2021 is coming to a close and it is the last day of the last month of my “Sound Calendar”.
Although I have been listening carefully throughout December for something in nature that would represent this 12th month of the year, it has not appeared on my sonic horizon.
Instead I have chosen an audio clip, I have called “Time”. In December it seems to run away with itself, particularly in advent. It can feel hectic. And yet there is also a feeling of time slowing down when Christmas arrives; perhaps it even stands still? Time takes on a heightened significance as the old year comes to an end and we prepare for the new.
You can listen to the audio clips for the full 12 months of 2021 in:
On one of my regular walks, as the November light was beginning to fade, I was struck by the variety of sounds coming from the cow sheds on our local farm.
It was a “demanding” noise that seemed to signify something was about to happen. As the volume increased, a farm vehicle emerged with the evening feed. I returned at the same time the following day with my sound recorder and, on cue, the “cow chorus” began.
Light changes, weather shifts as autumn takes hold of the year. The greens and yellows of summer gradually turn into warm reds and oranges. Often wet and windy with intermittent days of calm, soft sunlight.
My soundscape this month tells a short story of transition. It parallels the change that can also occur in our relationship to the world at this time of year; from outer to inner focus – our desire for warmth and comfort, as we experience the cold and wet outside. At an onomatopoeic level – from dreich to hygge.
Listen on headphones for the best effect.
The warm colours of autumn moving into earthy rich browns, and the glow of fire embers in the dark chamber of the woodburner, remind me of the colours and contrasts often seen in many Rembrandt paintings.
Cooler days have arrived and there is a definite autumnal feel in the air. The regular sight and sound of skeins of geese has now started. It is an indication that summer is truly over. These flypasts will become a more frequent occurrence, louder and with greater numbers, as we enter into October. Sometimes the geese fly in their characteristic V formation at a distance, to the north or south of our house, and occasionally (if we are lucky) immediately overhead.
I have wanted to record the very particular “calling” sound of these birds for some time now, and was fortunate enough to have my sound gear at the ready this year.
I was also interested to visit a local loch where, I was told, the geese often congregate in the evening. So at the weekend we walked to Hule Loch, located on exposed moorland between Greenlaw and Duns. Sitting in the small hide we were able to take in the panoramic view of the loch, its multiplicity of birds and the surrounding hills. The colours and light changed so dramatically during the short time we were there, as the wind blew, the rain came in from the west and cleared again.
Although the sound of the wind was quite dominant inside the hide, I was able to capture several minutes of audio to bring back to Studio Hundy.
I have created a September sound piece encompassing 3 phases: over our house – a large skein flying in from the east and away to the west; from the hide – a small group of birds on the loch taking flight; and finally (also from the hide) – a large skein of geese coming in to land.
The latter was a fascinating occurence as the large cluster of birds seemed to ungainly drop down onto the surface of the water in a random manner, like some kind of precipitation out of the sky! As they landed onto the water their “cries” diminished, until eventually the loud cacophony of sound gave way to an occasional “squawk” or honk.
It’s a sharp sound to listen to, and at the same time incredibly beautiful – also so unmistakable!
Here in the Borders it is almost impossible to go out during the month of August without being aware, through sight, sound or smell, of the harvest taking place. Wheat fields with plumes of dust rising from the harvesters on a hot, dry day. The iconic sound of the combine as it emerges over the horizon, getting louder and louder ….. and yet LOUDER– no wonder that even the smaller models have been named to match!
I couldn’t let the month go by without recording some of the evocative grain gathering sounds in our own locality of Girrick. Not only the harvesting itself, but also the (perhaps less familiar) elaborate drying process of the grain that follows in very quick succession.
The sounds captured in the “grain processing soundscape” that follows have a wonderful breadth and diversity. Ranging from the reverberation of the trailer gate closing in the grain barn, through the soft sound of the grain filling the dryer chambers, to the dynamic start-up of the burner and fan, and onto the rattling of the cork-screw auger, transferring the dry grain into the store.
Listen and enjoy the textures of the sounds and imagine the aroma of freshly harvested wheat! But be prepared for a few sonic surprises.
Following a short period of reticence, the Spotted fly catcher returned and finished its nest towards the end of June. It could be seen keeping its beady eye on surrounding activity, as it lay on the eggs.
By early July the 2 adults were in and out of the nesting box, feeding the young. Perhaps 3 or 4; difficult to see without causing a commotion.
