Work developed during two Micro Residencies as part of The Odyssean Project on Papa Westray, Orkney 2015 and 2016.

A Gut Beneath the Shore 2016

Composition of field recordings made using buried contact microphones, submerged hydrophones and binaural microphones. Part of a wider exploration of metamorphosis and decay between the body and environment - for instance where the land and sea become a digestive organ.

Photographs taken on Papa Westray 2015

Subterranean sound recordings

Camping next to the Old Mill

The Distant Holm

Sea of Vomit

Unclaimed Parma Ham

Soggy Bones



(A script for a short story to be read out loud)

Roger has just arrived on Papa Westray. He missed his ferry from Aberdeen to Kirkwall by the skin of his teeth, which have lead to a long series of alterations and delays, including wild camping next to aberdeen airport.

He has just met Jonathan the Papay ranger at the ferry port and is about to be delivered to his camping spot out near the old mill, a remote point between the lock and the sea.

The sun is almost about to set and a thick moisture hangs in the air. Roger clunks his heavy backpack to the ground and unzips the contents of his tent bag. Poles slide through seams and his shelter is almost erected. Yet fiddling in the waning light with the tent pegs in each corner, his right hand is soon covered in nettle stings, “What aggressive plants” he mumbles.

Retreating inside his tent, he notices how the wet grass has already penetrated the lightweight groundsheet and that his sleeping bag has been rained on. He sits, winds up his camping lamp and prepares himself to slither between these soggy coverings.

Roger breathers in...he hears a rumble explode in his stomach followed by the raucous screeches of a flock of geese passing overhead.

He breathes out.

I am finally on Papa Westray he thinks. It has been in my imagination for a while. I’ve been obsessively reading whatever information I can find and I’ve searched across its surface on google earth. But now, what a difference, my body is actually here, lying against its ground.

Roger came here to think about the Holm, he only caught a glimpse of this ancient burial cairn through the mist before the darkness consumed it. He closes his eyes and pictures it like a giant submarine perched on the summit of that tiny neighbouring island.

“It’s so old...but it’s still there...When will the time come when the sea finally eats it up and spits it in fragments back onto the shore?”

The wind is rattling vigorously against Roger’s tent, yet all he wants to do is to listen more closely to the land...as he imagines...to each strata of time. He wants to hear the sounds that the ground has collected and that resonate its minerals.

He coughs, breathes, coughs again and falls into sleep.

It is morning. Roger is suddenly awoken by a desperate, urgent need to defecate. He swiftly moves to untangle himself from his sleeping bag, pulls on his wellies and scrambles outside. He is hit by a cold damp gust of air.

It is too late. Roger has realised that he has just shat on an ancient piece of heritage. The only privacy on this narrow spit of land available was that of the old mill. He stares in amazement at this most recent creation, and then fubles to clean it up with a mixture of grass and baby wipes. He sniffs his fingers and is surprised by the familiarity of this peculiar palette of aromas.

Moments later Roger finds himself adorned with arctic walking gear. He wasn’t quite sure how cold it would really be on Papay so he thought he’d better play it safe. Knowing that it could get incredibly windy, he feels much safer wrapped up this way.

Making his way down to the shore, he soon becomes acutely aware of the synthetic sounds of his thermal waterproof trousers rubbing between his inner thighs and the rhythmic rubber squeaks of his welly boots. Roger is disturbed by the realisation of how noisy he is.

Two nights of wild camping have also given a helping hand to the mucous that seems to be happily cultivating in his respiratory tract. Roger stops, stares at the sea, and thinks about mucous. He thinks about how this mucous might affect his reading of this landscape; like some slimy skin stuck between this place and him. He pictures himself like an archeologist...carefully cutting through this membrane to reveal what has been hidden beneath. He coughs up a clump of phlegm and spits it into a tissue. The back of his throat feels scratchy and sore and the insides of his ears swollen.

What Roger really wants is to listen to what is outside, beyond his own body. He reminds himself, he is barely surrounded by anyone at all. “People”, he ponders… “What constitutes a person anyway?”

