Linear thinking

SAM_1097  SAM_1177

I am seeing lines everywhere: the lines of the horizon, the beach, the strip of hotels and cafes, the road, the railway.  The way I conceive and write music is also very linear – one melody over another, the harmony almost accidental. My chosen instrument for some of my work for this residency is a hand wound musical box, for which I’m punching paper music rolls.  The look of the holes on the paper is very visual and also very linear.


I’ve started punching rolls for the music box – the first being a combination of a continuous series of waves and a well known sea song.  I’ve just finished a second – an arrangement of the calling of the fishermen as they haul in their nets. It’s hard to hear the music machine over the roar of the sea, so I have  commissioned a soundboard and box for it. The box is lovely – made and carved by a local craftsperson.  It is 30 inches long so that the music rolls can stay in the box once they’ve passed through the machine.

pulling in the nets

One of the challenges of working here is how to write music without a piano.  To help me out, fellow artist Lorna Rees has made me a piano out of a piece of driftwood.  I have nick-named the resulting series of photos ‘all at sea’ which is what I thought I would feel like without a piano.  Actually being forced to write differently is proving stimulating.

‘All at Sea’, photo Lorna Rees


I have decided to try writing music in the sand.  To this end I have doctored a rake so that I can draw the five lines of the music stave in one sweep. I will make several pieces of sand music during the remainder of the residency, documenting the process with photograph and video.  The first experiment this afternoon showed that the waves rub out what I’ve written very quickly indeed, so the activity of writing this music will quickly become a piece of endurance performance art. On a serious note this will be a reflection on how hard it is to stand against the power of the sea.  Some of my fellow artists have agreed to attempt to sing what I write before it is erased by the next big wave.

Small collaborations are flourishing and Lorna and I went off to the jungle last week to do some recording.  It’s quieter there and very nice to escape the sound of the waves for a while.  Lorna’s lovely voice will appear in the soundscape I’m making.

There will be two showings of the work we are all making on the residency, first in Hikkaduwa where we are based and then as part of an exhibition in the capital, Colombo on 10th December. My contribution will be the soundscape, played in the corridoor of the hotel in Hikkaduwa and a staircase in the gallery in Colombo as well as a demonstration of the musical box playing the new hand punched rolls.

As well as this blog, I am also (internet permitting) posting images on instagram @hkottaway and tweeting at @artmusicuk.




4 thoughts on “Linear thinking

  1. November 23, 2017 / 5:35 pm

    Great work – keep it up! Steve.


  2. November 23, 2017 / 6:40 pm

    Dear Helen – great to have your news and your thoughts -I shall watch how it all develops over your stay. We are in Texas with Lucy celebrating Thanksgiving today, with some of their friends.  It feels like Christmas without the presents and glitter, and it’s lovely to be here.

    Lots of love,



  3. Chris Lurca November 24, 2017 / 2:00 pm

    that picture of the lines,is that where Smithy did th ‘Hokey-Cokey?


    • helenottaway November 25, 2017 / 6:07 am

      Who’s Smithy? Ian Smith? I’ll have to investigate his hokey-Cokey……


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