Summer in northern NSW … humidity, mosquitoes, snakes, heatwaves, swimming with sharks at the beach. Not my favourite season. It is however time to begin collecting new field recordings for a phonographic project focussing on abandoned railway lines. Curated by the Unfathomless label the project has pushed me into the sweaty heat in search of sounds which may or may not end up in the final work.
My first recording was taken around this fabulous old train bridge. I sat in the middle and connected contact microphones to its steel frame but nothing of interest played through the headphones. Instead I trained a shotgun microphone towards a colony of cicadas whose rhythmic stridulation signalled the midday heat. As I recorded I watched a school of fish swimming below, glints of silver broke through the water’s surface.
It didn’t take long before a nest of ants discovered me. Their incessant bites and a hot wind drove me away. A few kilometres down the road an old overpass held the promise of shade and sound.
Contact microphones wedged into splits in the old wooden pylons
I had expected to hear the sound of wind circling around the pylons, and it was indeed present. What was of greater interest were the little clicks and squeaks of insects that must have been living inside the wooden frames. The incongruity of such high pitched signals emanating from such bulky pylons was amusing and fascinating. I have no idea what the sounds were and would be happy for someone to let me know.
That’s enough recording for one hot summer’s day. Once the heat is over it’ll be time to travel and record more of the abandoned railway lines.
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 …
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.
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.
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?