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The Folonko (crocodile) also known as Mama Folonko, is one of three sacred fresh water crocodile pools in The Gambia. It is located in the rural village of Kartong, where I spent two years on a self directed residency from 2012 - 2014, and subsequently visit every year.

The pool is surrounded by a sacred forest, which includes kobo figs and run palms; a habitat for many species of birds and biological diversity. The surface of the pool is covered by a layer of pakanui-water lettuce. The crocodiles are not always visible within the water, however they are there, still and silent. On a visit to the site I was fortunate to see two of the white Folonko, which locals consider to be extreemly sacred.

'Folonko' is a project which I have undertaken preliminary research and development for whilst visiting Kartong village in February 2018/19. It relates to an enquiry I am making into my relationship and experience with African tradition, ritual animism, and the healing qualities of sound. I am interested with the relationship between indigenous human culture and their engagement with natural ecosystems as a place where sprits, dreams and waking reality merge.

Mama Folonko is in spiritual union with the women elders of the six Kartong village tribes. As custodians they use the site to pray, chant and perform ritual blessings. This spirituality has grown from generations of pragmatic empiricism. It is a place of pilgrimage, where people visit the elders to receive blessings and prayers to help with fertility in exchange for traditional offering of white candles, salt and kola nuts.

Part of my research into 'Folonko' has involved taking part in the sacred ceremonies performed by the women elders, where I drank the sacred water and performed ablutions. Field recordings were collected of the ritual, the inside of the rain forest and within the Folonko Pool with the use of hydroponic mics.

The resonance to understanding this embodied relationship is perceived through my understanding of abstractions, and a personal enquiry into sound as energy and communication through animist beliefs. These are details I am exploring throughout my practice.

'Folonko' is a project I intend to develop as a sound art installation and exhibit in England, The Gambia and Internationally.

I offer special thanks and my deepest respect to the elders at the Folonko Pool for granting me permission to share their rituals.

© Tony Spencer



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I took part in the first 'murmuration' residency 2018, exploration of all aspects of located sound (sound art, field recording, acoustic ecology, sound design, soundscape, sound installation & diffusion etc), coordinated by Jez Riley-French and Chris Watson. The location was Glenshee Scotland, on the edge of the Cairngorms, a rich source of inspiration, listening and recording possibilities. In addition there were enough international experts to discuss and share knowledge around the subjects of located sound, acoustic ecology and contemporary sound practice in its varied forms. It was a research and development residency, which I undertook as an enquiry into professional methods of recording sound in England and Africa and presenting as public sound art installations.

The Listeners

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The Listeners is an on going project where I am exploring the natural soundscape of Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve, which is home to a group of ancient Yew Trees known as ‘The Watchers’.

Yew Trees are indigenous British trees, decedents from our ancient woodland, often growing or planted on spiritual ground, including Celtic burial sites and Christian Church Yards. There is evidence that some of the ancient Yew trees in Kingley Vale are aged over 2000 years old, which makes them one of the oldest living organisms in Britain.

This was my fist enquiry in using audio equipment, including a contact mic, to find the invisible currents of sound beneath the skin of the tree and listen to its internal energy.

To emanate ancestral awakening, I vibrate the surface of the tree with the rhythm played on a shamanic frame drum. This process is to also emirate indigenous societies with animist beliefs, creating a ritual practice of slowing the brain down to a theta brainwave in order to sense an imaginative matrix of the natural world. The repetitive beat of a deer skin drum is an archetypal sound possessing felicitous symbolism, which we have inherited from prehistory.

Within Kingley Vale there is evidence of a rich ancestral heritage with remains of a Romano-Celtic temple at Bow Hill. Iron Age settlement site known as Goose Hill Camp, the Devil's Humps Bronze Age round burrows and a prehistoric flint mine. Perhaps the ancient Yew trees have preserved a physical memory they can express through sound and energy of ancestral ritual traditions.

After drumming I listen to the silence, to allow the sounds of the Yew tree to permeate my biofield and skin.


Artist - Tony Spencer
Concept - Tony Spencer

Photo credits: Jacqui McGinn