As Roger continues to trudge along the stoney beach, he realises how important it is for him to blur the distinction between ‘person’ and the other occupants of this island, be they animals, organisms, or objects. Jumbled up on the shore are assemblages of all of these:

Seaweed; plastic bottle; chiseled stone; pipe; rotten wood; fresh wood; stones rubbed down by the sea; rusty metal cog; punctured foil helium balloon; fender; feather; wild flower.

In this process where bodies intermingle with places, it becomes clear that what remains is countless half digested objects...belonging to everyone, and no-one. The sea is so alive in that sense, how it claims these things for itself and then vomits them back onto the land.

*Roger uses the word vomit because it really does look like a sea of vomit  that he is traipsing through.

In many ways it feels similar to the way objects get consumed by the land, but in a more gradual drawn out process, like a skin that grows around and across things until it is suddenly cut or ruptured.

Roger stops and repeats these words:

Swallow; seep; digest; cut; vomit; defecate.

All these associations feel rather too anthropomorphic for his liking. “I don’t want to assert my bodily processes over this place, but at the same time it would seem unrealistic to dispose of my body entirely.”

But perhaps, Roger ponders, these bodily processes themselves are precisely what can be used to blur the line between body and other. Digestion, if we think about it, is a process of transference, or even metamorphosis. One thing enters another substance and begins to be broken down and assimilated into its surroundings.

If we think about those materials that will not degrade, often they won’t degrade in the land or in the sea, nor be digested by humans. So really, Roger realises, it is the language used, rather than the process itself that creates the division. Or on the other hand, by describing the sea as something that swallows and vomits, “is this a way that I can make it feel closer in nature to me? Or does this statement alienate the sea from itself?”

Roger looks at the materials mingling around the pebbles that seem to belong neither to human nor to nature but perfectly to both:

Unclaimed Parma Ham. At first Roger though bacon, but then realised that Parma ham was a closer match. It’s littered everywhere...thin succulent, beautiful slices. He can almost smell it. Salty…

Soggy Bones. At first Roger thought anaemic umbilical cord but then realised that soggy bones was closer.

Maybe this again sounds too human - but somehow bones without flesh seem to belong to the land more that they do to people.

What else?

Haemorrhoids. All Roger can think about is how painful it must be to vomit up haemorrhoids. His mind is going in circles.

He realises how sweaty he has become beneath all his thermal gear but persists, because if he takes it off he will catch a chill.

“I need to focus more on the landscape and less on bodies.”

He reminds himself again. “I came here to think about the Holm. He turns his head and stares at it in the distance. Perhaps it is the Holm that resembles a perfect balance between body and land. Yet it is much more distant than I imagined it to be.

Roger looks back down to what is surrounding his feet:

UHT bottle; plastic bag; polyester rope; concentrated apple juice carton from Denmark.

He ponders the difference between the distant past and the distant future and the overlap of the two.

Roger thinks about his eyes. Or more precisely about how his eyes fix this stuff as images, of ‘things outside of himself’. But how to get closer? Roger doesn’t want to eat the UHT bottle, he doesn’t want to swallow the rope and he doesn’t want to breathe in the plastic bag. But he does want to slip inside the cairns of the Holm.

With a sigh, he sits down on top of the concrete support of one of many water pipes running out onto the shore. He closes his eyes and listens to the activity of the pipe; to the water trickling out of its end and against the stones.

“As sounds, these processes seem far more alive. They pass through me rather than confront me.”

When Roger listens to this moving water he cannot distinguish the sound of the water from the sound of the pipe and the sound of the stones. It is as if they must all be present together in order to be heard.

He stands abruptly and heads straight for an eroded bankside a little further on. Kneeling down, he takes his index finger and pushes it into the compacted wall of sand, as hard as it will go. He wiggles it around and manages to bore a small hole into the strata. He then replaces his finger with a subterranean microphone.

“I want to listen from in there...like an ear buried underground, or sunk beneath the shore.”

Roger connects a tangle of cables between various microphones, jacks and sockets, places his earphones over his head and flicks all power on. Plugging himself into the land, he listens and moves, listens and moves, like a doctor with his stethoscope, from sand to rock, to water, to grass to mud, until he stumbles back across his own tent again and realises he has circled the entire circumference of the island.


The Odyssean Project was Supported by Orkney Culture Fund and The Papa Westray Development Trust.