Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Sounds Like Summer

Oystercatcher egg, Norfolk coast - Photo by Jo Sinclair
There's a place I go to. This place and I have history. I've just scheduled a social walk there and it occurs to me it might feel a little odd to lead a string of people into the place that is the nearest I have ever got to going to church. It's a place I go to disappear. I trespass the quiet places dog walkers and runners don't reach. I observe a secret natural world. I observe myself.

I visited this place a few days ago. It's an oasis of ancient woodland surrounded by intensive agriculture. There are dappled rides where hunting platforms are rigged. These constructions make me slightly uneasy (I watched Walt Disney's Bambi at an impressionable age). I could see fresh bootprints and Landrover tracks and hoped the hunter or gamekeeper had been and gone. Watery ruts and puddles were surrounded by deer, badger, fox and bird prints. I noticed something else. This time my senses seemed wired slightly differently. I was tuning into details I may have missed before. I found myself listening to the tiniest sounds. The slowly receding puddles were emitting kissing sounds. Rafts of flies upset the viscous calm as they buzzed and skated and pierced the surface of the water with proboscises. Grass flowers emitted tiny puffs of pollen - I wonder what those might sound like? I imagined a multitude of sound layers beyond the obvious bumblebees, barking muntjac, coughing pheasants, pleading parties of tit chicks and garden warbler, blackbird, woodpigeon and blackcap song.

A benefit of walking alone is hearing the birds, and the wind in the trees. Last night I went on a cross-country bike ride and missed all these nuances as I laboured noisily up hills, skidding on grass and flint. All I heard when I stopped for a rest was bird song and my own breath.

Soundscapes, sound ecology and sound art are inspiring me at the moment, so experiencing the environment has a new dimension to it. There's a Cambridgeshire musician who's in his element when recording sound in the natural world. Simon Scott appeared on Springwatch recently. Introduced by Chris Packham as 'sonic artist extraordinaire',  the Cambridge born Fenlander describes what being a sound ecologist is all about. Packham introduces him as a lifelong nature boy and indie rock star. Nature's orchestra is the inspiration to his composition Below Sea Level (see his website, with links to the show).

Sound artists are excited by accessing what our ears don't or can't usually hear. With equipment such as hydrophones that reach below water into previously undiscovered worlds they make scientific discoveries as well as art.

The Sounds Of Our Shores project is a collaboration between the National Trust and British Library. They are appealing to the public to record the sounds of the British seaside this summer using smartphones, tablets or sound recorders. As the heatwave advances I'm imagining squealing kids, white horses, the rush of pebbles and oystercatchers. Dream on.

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