In a few weeks' time, Natalia Mamcarczyk will be embarking on an ambitious 630 mile sound walk for Women's Aid. We joined her to discuss the motivations behind the fundraiser and why sound plays such an important role in her life.
Natalia has been a part of dBs for many years now. Studying at both diploma and undergraduate level in Bristol, she now works as a technician, administrator and admissions officer across both our FE and HE centres.
Before moving to the UK and studying with us, Natalia grew up in Poland. A classically-trained pianist, she also performed as a vocalist in various choirs before feeling the itch to join a slate of bands in her teenage years. It was here that her interest in production was first piqued.
"When I got to an age when parties and socialising were more of a priority, I replaced music education with playing in bands and enjoying the nightlife. When I felt ready, I decided to learn the production and recording techniques to find out what actually goes on behind the scenes in the studio. I used to have band practices and tried various bits of recording on some really old, cheap equipment, not really knowing what I was doing. I'd say that I didn't really learn what audio production really was until my first day studying at dBs FE. It was a relief to slowly uncover this world and developing an understanding of the principles of recording helped me build confidence with being creative."
Finding her voice
After completing the BTEC DJ & Electronic Music Production course, Natalia progressed to our HE centre where she enrolled on the BA (Hons) Music Production & Sound Engineering Degree. Over the course of her degree, Natalia began DJing under her alias Walya, performing around Bristol and finding residencies at both 1020 Radio and Noods. Driven by her obsession with dance music, particularly Bristol's dub and sound system scene, her work as Walya continued to draw upon her fascination with obscure sounds, but it would not be until the end of her final year that she really honed in on experimental sound creation.
(Photo credit: Jack Harvey)
"Sound art and immersive audio was certainly something that I explored more at the end of my degree and my approach has changed considerably over the years. At the start, I was completely experimenting with what I was doing, as I didn’t understand much about the processes to begin with, so it was all unknown and exciting. I am still pleased with my very early productions more than with stuff that I did after a few years of getting into it. The more I learned, the more I felt like there was a limiting form that I was trying to fit into, and that didn’t feel comfortable for me.
"It was towards the end of my degree when I felt that freedom again, and it certainly opened up my creativity and made production more personal and fruitful. I rediscovered that sound has such a wide meaning and purpose that can be explored beyond seeking a certain aesthetic. Personally, I find it's much more liberating and at the end of the day this is a form of expression that I always wanted sound to be, rather than a product.
"Sound art also feels a bit more inviting to crossover with other art forms and allows for a more DIY approach. I come from a background where you play with what you’ve got. I noticed that these days what people define as ‘home studio’ is owning a multi-grand set up, something hardly achievable for me. Defining the standard by expensive gear is a limitation that I don’t like looking up to anymore. Ideas become more important than the means."
Louder than words
As a sound artist, Natalia's releases have drawn from a variety of different themes and topics. 'Childhood of Tomorrow' celebrates the work of digital artist Simon Stalenhag through compositions that recreate and embrace his retro-futuristic oeuvre using binaural, field and object recordings, where 'The Feast of All Saints' addresses Natalia's dissonance towards Poland's national and religious holidays.
Artwork for 'Childhood of Tomorrow' (top left), 'Where the Pines Whisper' (top right) and
'The Feast of All Saints' (bottom)
"When creating a piece based on a concept, I believe it is important to focus on a matter that gives me the opportunity to obsess over it. I struggle to come up with a theme just for the purpose of creating a production. I prefer when there is a subject that keeps coming back to my mind, then I like to give it more time to explore it. Something that you feel you want to discuss over and over with your friends when having a drink, or that you want to read about in-depth and become really familiar with.
"For example, I created 'Childhood of Tomorrow' in the period in my life when I used to travel back home (Poland) quite frequently and I had a lot of time to reflect on the nostalgia of childhood and the surroundings I grew up with. I found Simon Stalenhag’s artwork (that was the main visual inspiration for the album) really echoed those sentiments. His post-Soviet imprint on the local landscape that somehow intertwined the childhood nostalgia and imagination really resonated with some of my reflections, and felt very present with me at the time. On the other hand, I kept coming back home and there were certain things about the traditions and politics in my home country that I felt so allergic and opposed to, I felt like I wanted to share that perspective with others."
Natalia's desire to share her perspectives and raise awareness are acutely felt on 'Hańba // Disgrace'; a soundscape composition that champions the repealing of the Eight Amendment in Ireland through the use of documentary and interview samples, and is counterpointed by recordings taken from the Black Protests in the wake of Poland's anti-abortion legislature, which came to a head in 2020 after the government imposed the harshest laws in both Europe and the country's history. For such a personal subject, Natalia chose this piece as the moment when she would use her own voice as part of the composition.
"I recorded myself several times reading a poem I'd written and manipulated my words and the sounds of my voice. I'm quite pleased, actually, because the piece got a bit of interest in Bristol's art scene and I had people reach out to me, I was asked to write an article about it as well. It was nice to see people becoming aware of the cause thanks to the piece, especially as it took a lot for me to break through using my own voice."
