Cosmo Sheldrake – Subterranea

Back in the summer of 2020, we commissioned 5 sound artists to respond sonically to our Tracks, Traces and Trails project themes: migration, climate, the nocturnal and the subterranean. The TTT project aims to make the invisible visible, and hopes to foster a multisensory appreciation of the natural world, to encourage us to care more for nature and our environment. This week, we’re delighted to share the results of the soundscape commissions with you! This diverse range of new works incorporates recordings of our natural and urban environments, birds, and animals, as well as sounds that cannot be discerned. The result is an exciting week of soundscapes, which will transport you underground to hear the sounds of roots growing and glaciers melting, through night time adventures of nocturnal creatures, off shore to explore how creatures in the ocean understand our land, and along the journey of a migratory path. We recommend using high quality headphones to best appreciate these works – so sit back, relax, and enjoy our beautiful planet through this sonic journey. Check back on the website for a new piece each night this week – from 16th to the 20th of November!

Image by Collin Elder (used with permission)

This piece is a sonic exploration of subterranea. We begin above ground with a recording of a spring emerging from a peat bog next to Kes Tor, on Dartmoor, before plunging beneath the soil into the fizzing spluttering world of plant roots and insect activity. In the foreground are recordings of termites, stridulating ants and the calling song of the Braconid Parasitoid, a parasitic wasp that burrows deep into tree roots to lay its larvae. In the background there are recordings of mulberry tree roots recorded with a hydrophone buried within its rhizophere. We then travel amid a number of bio-electrical recordings of a Pleurotus ostreatus, or oyster mushrooms, which are accompanied by recordings of tree roots of a Sitka Spruce tree. We come up for air with some geothermal upwelling’s and recordings of a mineral stream, before heading down again into the vaulted subterranean sewer system under the Holborn Viaduct, in London, where the long buried Fleet river roars along. Finally, we emerge out of the spring where we began, and float out onto the high moors.

Note from the Artist

I had a huge amount of fun composing this tangled journey into the world of subterranean bioacoustics. It lead me into all sorts on unexpected nooks, crannies, tunnels and caves and mycelial networks. I found myself listening to geophone recordings of the 2011 earthquake in Fukushima, tracking down cavers who had acoustically mapped the glacial caves of Svalbard using impulse responses, burying hydrophones deep into root systems of trees and plants, and firing off messages into the abyss of the internet trying to track down a long since discontinued microphone capable of hearing the heartbeat of a snail. Subterranean worlds – whether fungal mycelium, caves, underground water ways, or geothermal upwellings – are often literally obscure to us, and sound is a powerful way to explore them.

About the Artist

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Cosmo Sheldrake is a multi-instrumentalist musician producer and composer. Cosmo released his first single ‘The Moss’ in 2014, which was followed by the ‘Pelicans We’ EP in 2015 and his debut album The Much Much How How and I in April 2018. In 2016 Much of Cosmo’s work is concerned with ecology, extinction and the nature of place. In September 2020 he released a series of Wake up Calls, pieces composed entirely from recordings of endangered British birds. He has toured internationally, composed music for film and theatre, and in 2015 he ran a community choir in Brighton. Cosmo is also a keen brewer and fermenter and he and his brother Merlin have a line of fermented hot sauces. 

Sound Credits

Dartmoor – Cosmo Sheldrake

Mulberry Roots – Cosmo Sheldrake

Insect recordings – Misc. Creative Commons licensed

Bio-electrical recordings of Pleurotus ostreatus recorded by Michael Prime, used with permission

Sitka spruce – Tuck Tyrell, used with permission

Geothermal upwellings – Gordon Hempton, purchased with license

London Fleet River sewer – Cosmo Sheldrake

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