Hidden Sounds: Nature Revealed
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!
Hidden Sounds – Audio
This project combines the traditions of storytelling and song with contemporary field recordings, searching for narratives that might revitalise our connection to the natural world. Specifically, it focuses on the hidden soundscape beneath the water’s surface, eavesdropping on a world beyond our usual limits of perception where sound and vibration are the primary senses that connect us deeply to our ecosystems.
Field recordings have been traced from water bodies around the North East of England, including the mudflats of Teesmouth, the coastlines of Durham Heritage Coast, nature reserves and colliery pit-ponds. In many of these locations, the remnants of an industrial past provide an unlikely backdrop to blooming natural habitats. Indeed, many of the Wildlife Trust reserves are reclaimed pit and quarry sites.
An additional field trip to the Farne Islands in Northumberland allows us to observe the underwater vocalisations and behaviours of seals, tracing their route down to Teesmouth, the only intertidal mudflat between Lindisfarne to the north and the Humber to the south.
A radio ballad for aquatic lifeforms
Jez Lowe is a singer-songwriter whose musical history lies in the traditions of the North East. I approached him to ask whether he would produce bespoke lyrics and songs informed by the field recordings I had made. Folk Music is necessarily rooted in local geographies and landscapes. Archival recordings portray the role of musicians within their local communities and are often recorded on location, embracing natural sonic characteristics that become embodied within the recording medium.
The environment was to play more than a supporting role in this commission. The submerged voices and actions of underwater residents became the foundation on which this music is built, suggesting a need to become more connected with marine environments, embracing the ‘otherness’ of the natural world.
This project is a radio ballad for aquatic lifeforms, told from the perspective of the marine-dwellers themselves about the coastal communities that rely on them.
In times when personal connections often take place online, the concept of digital intimacy gains value. This work exhibits an undercurrent of production techniques that have their basis in Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), including close-up recording, binaural production and repetitive noises. The sensation is characterised by a ‘tingling’ that can be induced by a number of external factors. Certainly, the attentive listening to particular underwater environments might be conducive to an ASMR-like reaction, and so I couldn’t help but put together an additional EP bringing together four of my personal favourite recordings from this project. Let me know how they stimulate your aural senses!
Durham Heritage Coast: Initial field trip, looking to Shippersea Bay
Hawthorn Hive, County Durham
This is the site on which Jez’s song “This Was My Boat” is based. “There was a community of old men who lived in upturned boats on the beach when I was a kid, just along the beach at Hawthorn Hive. They lived off the rock-pools and early morning fish that were washed up there”, says Jez.
Seal Sands, Teesmouth
The intertidal mudflats at Teesmouth Nature Reserve. Pollution and hunting devastated the seal population around the Estuary and by 1860 one of the UK’s most impressive marine mammals had disappeared from the Tees completely. It took over a century for them to return, but by the late 1980s, common (harbour) and grey seals were seen again, and today there is a population of well over a hundred animals.
I had never visited the estuary until spurred on by this project. Visiting with my 2 year old son and watching these seals swimming in with the tide made for an enjoyable and memorable day out.
Farne Islands, Northumberland
Palace of Science are a non-profit, volunteer-run organisation hosting fun and engaging science-themed events in and around Newcastle and the North East of England. Euan Preston, one of the series’ producers had been in touch not long before the commission was accepted; it seemed the perfect opportunity to pool our resources and create something a little bit different.
The short documentary can be found alongside the audio recordings on this webpage. All of the sounds and video footage were captured as part of the Land Lines commission. Creating this together was a bold, possibly audacious, excursion from the original assignment but entirely worth it in my opinion. I hope you’ll agree. The documentary was produced by Objectiv Pictures for Palace of Science.
Easington Colliery, Pit Pond and Shaft
The, appropriately named as it turns out, “Pond of Life”. Here’s a recording excerpt:
I wonder whether Amelia Dawes was aware of the biodiversity contained within? Please pass on my thanks for the tip, if you know her.
And here is the pit shaft which still stands like a titan above of the headland. Contact mic recordings can be heard here:
Underwater speaker recording
The piano lines heard during Jez’s “Seal Song” (the final song of the triptych) were re recorded underwater at Durham Wildlife Trust’s Rainton Meadows reserve. I used Alvin Lucier’s “I Am Sitting In A Room” as a point of departure, in which Lucier records himself narrating text then plays this recording back into a room, re-recording it until eventually the acoustic resonances of the room itself takes over.
