Cheryl Beer

Sound heArt | The Pier Arts Centre, Orkney Islands

Reaching roots across Celtic countries, an invitation to listen inside the environmental sound artist and hear beneath the bark of the trees that heal her.

Music was my life. Being a musician was a magic carpet that flew me to places I had only ever dreamt of, playing my self-penned songs alongside the iconic faces that had once smiled down at me from posters stuck on my bedroom wall. So, on that day, the day when I awoke with sudden hearing loss, my whole world stopped dead. I didn’t just lose my hearing. I lost my career, my income and my whole sense of self.  I remember curling up in a ball and deciding to throw in the towel - but nature had other plans for me.

When I stood with my feet in her streams, or my back against her moss, or my arms around the trunks of ancient trees, I didn’t mind so much that I couldn’t hear the birds singing. When my breath measured time as part of nature herself, slow and still, I forgot that I couldn’t hear the river rushing. Nature cast a healing spell that enchanted me, enabling me to live with the devastation that sudden hearing loss had created in my life; enabling me live to with the constant cacophony of tinnitus; teaching me how to live in a world where ordinary sounds can sometimes be so frightening, that I become imprisoned by them. Wrapped in the arms of the natural world, I began to connect my roots to hers, remembering how beautiful our planet truly is and how we share her heartbeat. We ARE Nature.

I started using my studio in new ways, creating nature narratives and shared these with older people in Care Homes during the pandemic, recreating their favourite walks through sound. My new NHS hearing aids enabled me to hear the things that had been lost, like the voices of my loved ones, and I began wondering, what else could this state-of-the-art technology be capable of, if I repurposed it through a creative lens? And that’s how CÂN Y COED Rainforest Symphony was born. I began extensive research into hearing aid and sensitive biomedical sound technology, found ways to notate digital & visual sound, and decided to base my practice in areas of natural distress – to raise awareness and repay nature for her nurture.

I typed ‘nearest rainforest’ into the search engine and, to be honest, I fully expected that I’d be off to the Amazon, but to my utter surprise, I found, right here in Wales, tiny pockets of ancient rainforest, Celtic, temperate, in some cases with moss dating back 10,000 years! I couldn’t believe it and I knew in that instance, it was my calling to collaborate with these precious eco jewels in the crown of Wales, by collating conductivity from the vascular systems beneath the bark & using these scientific readings to compose music led by the rainforests themselves …  

Now, with the great privilege of being part of the WAIWAV intervention, I am taking another brave step forward, venturing out of Wales to our Celtic cousins with a live performance art piece called Sound heArt at the Pier Art Centre in The Orkney Islands, where audience sits with me and listens to my live heartbeat, musing over its reaction to them, whilst scanning a QR code that transports them to the Rainforests of Wales. Reaching roots across Celtic countries, an invitation to listen inside the environmental sound artist and hear beneath the bark of the trees that heal her.

Facebook: cherylbeertoday

Sound heArt - 2nd July 2022

‘I’m struggling to land the plane, it’s too dangerous,’ said the pilot. ‘I’ll try one last time & if we can’t make it, we’ll go back.’ It took quite some bravery to keep a stiff upper lip on the way to Orkney, but like most tall mountains, once climbed, the experience was out of this world.

The creative trail set up by the Scottish government, blends arts, culture & heritage into a beautifully authentic tourist flavoured cake, where visitors are intrigued & creatives are respected. Nestled into this nest of nurture, is The Pier Art Centre.

I began by sitting in the space where my intervention would take place and walking the routes that audience would take to greet me. Months earlier, when I found out I was coming as part of WAIWAV, I collected autumn leaves from Wales to dry out & take with me. Now, I spent time making leaf installations throughout the art centre, leading to the gallery where I would be waiting.

The idea of sound heArt came to me in the rainforests of Wales where I have been repurposing hearing aids & biomedical sound equipment to record biorhythmic conductivity beneath the bark of trees. Having realised that humans are as much part of nature as any aspect of the natural world, my piece was a gentle invitation for audience to hear beneath the skin of the environmental sound artist and the trees that saved her – but I hadn’t been ready for the emotional connections and depth of intensity this would manifest.

I placed two wooden chairs facing each other. Wearing an adapted neck brace, I hung an electronic stethoscope around my neck, beating over my heart, connected to a Bluetooth speaker, my heartbeat playing into the room from my hand. When audience sat opposite me, I did not speak. Instead, I offered them the speaker, so that they were holding my heartbeat in their hand. I responded through body language, according to whoever I was with. We experienced such a range of emotions, from tears to smiles. Audience did not leave, they stayed for the whole duration of the piece, watching each other hold my heart in their hand.

Afterwards, now bonded, we went together to the A/V studio for a screening of my film Can y Coed Rainforest Symphony, followed by a Q&A.

‘Your work is so powerful’ ‘That was so emotionally intense’ ‘I feel as if I have always known you’ ‘I felt nurtured and grounded’ ‘My daughter is usually painfully shy, I can’t believe she sat with you to take part.’ ‘I didn’t realise how powerful silence can be in making a statement.’ ‘We were so surprised to see leaves, there are no leaves in Orkney.’

Following this last statement, afterwards,I continued the leaf installations across town, assembling them in unusual nooks & crannies, finishing with then being tossed into the sea by a RNLI Officer, filmed in slow motion with the art centre in the background. Likely the leaves are still circling the island, tossed against the rocks, caught in the glimmer of lighthouses.

For me personally, the journey was one of the biggest physical challenges I have faced, but the experience itself, and knowing that my piece was part of a large collective, a movement,resonated very deeply with me and I will spend many weeks now processing what I have learnt about myself my craft & my disability. I am full having been fed, carving new ideas with immense gratitude and wonder."


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