We’d catch sight of the adults here and there throughout the garden, with their characteristic flying patterns; circling rapidly in mid-flight and returning to their original perch.
By the end of the day on 16th July the chicks had all fledged. The last one to leave can be seen “hovering” on the edge of the box, as it was encouraged by the adults in the nearby birch tree.
What an absolute delight to encounter, for the second year running, such a beautiful little bird raising its family in our garden.
You know that sense of stillness that seems to fall just before the first crack of thunder? It is full of tension, anticipation – I’d even say agitation. It is a precursor for a phenomena of nature that is sometimes paralleled in our soul.
The uncertainty of when, how loud and how close the thunder bolt will “fall”. The unpredictability of the next clap, breaking the intermittent (relative) quietness. Will it rain or will it not?
Recording the thunder storm earlier this week here in the Scottish Borders, I had a tangible experience of these stages and their synchronicity with the emotions we can encounter in the face of life’s uncertainties. Something all too familiar to us in the last 18 months.
However frightening, or invigorating, thunder may be, it will pass over. And if the rain does begin to fall, after the initial downpour, there can be a return to a feeling of inner quietude, with a faint, but lingering echo of the storm that has gone before!
Recently in Studio Hundy I have been painting a series linked to the Iroquois myth “Naming the Winds”.
At the beginning of time, Ga-oh the giant called forth 4 animals, each kept on a tight leash, to rule over the Four winds. A strong fierce Panther was summoned for the wild West wind - the maker of storms - splitting the clouds, tearing them to shreds, and snarling deep warnings over the dark sky.
Intrigued by the sounds coming from the local farm, I spent time this month recording various audio clips that I have used to create an edited piece called “Slurry“. It not only features sounds from nature, but also includes some more unusual “noises” from mechanical devices on the farm. All part of the soundscape at Girrick in June.
My fascination with the quality of the various sounds was perhaps matched by an equal measure of curiosity from those working on the farm; puzzled by the bizarre sight of me (with my recording equipment) – standing by the roadside as cattle were herded along the lane, following tractors into yards and keeping a very safe distance whilst slurry was being transferred.
The mechanical sounds of both slurry mixer and vaccum pump on the tanker were ideally suited to creating a more “abstract” sound piece in post-production. If you can, listen on headphones – a definite change of tone!
Thanks to all those at Girrick farm for allowing me to capture an aspect of their busy schedule in June.
For a few weeks in early May, drifting in and out of sleep during the wee small hours, I had been listening to the sound of birdsong in the comfort of my warm bed. I decided (a little reluctantly) to rise very early and record the dawn chorus in all its full magnitude. Setting my alarm for 3.30am I emerged sleepily from my bed……but was disappointed to find that the showers of April were downpours in May:
A second try a few days later was thwarted by the wind:
On my third early morning I was in luck. The weather was perfectly still and dry.
I recorded a full 20 minutes with only the occassional interuptions by distant cars or a plane flying overhead. I have condensed this into a 5 minute clip, with minimal editing – just extracting key phases of the chorus and crossfading the clips.
Listen and enjoy without the need to be out of bed at dawn!
The daylight hours of May have also seen a lot of bird activity in the garden, including an intriguing little nest high up in the Birch tree. I think it is a Chaffinch, but hard to tell from below.
A Spotted flycatcher has been investigating the birdbox, but doesn’t seem to have taken up residence as yet …….
… and various birds have been bathing in the pond or the shallow birdbath on the decking.
There were also a few rare moments of dramatic lighting this month.
April seems to be the month that nature really begins to emerge from the “quietness” of its winter shell. Plant life responds with new life and the budding process abounds. Bees visit early blossoms and birds sing out their varied songs.
Last year in early April, at the start of lockdown, I began the practice of sketching one emerging bud in the garden each day.
Sketches of emerging buds - Pencil with watercolour wash
This year I have been busy listening to the range of sounds that fill the air. Some, that really represent this month, have proved difficult to capture. I didn’t have my recording equipment the day I sat quietly by the fence and heard the sound of cows munching on fresh grass, having returned to the fields with their new calves. Next time I went out with my recorder, the cows were far away in the valley!
I did, however, create a small soundscape, in an attempt to encapsulate some of the other sounds that typify April. Listening on headphones will give you the full effect, hopefully immersing you in the sense of Spring.