Matthew Cumiskey | Ten Acres of Sound

Stirchley mover and shaker Matthew Cumiskey writes about his experiences of the Ten Acres of Sound festival.

Disclaimer from Matthew Cumiskey: I paid into the crowd funding and sort of know some of the people who ran it, due to being a Stirchley mover and shaker.*

One of my very favourite things about living in Birmingham is the small, low fi and often undersupported music scene. Whatever the opposite of brash is, it’s that.**

Highlights include Club Integral, the Treehouse Sessions and closer to home, A Field in Stirchley at core Stirchley venue Artefact.*** All connected by being sporadic and put together by people who are delighted to be at something they love so much.

Events like these allow for creativity to be explored and supported, some people learning on their path towards bigger and more mainstream events, others relishing their niche within the niche.

Out of A Field in Stirchley came Ten Acres of Sound, less a music festival than an exploratory festival of sounds and noises.**** Here is my short review of the bits I got to do.

Birmingham Brewery – Antony Lyons – Also Listening With My Eyes

An exploration of landscape and sound, both natural and human-built. Encouraging reflection on the psychic difference between our immediate surroundings and the infrastructure and nature which supports it.

This can still be seen using the link above, and for the full experience, Birmingham Brewery deliver for free to B postcodes.*****

Artefact back room – Rubie Green – He Should, She Will, They Do

A deeply spiritual and moving choral sound installation made up of individual voices amplified separately through megaphones. Not for the first time being in the backroom space at Artefact felt like the best parts of being in a church.****** I came away from it feeling refreshed and cleansed.

I went to Artefact three or four times during the festival and went to hear this every time.

Garden – Noise Tombola

A fun idea where you add objects into a tombola which then build up different sorts of sounds when run. I went right at the beginning and wanted to go again towards the end but ran out of time.

Hazelwell Park – Santa Melodica

Ten or so people stood in a circle blowing through tubes into balloons, which deflated through a harmonica. A curious experience for everyone involved I think, prompted a (perhaps lazy) memory of seeing the Polyphonic Spree at a festival.

It was incongruous, awkward and bewitching all at once.

Someone I’ve only ever met in passing gave me a homemade brownie, thanks to you if you’re reading 🙂

Soundwalk – Nikki Sheth

After a few false starts with a friend I finally completed the walk on a rainy Wednesday lunchtime more than a month after the festival ended.

With art and music I always try to approach it with an empty mind******* but in this case I didn’t know what to expect anyway, the idea of a sound walk was new to me.

It seems better to go into this without knowing what you’ll hear, so I’ll try and be as vague I can, but hopefully not so vague there is no point writing it.

The soundwalk takes you through Stirchley in its fullness. The stations draw you across the environments of humans and non-humans, looking in at windows that are ordinarily outside our scope, or attention.

Starting at Artefact and taking you onto the Rea route, back, then round via Fordhouse and back down to the high street again it’s hard to miss the mixture of potentially competing surroundings.

Native animals and features alongside the industry and automation which, if we are honest, is why many of us are here, enhanced my awareness of our place within our locality. The actual competition between the sounds inside and outside my headphones only added to the experience, at times I took off the soundwalk to listen more closely to the live environment.

I came away with a truer relationship with the world in which I live. There is life here, some of it in rivers and trees, some in factories and bus lanes, and both explain why I like living here.

Still available, I did it weeks after the festival. If it stays up I’ll do it a few more times to see how the different time of year and day affects the experience.


The ‘in person’ performances were limited attendance so I didn’t get to any of those, but there were two online performance events, both of which are still available.

Despite setting my own deadline for this I haven’t listened to the Launch Party yet but I tuned in live for the second show.

Part of the reason why I think I experience things differently in the room and at my desk is that it’s easy to be drawn away from what you are watching at home, but Yifeat Ziv’s performance stopped me in my tracks at the time and again when rewatching it.

Held together by the most delicate threads of sound, it felt at the same time organic and precisely crafted. My experience was of being present to what I was hearing while also in the world of memories or dreams, filled with echoes that are both less real and more real than the original.******* It was spellbinding, I’m looking forward to hearing more of her work.

Squeal scrape – make your own noise box workshop

Look at the thing I made!

There was an opportunity to pick up the required pieces in a silver bag and make a musical instrument. I’m in.

It was an enjoyable few hours, I used a soldering iron for the first time since being in the Bilton High School electronics lab and made a noise box which produces the sort of sounds most people want to avoid. I was able to make a cool sound by running it across a radiator which made it into the performance so technically that makes me a musician.

If you can get the pieces the instructions are still up, there might even be some spare kits at Artefact and you can borrow a soldering iron.

Other bits I missed

I wanted to take part in the Foley Theatre in a Box but it wasn’t to be, you can read a little about that here and get enthusiastic.

The associated radio show is still available here and includes interviews with many of the participants.

There was a quiz, if you have never been to an Artefact quiz put it on your list. Shaz has written about them before here and here and also here. They are chaotic and joyful, don’t expect it to start on time or finish when you thought it would. And be prepared to be served a recipe from Gerry Adams’ cookbook in an obscure round.

I’m sure there is even more I’ve missed without realising, which is how a festival should be.

Final words

All in all a really good event, lets hope it becomes a recurrent one. If you like your music hard to explain to other people then keep an ear out for the next Ten Acres of Sound.


*This is a joke. I’m neither, and there has been very little moving or shaking to speak of.

**For more on this, ask me in a pub what the differences are between living in Birmingham and Manchester, on second thoughts, better not.

***Honourable mentions should also go to Tower of Song, Shanty Town, Ort (if it ever comes back), Centrala , anywhere the Nature Centre play and all the other ones I’ve forgotten.

****Don’t ask me what the distinction is, but there is one isn’t there? Maybe I’ve misunderstood it all.

*****They have solid regulars but my recent favourites have been the Raving Brummie and Blonde Brummie

******For more on this, ask me… on second thoughts, etc.

*******I realise this isn’t possible

********This might be why Shaz said my writing was pretentious

*********For anyone wondering, yes I copied this from Daniel Kitson

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