Listening to your local sounds

img_6524

How is your sense of place informed by the sounds that surround you?

 

After decades of living in the northern NSW region of Australia I am pretty familiar with its sights and sounds. It is an idyllic area with forests, farmland, towns, rivers and beaches however this year I have felt a growing fatigue towards its rural limitations. In turn this has fostered a certain deafness towards its sonic diversity. It is an affective deafness driven by an impatience to explore new areas. Wanderlust!

img_6522

This morning, on a whim, I drove a few minutes from home and walked into the local forest. It is an area I once visited regularly but have neglected to frequent for over 1-year.

I sat by a stream and listened to the surrounds …

     … water dripped from a leaf into a small pool, birds called from trees overhead, a cricket chirped from somewhere in the undergrowth, flies buzzed around the microphone …

The recordings I made were unremarkable however the act of recording somehow reasserted my attachment to place. This is an experience many field recordists seem to mention. Listening to the waves of sound that pass around us we become immersed in our immediate environment. Our internal mapping of an area becomes multi-sensory. We find our position within it, realigning ourselves with its metre.

There in the forest life moved at a slower pace. The slow and steady rhythms in the gully calmed, albeit temporarily, the mental rush that has permeated much of 2016. It felt churlish to wish for something more.

On the way home I drove with the windows down, listening to all that I passed. Was it naive to think this moment would last?

 

 

Sounds from a Deserted Town: Dalmorton

Dalmorton Butchers

The old Dalmorton Butchers

More than a 1-hour drive along a narrow dirt-road winding its way through river-valleys lined with eucalyptus trees sits the deserted township of Dalmorton. Once a gold-mining town boasting 13 pubs Dalmorton is now a small collection of abandoned buildings whose facades are barely surviving the elements and mindless actions of some visitors.

There under the unrelenting midday sun an old butchers shop and residence begged to be recorded …

Butchers

Inside the butchers

The heat was oppressive inside the old butchers shop. I definitely didn’t want to spend much time there. Quickly scanning the room I saw some rusting metal rings from which meat once hung. They looked an ideal place to connect a contact microphone.  The metal transported a definite thumping sound. A loose sheet of corrugated-iron roof was flapping in the barely existent breeze.

Residence

Next door an old residence baked in the sun. Although it had survived decades of abandonment visitors had at some stage kicked in the walls and windows. In a room to the left a tree branch scraped against a sheet of iron. My recording was cut short by the intense heat. The space or sparseness of the sounds caught in the recordings somehow reflected the slow pace of the empty township.

Dalmorton creek

 Boyd River

Walking around the remnants of the old township it is easy to forget that a a river runs through the valley.  The sounds of life by the riverbanks were in direct contrast with the town. We entered its fresh water contemplating the place Dalmorton had once been. Questions were asked:

How had the land shaped those who once lived there? How could a town big enough to host 13 pubs all but disappear? What emotional attachments did residents have to Dalmorton in order to call it home? Did the local soundscape help form a connection to the land? What sounds had since been lost?

We floated in the water, no answers came …

Tallinn

Tallinn

Contact microphones attached to a hotel window

 

Tallinn, Estonia, 2013. Early in the morning listening to the traffic below the hotel window. The sound of the quotidian sounding exotic in this unfamiliar terrain.

dsc00980

 

The act of recording that morning has deeply imprinted that simple moment into my memory. I remember a light layer of snow in the gutters slowly melting under a weak winter’s sun, the sound of traffic drifting according to the changes in the traffic lights.

 

dsc01015

 

It was the only recording I made while in Tallinn. I preferred to walk the streets without the feeling of urgency to capture sounds.

 

dsc00916

 

Years later, on the other side of the world, I listened again to that recording. With the aid of filters I pushed the recording beyond its original form. The traffic droned and washed past in previously unrealised pitches and tones. Somehow this distortion mirrored the evolution of memory, it established a new truth.

Tone Variation i

tone variation

 

Filters, oscillators, each eliciting the hidden potential within one sustained note. Many an hour has been spent listening to the variations within synthesised tones and field recordings alike. Sitting in the darkness with headphones on it is easy to get lost between layers of sound. A gentle and gradual process of exploration where time is lost, the mind moving beyond the structure of the clock, instead we are transported by sound itself.

Road Trip: Snowy Mountains

IMG_4919

 

A road trip into the Snowy Mountains region. Driving south from Canberra we entered foggy valleys with yellow grassland. Leaving the city behind we were ready for a new landscape, something to jolt our senses into a renewed state.

And then it began. Road-kill to the left and right. Wombats, kangaroos, emus, wallabies. Not a kilometre without bloated corpses defrosting in the early morning wintery sun.

IMG_4921

At first we counted the number of dead wombats we passed. Not native to our home region we had been excited at the prospect of seeing them in the wild. As the number increased we told each other they were sleeping by the side of the road but this feeble joke grew old pretty quickly.

We soon entered a region where even the vegetation was dying. Huge old Monaro eucalyptus trees standing like skeletons, their fate not changing from one field to the next.

IMG_4923

Researching it later we had unknowingly passed through a 2000 square kilometre area regarded as a tree graveyard. For over two decades the eucalyptus trees have been dying leaving behind an eerie landscape.

dead forest snowy mountains

We finally arrived at the Snowy Mountains. The mountainsides were characterised by lines of thin white tree trucks. They were the remnants of forest that had burnt to the ground in bushfires in 2003. Bleak, devastated, silent.

Walking through the countryside it was hard to feel uplifted. Signs of loss were everywhere. Many reports suggested the Snow Gums were not growing back.

We stayed in the area for 3 days. On our last night we watched the breaking news of a mass shooting in Orlando. We fell into silence.

Driving back north we again passed the corpses of the local wildlife. They hadn’t moved since days before, still sleeping in the midday sun.