Walking with purpose
In the coming weeks, Natalia will be pairing her passion for sound with her love of hiking as she sets off along the South West Coastal Path (SWCP) to raise money for Women's Aid. she formally announced on this year's International Women's Day.
"The idea first came about last spring. I have been a keen hiker with a microphone since I finished my degree. I did a few trips when I explored the area on my own or with someone close to me, just listening to and capturing sounds. I have been getting more into hiking, partially also thanks to Bristol Hiker Girl group - a great initiative to get women in the area hiking and exploring outdoors.
"When I was looking for interesting routes about Cornwall I first heard of SWCP in fact on that group. I did a hike with few of my closest friends last summer around the Lizard Peninsula and absolutely fell in love with it. It was very tough, but it was beautiful and I kept going on about coming back and doing the whole thing at some point. This year seemed like a perfect opportunity to commit to this walk, as I didn’t really have much else to spend my annual leave on, as well as the uncertainty of going anywhere was so bleak, that I needed something to look forward to.
"The preparation through exercise and research started hard at the beginning of January and it literally kept me sane through the last tough lockdown. If I wasn’t doing yoga or exercise I would be watching hiking videos and going down the wormhole of researching best rain jackets… The whole planning process has taught me a lot and got me really excited for what is about to happen.
"I also couldn’t think of a better way to fundraise for Women’s Aid. I found last year particularly difficult to come to terms with, especially in context of women’s rights. The High Court ruling on abortion laws and complete ignorance and violent tackling of the protests in Poland was a huge and impactful event on human rights within Europe. As much as the issues taking place in Poland are so close to my heart, I think it’s important to invest in supporting women through real functioning charities everywhere and at all causes. Women’s Aid is a brilliant charity that proactively and effectively fights violence and abuse of women."
As part of her 630-mile walk, Natalia will be documenting the trip with a sound diary, which will be released to further raise money for Women's Aid. Unlike her previous soundscape compositions, the diary doesn't come with a set them, but that's part of the fun for Natalia.
Natalia out in nature capturing field recordings
"I'd like to focus on the process rather than the results. I'm just going to let myself enjoy it and not impose any rules on it and I will figure out it's final form as I go. There are some things that I’d like to try and capture. I would love to record seals, owls and storms if I get the chance.
"From a cultural point of view, I’d like to somehow capture the sense of sonic architecture of these spaces, the little villages along the coast, galleries, pubs, and venues. The people who live there and what their lives involve. I will perhaps look at how can I present the history of the area if there is something that particularly catches my attention. As much as I’m learning about the different stages now, there will be a lot of quick moving from one point to another, so too much of a recording itinerary could go against my hiking logistics. Therefore I won’t plan too far ahead just yet. I’d be interested to explore what the sonic image of Ley lines could be - I might take some contact mics too maybe!"
Empowerment and support
While incredibly exciting, it would be irresponsible not to address the very real concern for Natalia's safety as she embarks on this trip, a concern she's all too aware of.
"The idea of doing it on your own as a woman is just terrifying. I'll be honest about it, I'm scared to do it and so are my friends, especially after the events of this year, but we can't let that fear stop us from becoming equal members of society.
"There are certain things that I will have to take into consideration being on the trail. I really wanted to set up a daily diary that I could share with people to give the fundraiser more opportunity to be heard. I currently follow a lot of hikers who currently are doing this trek. Most of them are men, and they post their updates daily, indicating the spots that they camp in and what their location will be the next day. In that way they promote their challenge and meet new friends on the way. I am gutted because as a woman I won’t be able to do that, as I’m practically exposing myself into more significant danger than a male hiker.
"Women are present on trails, but we can’t be too loud about it, because we are generally saying ‘Hi I’m out here in the middle of nowhere on my own, and all I have to protect myself with is a camping stove and a camping knife’. I don’t feel confident enough to go and wild camp most of the nights on my own. Not because I’m weak, just because I’m more exposed to danger. Because of that my trip will be costing me perhaps 400 pounds more than a male hiker who can comfortably camp most nights, simply not feeling the same volume of threat as a woman would.
"It’s my aim to spend at least one night wild camping on this trip, but I think, even if I try very hard and I will be out there for quite a long time, I have to take into consideration that this might not happen. My friends will be checking on my location a few times a day and I will have a person living nearby on standby to help me if I need it. Again, this is not something that a standard male hiker has to take into consideration. Simply, for women, the comfort of travelling alone is significantly compromised."
Though these worries are grounded and not to be taken for granted, Natalia's drive remains unshaken and she hopes that her example will pave the way for other women and effect positive change.
"I would love for this trip to empower women to feel more comfortable outdoors. We need to claim this space for ourselves and invite and support each other in this. I have so many amazing friends supporting me in this, and I feel for all of them this means a lot as a statement, and that’s why they are a huge part of this - apart from being incredible friends of course! A handful of female campsite owners have also offered me a free stay due to the cause I’m raising funds for and I think this says a lot!
"As a woman walking, sleeping and physically exhausting myself on my own on the coast, I will be overcoming some socially grounded concerns. By proving that strength to myself, I am hoping for this to have meaning to others as well."
Fascinated by the various applications of sound? Check out our range of diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate courses.