To the hills: field-recording in the Border Loop

Microphones packed, off to the hills …

I wouldn’t be the first person to observe that the everyday things that stand directly in front of us are often overlooked. Even though it’s less than 50km away I hadn’t returned to the caldera region of Mt Warning (Wollumbin) for several years. You would think that living near an ancient volcanic rim whose ancient forests drip in subtropical green light, moist fresh air, and animal life, would draw myself (and other locals) to the area more regularly. Instead it lay in my memory. Driving there I wondered … would I enjoy the process of recording there as much as before, or had my interest in sound moved to other directions?

This patch of road, at the base of the mountain range, has always been one of my favourite places to record. Bell birds live in this particular patch of dry sclerophyll forest, their musical chimes act, in my mind at least, as an auditory gateway into the national park. I stopped my car to record, still moved by the sound, memories of previous visits there flooded my mind.

The rim of the caldera is dotted with patches of Antarctic Beech trees which have grown in the area for over a thousand years. If you are lucky enough to be there alone, it is easy to transport yourself back in time. My recommendation? Experience your favourite places both alone and with others. It is as though you pass through two separate spaces.

Walking along the track surrounded by these impressive giants a tiny rhythmic call drew my attention. A cricket of some kind, invisible in the undergrowth. I directed my microphone towards it for a minute or more. Silence. It was only later, at home listening to the recordings, that I heard how much birdlife was present, a sound I was completely unaware of due to my focus on another object. By extension, how much do we do this in our daily life … towards others?

Gnarly Antarctic Beech trees

I want to be this table when I grow up

Bright fungi, time to educate myself on what I’m actually looking at

And here was the view I had driven to see. The ancient volcanic plug. No eruption to record today. Instead I placed a pair of contact microphones on a railing at the cliff’s edge and recorded its metallic drone as the wind rose and fell. I loved the contrast between the beauty of the visual and the ominous auditory tone. It is incredibly low in frequency, so I’d suggest a good pair of headphones to hear the recording.

Driving home I passed a grove of pecan trees. A noisy flock of cockatoos could be heard collectively cracking open the nuts and munching on them. My presence made them nervous so the recording was taken from inside my car. And, to be honest, this suited me just fine … feeling a tad too lazy to walk much further that day.

And there it was. A day in the “backyard”. The process of listening and recording was a great way to be reminded of my local geographic space; to acknowledge how my own domestic space fits within a much larger scheme; to travel through areas which house layers of memory and personal history. Such grand sentiments, but how long will it be before I visit that area again?

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