Australian Sound Artist

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Day 1. Open your ears, begin again: Recording under the expertise of Chris Watson

After over a year of planning I have finally begun the recording intensive in North East England under instruction from field recordist Chris Watson. My day of travel from London to the coastline was quite an ordeal. Nature decided to make it interesting by throwing a savage storm across my path. Sitting on a unmoving train for over 8 hours with a handful of strangers - while mild panic ensued and the discontent amassed - provided me with a somewhat surreal experience existing somewhere between 'Breakfast Club' and 'World War Z'. At midday, I did a run for supplies, leaving the quiet safety of our cabin to head into the growing mass of desperate bodies trying to leave the city.

I slipped through their numbers to quickly grab what I needed and headed back to the 'Safe zone'. On return I continued conversation with other strangers. Under the pressure of time they unfolded and told me of their relationships with family, friends, partners - more than once I heard the phrase, 'But I can't really talk about it with them.' I'd ask them why they could talk about it with me and generally, they would shrug. I became a confessional for the troubled individuals whose worrying thoughts had risen to the surface in this time of relentless waiting.
Very surreal...

Tuesday morning (29th) the work begins. I arrive at the Watson residence to find that the unconditional infatuation from their border collie (Jessie) has not waned overnight. While I know I'm not the only one (her attention is lavished on any lucky soul that walks through the front door), it does make me feel somewhat special and warrants interrupting my morning cup of tea discussion with Chris for a quick return of affection. We spend the morning pondering over maps of the areas Chris would like to visit for recordings. Each point on the map brings with it a tale of history - of its past and present inhabitants - of clans and cultures - of beasts and birds all who are connected to this physical origin. By the time the car is packed and we begin our way I am aware that tutoring has well begun.

Today we visit one of Chris's 'favourite places to record'. Heading North West we arrive at a small resting place within Kielder Forest. Visually, it is notably modest but the collections of sounds to be sourced here are diverse and like candy for the ear. An active stream borders the edge of the area, which is filled with both native and introduced trees, (pine and broad leaves, respectively). The wind has many different voices - each tuned by the leaves and trunks it wraps itself around. The coniferous trees - with their thin needled leaves create a constant steady hiss - not unlike white noise. The native Oak and Birch trees crackle in the force of the wind, their broader leaves clapping together like hands to near breaking point. 

I drop the two different hydrophones I have with me into the stream at various points. First I try deeper waters - where the current is strong moving but not so rough. The lower frequencies are more present and the general richness of the audio is a pleasure in itself. In comparison - the shallow stream appears to also shallow the frequencies of the sounds. Their lows disappear and the mid/highs become rougher and less enjoyable. Chris talks to me as I am monitoring and I jump at the direct sound of his voice. He reminds me that sounds travels faster in water than air. What I am hearing is his voice through the stream and it's immediacy is so noticeable that I feel I am hearing his voice microsecond's before his mouth forms the words.

:: Hydrophone recording. Kielder Forest ::
We pack up and leave just before dark. We must head to a nearby clearing and position our microphones for the night - running 100m cable back to the vehicle in wait for the nocturnal nightlife whose sounds we hope to capture. Time is of the essence. The setup (once positioned) must be left for at least a couple of hours before we begin recording, so as to allow the environment to settle again after our disruption. So little time, so much life and obsession to record it....

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.