October – Ailsa Mair Hughes – Soundmapping our 5 Square Miles project

For October’s Ysbrydoli/ Inspire we have asked Ailsa Mair Hughes to share with us her ‘Soundmapping our 5 Square Miles’ project. Her project is looking to share music and stories inspired by Wales’ 5 mile lockdown restrictions during COVID19.

What is the project? 

It is called ‘Mapio Sain Ein 5 Milltir Sgwâr’ / ‘Soundmapping Our 5 Square Miles’, and is a pretty epic invitation to people across Wales to help me make a creative, collective ‘sound-map’ of the place we call home. It is creative engagement with the art of listening to what is there, and listening for the wild, wherever in Wales you are – even in the city. I was super grateful to receive Arts Council of Wales & National Lottery money through ACW’s Stabilisation Fund for this during lockdown. The idea for the project was catalysed by the 5-mile restriction we had in Wales after people in England were allowed to travel further.  Although, really, it was seeded years ago, really, in my cross-pollinating passions for music, storytelling and wild soundscape.

Throughout the project, I am collaborating with young naturalist and wildlife photographer Ben Porter, visual artist Penny Tristram, film-maker Ashley Leung, and musician / sound technician Badger Brown, and am also delighted to be working with storyteller Lisa Schneidau who will be giving me some mentoring as I begin to bring my final creative offering together.

Who is it for and how can people get involved/engage?

It is for everyone and everyone living in Wales, urban or rural or somewhere in-between!

Going out into our local surroundings – i.e. within 5 miles’ radius, to listen and drawing, writing and / or recording in response, participants can send their contributions to me to inspire a piece of musical storytelling that I will begin weaving together later in the year.  There are plenty of tips  (I dare to call them ‘Instructions’ but this is a loose term!) on how to ‘sound-map’ on the project blog.

Throughout the project, which began in August and will continue into the new year, there have been and will be more optional online workshops that aim to connect people with different aspects of our soundmapping – we have already had 1) AD Seinwedd Wyllt / Wild Soundscape ID with Ben Porter, 2) Rhoi Sain Ar Bapur / Putting Sound on Paper with visual artist Penny Tristram, and next week on Thursday 1st Oct I will be running 3) Dod yn Seinwedd Wyllt / Becoming Wild Soundscape with musician and voice teacher Bethan Lloyd, on ‘Summoning Our Wild Voices’.  Recordings of all of the workshops will be shared as soon as possible on my YouTube channel.

I am also inviting two other storytellers to take part in the soundmapping process and share a short piece of work on November 24th, in a special episode of my online storytelling circle ‘Stone Soup’ (something else I began during lockdown).  The callout for this is open until September 30th – please find info on my Wild Notes blog, and if you want to watch, you can find how to attend Stone Soup on my personal website (the next session is Oct 10th).

As well as my final piece of music and storytelling that brings everyone’s soundmapping together, I will be making my first ‘Wild Notes’ podcast on the Soundmapping project – watch this space!




YouTube: Ailsa Mair Arts

Instagram: wildnoteswales & moonbowed.earthspun

E-mail: (if you like you can subscribe to the project mailing list by dropping me a line here)

Tell us more about yourself in a short biog. How did you start storytelling? How long have you been doing this? Where are you based etc? How do you work with story?

Currently living in Machynlleth, I am a classically trained, wildly untamed musician (mainly singer and cellist) and very much still-emerging storyteller, though I have been musically accompanying other storytellers for over a decade so feel very much a part of this world!  I began my journey through the bracken into the realm of story when invited to work with Milly Jackdaw, and have since collaborated with more storytellers than I have fingers for… Long-term collaborators include storyteller, illustrator and writer Peter Stevenson, and Whispering Woods, an aerial circus company who I toured woodlands with for several years, weaving story, acrobatics and music in the trees.

I only began to actually ‘tell stories’ myself a couple of years ago. I was encouraged to start in a one-off workshop I did at the Unearthed festival with storyteller Tom Hirons, in which we were challenged to tell a story we knew well, beginning with just its bones.  Shortly after, I performed at an informal group in Aberystwyth (first one – my version of the Inuit story of Skeleton Woman). Motivated during my application for the Gwobr Esyllt that year, I moved onwards to develop a 20 minute bilingual piece of my own called Lleuad Las / Las’s Moon (about a girl who is gifted songs by the sea and stores them in glass bottles left on the beach), incorporating underscored cello and song interludes – as performed last year at the Aberystwyth Storytelling Festival in the grounds of Aberystwyth castle ruins, and then developed for the Young Storytellers’ Festival of Wales.

Often, perhaps naturally, story comes from music for me, but maybe beyond this, it begins with listening – to the spirit of the land around me, and to what stirs in my heart when I hear tales that others tell. I would consider some of the songs I’ve written to be stories themselves – and I am drawn to telling stories that have strong musical themes, like songs that hold the key to transformation.  As an environmentalist, stories rooted in the landscape, which share the importance of connecting well with the earth, resonate a lot for me.  Connection with place n- and cultivating a sense of belonging – is really important to me in story, and something I want to explore more and more as I develop as a storyteller.

Lockdown Watch – something you have seen online that you want to share e.g. a video/podcast/online event that has inspired you at this time?

There were so many things… but Peter Stevenson really inspired me with his ‘story a day’ published on Facebook with his own illustrations.  This felt like such a beautiful offering to people in the dark summer times – and pretty amazing and prolific, I think he shared over 50 stories!


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