“Devout Tibetans believe that prayer flags literally bless the air passing through them with sacred mantra prayers – these prayers then waft past beings unknowingly caught up in the cyclical wheel of suffering… Such blessed air, it is said, has a calming effect on these unhappy beings, nudging them infinitesimally closer to the liberating teachings of the Buddha with every breath.”
– Wise, T. (2002) Blessings on the Wind. San Francisco, Chronicle Books.
The visual element of Flags (2011) consisted predominantly of one long four and a half minute take of a single cord of Tibetan prayer flags strung across the kora path around the mountain peak of Ganden Buddhist Monastery, near Lhasa, Tibet. The single cord of flags visually resonating with music compositional themes of a fundamental frequency and Cornelius Cardew’s notion of the ‘great chord’ – the work originally produced for an exhibition celebrating the life and work of the composer .
We wanted to work further with both the visual elements and compositional ideas of repeating looped phrases of sound and image in such a way that new combinations of sound and image emerge as the video progresses. A second image stream was added to the original version of Flags, and the 5 minute film repeated to a duration of 10 minutes. The second image stream is also a single take, this time of prayer flags strung on a flagpole at Namtso Lake, Tibet, and with a shorter duration of two minutes which is then reversed and repeated. The intention is that in both image streams there is repetition of imagery, but the differing durations of each meaning that no two combinations of each stream will occur as the visual repetition unfolds.
Tim Howle has written of this second piece, working title: Flags Two (2015);
Previous pieces have been subject to a ‘cartoonification’ of sound where a great deal of sound organisation is aligned to phase – like [the] visual material. This piece is gentle by comparison. The approach attempts limited levels of intervention that chime with the images. The exploitation of the inherent musicality of the images emphasises timelessness and continuity through an improvisational approach, mirroring and counterpointing objects in the image. The limited indeterminate relationship of the layers of musical material allows for shifts with regard to each other, resulting in harmonious and gestural relationships regardless of juxtaposition. Sounds are selected from a limited palette.
Flags Two was premiered in concert performance with live sound diffusion playback at the In Time Symposium, Landscapes and Environments: Experimentation in Sound and Music, Coventry University, England, October 2015. With encouraging critical feedback we continued to work with these same ideas developing a third and final version, initially screened under the working title Flags Three in 2016, with a third strand of sound added and a third image track of prayer flags from Ganden Monastery. With slight amendments to the sound made over the following couple of years, we finally settled on a formal title for the work. Sarva Mangalam! is a Sanskrit phrase, which appears on many versions of prayer flags alongside depictions of various symbolic animals, Buddhist deities and mantras. Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras are blown on the wind, spreading goodwill and compassion to the pervading space and all beings wandering therein.
The end titles are accompanied by a quote from French Buddhist Monk Matthieu Ricard (The Monk and the Philosopher, London: Thorsons 1988):
“Wherever the wind passing over these prayers may go,
may all living beings there be freed from their suffering and the causes of suffering.
May they experience happpiness and the causes of happiness.”
For me this work expands notions of visual music, informed by R. Murray Schafer’s ideas of ‘the Soundscape’, where practices of field recording, soundwalks, acoustic ecology, and the ambient, resonate with this audio-visual composition practice as much as other models and practices of visual music composition. The work draws on substantial filming undertaken since 2005 travelling in China and south-east Asia, and underpinning a wider body of work and planned outputs (see Journeys East and Songtsam).
screenings, presentations, performances
Rediscoveries XI – Sonic Exchange, University of Aberdeen, February 2019
International Computer Music Conference, Daegu, South Korea, August 2018.
New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival, New York, USA, July 2018.
Visual Music 2018 – Noise Floor Experimental Music and Moving Image Festival, Staffordshire University, May 2018.
Paper presentation by T. Howle – single screen presentation of work: Ambient@40 international conference and concert, Electric Spring Festival, University of Huddersfield, UK, February 2018.
Media Communications and Cultural Studies Association (MeCCSA) Annual Conference, London South Bank University, January 2018
Sound + Environment 2017: Art | Science | Listening | Collaboration, University of Hull, 29 June – 2 July 2017.
International Festival and Conference on Sound in the Arts, Science and Technology; Irish Sound, Science and Technology Association (ISSTA), Dundalk Institute of Technology, Ireland, September, 2017.
Seeing Sound – practice-led research symposium, Bath Spa University, UK, April 2016
Most screenings and concert performances of work have been 10 minute versions of both Flags Two and Sarva Mangalam! However on occasion, and here for online sharing, 5 minute edits of both pieces have been made.