, the Help Musicians UK Fusion Fund and Nature Scot.
You can find information on getting to Forvie National Nature Reserve here.