Graeme Spurr (1984 – present) is a researcher with a knowledge of film historiography, archival research, oral history and film analysis. Spurr studied an M.A (Hons) in Film and TV Studies and Philosophy, and an M.Litt in Film Studies at The University of Glasgow, before obtaining a PhD where his thesis addressed the emergence of video technology for amateur film enthusiasts. He lives in London where he works as an educator and engages in research at University of the Arts London.
Spurr has created seven original soundscapes that can be listened to below in response to the poem, engaging with both Armitage’s (2007) as well as Keith Harrison’s (2008) translation to give him a sense of the ways that different interpretations shift emphasis and meaning. This is reflected in soundscape titles that combine versions of the same lines from both texts. Like the poem these sound pieces are separated into four ‘structural units’ or ‘fitts’, Andrew and Waldron offer an explanation of the poem’s structure in their introduction to their side by side translation.
Sir Gawain is a poem of 2530 lines, arranged in 101 stanzas. Each of these consists of between 12 and 37 alliterative long lines, followed by a five-line ‘bob and wheel’, comprising one single stress line and four two-stress lines, rhyming ababa. It has generally been accepted that the four large initial capitals which appear in the manuscript serve to divide the poem into four sections, often termed ‘fitts’’ (2015:45).
They go on to explain that these ‘fitts’ separate distinct areas of emphasis in the poem, the first concerned with Britain’s foundation myth (the link of Arthur’s court to this) and the disruption to the ordered court by the Green Knight. The second with Gawain’s travels, the changing of seasons and his eventual arrival at castle Hautedesert where he is welcomed by Lord Bertilak. The third emphasises juxtaposed accounts of hunting and the temptation/exchanges between Gawain and Lady Bertilak while the final fitt begins as Gawain leaves to make his way to the Green Chapel where the Green Knight is waiting to issue a return strike.
The soundscapes include layers of real noises: birdsong, weather events, moving through landscape for example (recorded by Spurr in outings into the countryside and from his local residency) combined with synthesised music rendered on a computer. These works came about following conversations with Spurr regarding the themes of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the role of atmospheric film scores in creating a sense of immersion and narrative. I had previously intended to incorporate sound into an installation space and had engaged in a short two and fro with a musician Luke Raymond Bujniewicz who kindly created the piece, Approaching the Green Chapel (2018) (included below).
In that exchange with Bujniewicz we had discussed the basic premise of Gawain moving to a dangerous location, we talked about potential film score influences from Johan Johansson (a composer that creates dread very successfully) and shared examples of possible music influences. I had asked him to include a section where a clear threshold is crossed and he was able to incorporate the sound of metal being sharpened and a grotesquely over the top laugh at the close of the piece. The intervention of the pandemic (UK 2019-21) meant that any installation was impossible and instead this piece became the beginning of a conversation with Spurr who had created soundscapes previously and had the requisite software combined with an interest in exploring that creative avenue. While Spurr’s pieces could be incorporated into immersive spaces he has taken the idea in his own direction creating seven pieces that stand together as a significant response to poem in their own right.
Andrew, M and Waldron, R (2015) The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript, Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. London. The Folio Society.
Armitage, S. (2007) Sir Gawain and the green knight. Faber and Faber.
Harrison, K. and Cooper, H. (2008) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Oxford World's Classics.