Shaping the Landscape / Farming and Food

Soundscape: Nothing Like the Old Cider

This is the first piece I’ve made that mixes in a variety of different voices from the collected oral history interviews gathered by the Tales Of The Vale team, rather than a single interviewee. You can hear the voices of (in order) Kath Alway, Christabelle Tymko, Allan Knapp, Mike Bennett, Sandra Grey and Don Riddle. They were recorded by the TOTV team and edited down and extracted from much longer interviews.

Grouped together, they tell the story of the historical importance of orchards and cider-making in the area. This was a small-scale but widespread practice that many people, especially in the farming community, took part in,  making just enough for themselves and friends, or to sell at local pubs and cider auctions, or be used as part of the wage for farm labourers. This farm-produced cider was very much the main drink in the area – rough, sharp, cloudy and unpasteurised –  a hard-core farmer’s tipple, nothing like the sweet, light and clear carbonated one now made and distributed on an industrial scale. These days only a few committed souls continue this traditional cider-making practice, and most of the orchards have been cut down or fallen into decline. It feels like a big part of the soul of this area that seemed important to mark.

Almost all of the field recording elements of the soundscape were recorded in the orchard behind The White Hart pub in Littleton-upon-Severn in October 2017. The majority of it was recorded over two days during a cider making workshop and at the Apple Day, where the local Littleton Lifesaver’s Cider Club demonstrated the process whilst pressing some of the last of the season’s crop.

Whilst it’s made up of over 40 tracks, this is a fairly straight sound-piece that keeps the integrity of the field recordings intact: none of the tracks are processed or manipulated other than being EQ-ed, and there’s only a minimal amount of over-laying. I’ve arranged them in a kind of chronological order that replicates the cider-making process. We start with the apples being shaken down onto large polyester tarpaulins stretched out beneath the trees as a fieldfare sounds its alarm call, then move on to the sound of the washed apples being fed into and pulped in the wooden scratter, before the mash is scraped out into buckets. You can then hear the physical labour involved in screwing down the 150 year old apple press and the sounds of juice draining into pails or being pumped directly into the vats to be left to ferment.

The opening section of the piece includes the sounds of Morris dancing from Pigsty Morris, and ends with the wassailing of the Barley Rye Choir, the song disappearing in a long fade intended to suggest a sense of the gradual decline / disappearance of cider-making.

David Howell

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© 2019 A Forgotten Landscape: A Heritage Lottery Fund Landscape Partnership Scheme.

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