Here I imitated the process but instead used a submersible speaker in an attempt to capture the acoustic fingerprint of a pond. The piano part was played and re-recorded numerous times to create the ‘filtered’ sound you hear. The process suggests the important reminder that we are not solely observers of these environments, but participants; our existence is contained within one ecosystem.
THIS WAS MY BOAT, NOW IT’S MY BED, BOW, KEEL AND STERN NOW A ROOF FOR MY HEAD, ONCE FOUGHT THROUGH STORM, NOW KEEPS RAIN OFF INSTEAD SYLKIE AND SEAL, STARFISH AND SHELL, EACH ROCKY CRADLE A SECRET TO TELL TRICKLE AND RING OUT YOUR SALT WATER BELL THOUGH I AM OLD AND LIFE HAS BEEN LONG, I’M BARELY A WRINKLE ON THE FACE OF A POND RAIN-FILLED AND STILL, EVER AFTER I’M GONE. ----- WELCOME TO JOE’S, DEEP DOWN BELOW, ABOVE AND BEYOND, A PRINCE AMONG PONDS DRAGONFLY BLUE, AND STARTLING HUES, WELCOME TO JOE’S, SO EASY AND SLOW WELCOME TO JOE’S, THE FRIENDS AND THE FOES, A MIXED CLIENTELE, ENTERTAINMENT AS WELL, TEARS AND LAUGHTER, THE SOUND OF RENATRA, WELCOME TO JOE’S, WHAT DO YOU KNOW? WELCOME TO JOE’S, DINE IN OR TO GO, SHOOTING THE BREEZE WITH THE BIRDS AND THE BEES, NEEDLE AND STICKS, GETTING THEIR KICKS, WELCOME TO JOE’S, LET’S GET ON WITH THE SHOW ----- ROLLING SHOULDERS OF STONE ARE MY HOME, GREEN WATER GLIDING THE WAYS WE HAVE KNOWN TWISTING AND TURNING, WIDE-EYED AND WANDERING MONK ISLAND MARINER, SALTED OF SKIN, WHISKERY-WISE, WITH BLUBBER AND FIN, LAZY AND EASY, BASKING AND BARKING AND WILD BLOW THE WATER AND WIND ON THE LONGSTONE WHERE ONLY THE SILKIE AND SAINT CAN ENDURE BRIGHT PEACOCK OF LIGHT, TALL AS SKY HIGH BECKONING WARNING WITH TWINKLING EYE, OUR SONS AND DAUGHTERS GO SAFE IN DEEP WATERS. AND WILD BLOW THE WATER AND WIND ON THE LONGSTONE WHERE ONLY THE SILKIE AND SAINT CAN ENDURE.
Field Recordings by David de la Haye
Music and lyrics by Jez Lowe
‘Hidden Sound’ documentary produced by Objectiv Pictures for Palace of Science. Directed by Euan Preston.
Audio mastering by Simon Scott, SPS Mastering.
Produced by David de la Haye
Photography by David de la Haye
About The Recordist
David de la Haye is a contemporary musician, field recordist, sound technician and producer. He initially began a music career after studying Jazz and Contemporary Music at Leeds College of Music, going on to postgraduate studies in Glitch and the Aesthetics of Failure in Digital Music at Newcastle University. His current work explores the role of creative arts in marine conservation efforts, often using 360-degree recording and ambisonic diffusion techniques to create immersive experiences. In September 2020 he was shortlisted for the Times Higher Education “Outstanding Technician of the Year” award.
David is member of two successful Folk groups – ‘Monster Ceilidh Band’ and ‘Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies’. He has played bass on numerous albums and performed at major festivals and international venues across UK, USA, Canada, Russia and much of Western Europe.
He is a voracious collaborator, having worked on multidisciplinary projects with artists including Julieanna Preston, Catriona Macdonald, Marcus Coates, Sinead Morrissey, Pat Thomas, Usue Ruiz, and Shona Mooney. Commissions and residencies include the National Trust, Great North Museum, Being Human Festival, ArtHouse Jersey, and Sage Gateshead. His sound installation “An Ocean of Sound: From Sea To Skye” will be exhibited as part of the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art’s ‘Open Submission’ program.
Born in Jersey to working-class parents (his old man was a dustman and lived in the proverbial flat), David maintains a tireless work ethic. Now resident in the cathedral city of Durham and working within the School of Arts and Cultures at Newcastle University, he is a champion of technicians within the Creative Industries and supporter of the Technician’s Commitment.