Home. A place we recognise through an assortment of senses and memories. Colour, smell, touch, sound … each play their part in forming our concept of where we live. How often do we know that we have truly returned home upon hearing the sounds of the familiar? To celebrate World Listening Day I have compiled a small collection of sounds which I hear around me on a regular basis. The valley where I live is an environmentally diverse area, this being reflected by the wealth of its sounds. It is a place where farmland borders forests which border swamps. The sounds emanating from each habitat shape my relationship with the land. The sounds inform me that I am “home”.
Central to the valley is a system of creeks. The creeks flood during summer and are reduced to mere trickles in winter. Above their surface the sounds of birdlife can be heard, but for me the greater interest is found beneath the surface where the mesmeric stridulation of water bugs dominates the watery soundscape. I lose time sitting by the creek listening to the sounds below:
At the lowest point of the valley, alongside the creeks, lie a series of swamps. After the summer rain the swamps are alive with frogs. Although the best recordings can be made at night this is also the time when snakes emerge to feed. Field recordings are made with eyes scanning the long grass for any reptilian presence:
Aside from its natural attributes a section of the valley is dedicated to farmland. In our first few years here geese roamed the open grassy paddocks however due to feral foxes only two geese now survive. There is a sadness in listening to this old recording:
The driveway leading to our house is 800 metres long with 3 gates. It deters uninvited guests! The second gate is connected to an electric fence which emits a regular sharp snap in wet weather. It is a small sound, a reminder that civilisation exists beyond this expansive private world:
Often muddy after rain the driveway crosses a bridge, a causeway, and a cattle-grid. The sound of a car bumping over the grid would be recognisable to anyone who has ever lived on a farm. Its sound is associated with departures and arrivals:
Listening to the sounds that emerge from the nocturnal shadows is often a preternatural experience. Without any visual cues we are left to imagine the form of the hidden animal through its sonic properties. One of my favourite sounds at night comes from an insect that resides in the grass alongside the driveway. Its piercing electrical call lasts for hours yet I’ve never seen the insect responsible for this feat. I enjoy the mystery:
Fruit bats are regular visitors after sunset. Flying from a neighbouring town they land in native trees to feed on fruit and nectar. Their squabbling screeches belie their furry and endearing faces. It is difficult to convince others of the affection that bats deserve:
The front deck of our house is a perfect place to enjoy the morning. As the sun rises the dawn chorus filters through the fog. One of the earliest birds to call is the Kookaburra. Where Australians hear joy in its call others hear screaming monkeys:
Later in the day cicadas dominate the soundscape. At times they are so loud and relentless that we are forced to close our windows:
As is the case with most Australians our lives are influenced by floods and droughts. Only one rain-tank next to the house supplies water to the kitchen and bathroom. During the dry months we need to ration the use of water, while in the wet months the tank overflows. The slow drip of water into a near-empty tank is a sound best avoided:
A view from Main Arm to Mount Warning. The field-recordings for my composition The Great Silence were made in this region.
It was difficult to choose which sounds to include in this sound map as there were so many others vying for attention. Compiling the recordings for this post highlighted the fact that I am still discovering the extent of my local soundscape. For every sound I have recorded over the years there are many others I am yet to unearth. I think this must be true for everyone. Every new sonic discovery is a reminder that our knowledge of even the most familiar features in our lives will always be incomplete and worth examining. It is a humbling thought.