On 25 July 2016 we four women and Jack-Jack (the collie) marched into the forest with hydrophone and shotgun mics in hand for a summer evening of deep listening. A small but remarkably well equipped group, we settled by a small riverbank to get started. I’ve never actually used a hydrophone before and some of the others were using the boom and shotgun mic for the first time. I honestly can’t tell you how long we stood there, silently, still, absorbed. Strange sound fishing gnomes.
Perhaps you understand the appeal of this very well, especially if you make or simply love listening to soundscapes, noise, or ambient music. But if this seems a little pointless, bring your ears closer to hear the constant organic variation, the sparkling detail, water referenced and simultaneously abstracting fabric of sound playing its own time.
When I’ve recorded sound on location for film in the past my focus has been on dialogue, working quickly and listening for unwanted noise, but for once this drew me into a completely different experience. I was surprised to discover that I loved it. To be so far away from clinical studio fabric boxes where we imagine elsewhere, not needing to imagine, just listening.
Wiping mud off cables we trundled up the hill, now a little more aware of other sounds: our boots brushing through the grass, sirens in the background. Conversation shifted effortlessly to what we were hearing and I realised that we were on a sound walk. Opening our ears, sound hunting.
Jo announced that she’d arranged the next location carefully as we stopped to examine two birds sitting on a wire… in complete silence.
So we continued to the hill top, which presented an audio panorama but alas, not much in the way of birdsong. It didn’t prevent Abi’s polarity pickup experiments, with careful assistance from Jack-Jack, while the others practised pointing.
After a brief pause, to capture what we thought were swallows enjoying their dusk midge feed, we relocated to a wind farm. The sun burned through clouds over the Pennines, still providing enough light and warmth for this final stop.
Setting up our equipment (again, I’m reminded of hunters with amplification rather than ear protection) we made our silent way through peaty heather and waved boom poles around hoping for sonic gold. Those immense moving fibreglass Triffids are almost completely silent. Almost.
My ears are usually open and yet I heard this sound for the first time in my life. Here is the appeal. Impossibly fast blades generating soft audible undulations, propelled by a breeze so gentle that it presented no difficulties for the diffuser protecting my microphone. The sound of power with each blade tip, and the mechanism running through the core, betraying its simple design dance.
Naturally we finished in the pub, discussing ideas for a future live music night in Todmorden.
Jo suggested that it’s good to have something to aim for, I agree. So we’re going to dedicate the next few Huddersfield socials to the idea of doing a first live set (a first for me too).
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