Laura Cannell & Polly Wright – Sing As The Crow Flies

Sing As The Crow Flies is the debut vocal album by Laura Cannell and Polly Wright. The project brings to life the voices of the lost, forgotten and hidden people who have lived, worked and loved through the centuries, through the seasons, through the air and in the Marshlands. The nine acappella tracks re-voice the rural landscape, surrounding reed beds and marshes on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. Growing up either side of the River Yare, with a common love of the area, Laura Cannell & Polly Wright are musicians, composers and creators with deep roots in the marshes and traditions of this rural area.

Where did the idea for Sing As The Crow Flies come from? 

LC: The idea for the album came from an installation that I was making for The Waveney Valley Sculpture trail, I wanted to do a sound installation that connected Raveningham Church to the area that I had been allotted in the trail at The Raveningham Centre. I was looking at a map and thinking about distances over land for birds, rather than being restricted by roads and realised how close the church was to where I was standing. We had already made about ten minutes of recordings by this point and so it all fell into place to create a full album of Sing As The Crow Flies. The installation is a set of telephone handsets connected to a tree which is 1000 metres as the crow flies between the two places.

How did you both meet, and come to collaborate together?

PW: A few threads seemed to pull together all at once which led to us meeting! Several creative mutual friends mentioned us to each other and suggested we get in touch as we are both living and working in Suffolk. Also we seemed to naturally discover each other’s work online and immediately realise that we were interested in similar subjects, atmospheres, themes and locations. We got together to talk and haven’t stopped since!!

How did the album take shape, and what was the process like?

PW: We met at Raveningham Church in Norfolk one afternoon in early summer, with the intent of doing some vocal improvisation. We went into the exercise with no clear plan or structure and just a few words and phrases to use. We both immediately felt a connection musically and our voices took over. The forming of the album felt like a very organic process, because each of the ‘songs’ we created during our improvisations at the church seemed to start and end very naturally and in two sessions we came to realise that we had created almost by accident a full album of tracks which all sat very well together.

Why did you decide to make a vocal album?

LC: In a way we didn’t decide to specifically write a vocal album, we are both instrumentalists, but when first met we were talking a lot about the lack of women voices in landscape, nature writing and traditional folk songs through the centuries. But also about the difficulty in finding our own voices within music written by men for men. But as instrumentalists the voice is always something we are trying to get as close as possible to. I’ve talked a lot with regard to my instrumental compositions about Silvestro Ganassi’s treatise from 1532, which is about how to play an instrument by getting as close to the human voice as possible without ever actually saying the words. It also felt like a good way to get to know each other, through breathing and phrasing and improvising, it’s exposing and vulnerable but it was worth doing because this album and friendship has appeared.

Are there any musical inspirations behind the collaboration and the album? 

PW: For me, I suppose ancient plainsong was in there somewhere – the incredible acoustic of the church brought to mind a very primal and ancient sound and I suppose there was some channelling of this.

Essential and important to the process was heterophonic improvisation, the technique we were using a lot in the sessions.

We are also both inspired by traditional folk songs, rhymes and sayings of Norfolk and Suffolk and the words we used in the music reflect this. ‘One for the Rook, One for the Crow’ is an example.

I could also say that Elizabethan Songs and Madrigals have been an influence on me during this work.

What do you want people to take away from Sing As The Crow Flies?

LC: A sense of freedom, space and of belonging and chance. The album has been quite unexpected for both of us, but I think that the main feeling is that you do not always need structure and planning to make something beautiful, and also to see something familiar from an entirely new perspective. There is the possibility of inspiration from the smallest fragment or idea. You can go into the background of the rural marshlands and people that we are inspired by, or you can take the music as instant contemporary composition, of two musicians standing in a church, singing and listening to each other and to the response of the building. I would like people to feel like the music gives them space and isn’t from a specific genre.

What’s next for you? Have you got any projects or performances coming up? 

PW:We are currently in the process of working on how best to perform the album live, which is very exciting. We intend to develop this during the Autumn.

We have also been discussing the potential of using the music in an installation context. The album has been used for a sound installation by Laura at the Waveney Sculpture trail which opens this week, which we are very excited about. Polly has been working a lot in film and is currently creating content responding to the music.

Can we expect anything more from this collaboration?

LC: This feels like a natural collaborative partnership. We both have lots of solo work and other collaborations, but this feels like an ongoing project. I think we have so many similar interests but both have distinctive musical voices too, it’s really exciting to see where this takes us. We will be working on a live version to perform and also some site specific filming and installations in some incredible rural spaces. It feels very open and exciting. Polly is also working on another of my composition recording projects for film music, and we are in discussion about one of her site specific performances…. watch this space!

Sing As The Crow Flies is released by Brawl Records and available now for purchase and streaming.

Laura Cannell and Polly Wright will be appearing in Laura’s MODERN RITUAL VIII which takes place at King’s Place in London in 2020. You can also listen to the sound installation in South Norfolk, 1000 metres from where the album was recorded.

For information about Laura Cannell and her work visit her website.

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