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Rooted in Sound PART I

Michael Fairfax is an artist based in Somerset and is active in the public realm. He describes himself as “Public Artist, Sculptor, and Designer” and I find his work inspirational on several levels. Firstly he has found a niche in which to explore his art and is active in the community in which he lives as well as working for numerous arts organisations, county councils, borough councils and district councils during the last 25 years. Secondly, he has bought a 10 acre woodland close to where he lives and much of his inspiration comes from this place of stillness. He states in his biography “When I can, I seek solace amongst the great oaks, the red soil and the pudding stone whilst the buzzards and ravens wheel above me”…. This is the stuff of dreams and a definite aspiration for this emerging artist! Thirdly, his use of natural materials and his honest approach to what he does is refreshing to say the least.

mf   Michael Fairfax “Coppiced Boat”

So, to my little experiment:

  1. Broken strings kindly donated by The Music Shop
  2. Two branches (one green, one older…is this then classified as brown?)✔
  3. Selection of screws and studs, drill bits and screwy in things✔
  4. Workmates, sunshine and a cool beverage✔

Knowing that greenwood would have issues in terms of drill holes shrinking and pegs/screws coming loose, I began with the older, smaller branch.

This, I drilled with a 4mm wood bit and threaded the various guitar strings through. The Japanned studs held well and there was no slippage from the string. Using long nose, bent pliers I tensioned the string and began to turn the screw to hold the tension.


What I now know from this first experiment:

  • Drilling the holes was the right choice but I will look at getting a smaller drill bit.
  • Screws are too unreliable to keep tension on the string. Strings kept snapping with the screw acting as a blade and cutting through as it was driven into the wood.
  • The studs worked better being less aggressive but would still result in potential weakening of the string.
  • Older wood responds well and does not split as I thought it might.
  • It was possible to get enough tension for the string to produce sound…that was very exciting. I think this may work!


In his book “Art As Experience” John Dewey states: “As we manipulate, we touch and feel, as we look, we see; as we listen we hear.” He was discussing the sensitivities that artists have when it comes to process and aesthetic and although he was referring to passion and the perception of aesthetic and the effect that passion has on process, these words resonated with me when I read them because whilst I am in the third year of my BA(Hons) degree I still struggle to come to terms with the definitions and distinctions between art and craft. Rooted in Sound is an exploration of the line between art and craft.

Art is at its most basic, form and content: the actual physical materials the artist has chosen and what the artist is conveying, and is inherently use”less”. Craft is a skill that has been developed in making something which has a use”ful” quality to it. Rooted in Sound has the illusion of being a musical instrument but in reality, notes could not be played nor tunes heard as I have no intention of tuning the strings. They are there for the soul purpose of challenging the nursery children to touch, feel, look, see, listen and hear. Showing them how to engage in a process of exploration of space and environment and provoking a response in the young children, stimulating in them a desire to keep exploring; find new and exciting adventures in the mundane and familiar. Citing Dewey again “Then is the opportunity for the poet of loftier vision to lift his fellows, with their half apprehensions, up to his own sphere, by intensifying the import of details and rounding out the universal meaning.”

This second collaboration is exactly that for me too: a means of engaging in an exploration of my mundane and familiar art-scape and to grow.

I look forward to Rooted in Sound PART II.

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