Written by Elizabeth Simmonds
A leisurely stroll along an urban riverbank on a ridiculously hot June day was never going to be an easy sell to two teenage girls, but the idea of a sound walk was intriguing enough to get them to agree, albeit reluctantly, to give it a go. So it was that a friend and I, daughters in tow, experienced Aeons, a new musical journey which takes you on a voyage of discovery along Hadrian’s Wall Path on the North Bank of the River Tyne.
Commissioned by Opera North as part of the 2018 Great Exhibition of the North, the walk has been created by Martin Green, best known for his work with the folk trio Lau, and features the amazing Becky Unthank of The Unthanks, Mogwai’s Dominic Aitchison, some atmospheric field recordings, and the massed forces of both the Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North. It is this compelling mosaic of sound which you listen to on headphones as you walk along the bank of Newcastle’s famous watery backbone, taking in such sites as Sage Gateshead and the Great North Water Sculpture.
Each step is accompanied by the tale of the Tyne through the ages, reflecting on its unique position in the northern psyche as a place of imagination, of wonder and of constant change. The result is both a visual and aural reminder of the history of one of the country’s greatest rivers and the communities which have interacted with it.
Starting at Gateshead Millennium Bridge, the journey takes in six historic bridges in all. Under one, you are encouraged to pause and take the time to listen to a track composed and performed by Becky Unthanks – it’s a surprisingly moving and intimate moment as you focus on a single singing voice
in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of a busy thoroughfare. The rest of the time, you carry on walking at your own pace with the whole experience taking around half an hour.
The immersive nature of the piece means that it is very easy to become totally absorbed in the soundtrack which genuinely does give a simple walk a very different perspective. Even the girls were impressed – although they did put in a plea for cooler-looking headphones!