Walking through the flood waters
The recent release of four walks around a year: winter, draws to a quiet close the seasonal quartet of soundwalks around winnall moors, which were slow released by Gruenrekorder through 2013/14. A review of the entire perambulated year by Richard Allen appears on a closer listen, whilst the artist and writer Nathan Thomas, having commented on two of the previous seasons for Fluid Radio, has concluded his discussion with a review of the winter walk.
In Allen’s review the solitude of listening comes to the surface. This solitude was always close and apparent, whilst collecting the sounds for the project. Even in the company of the Wildlife Trust’s wardens, scientist and volunteers, I always felt alone, remote and strangely paused. Perhaps this was a consequence of the enclosed isolation and amplified environment of the headphones. But the attention of listening, especially when focused upon the grains of sonic detail, (‘the sound of a few leaves’ rather than the noise of many), confers upon the listener a sense of remote introspective absence and solitude: we are alone with the sound we are listening to. At the conclusion of his review, in an extract from Wallace Stevens poem The Snow Man, Allen draws attention to the quiet emptiness of the winter landscape
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
Sunken path: River Itchen flooding the boardwalk
Sunken path: flooded boardwalk
The nothingness we hear in the winter walk is a vacancy, an absence in time and place. There is a suggestion or perhaps expectation of return. In his review, Thomas, draws attention to these temporal undercurrents, which haunt the sounds and acoustic textures present, he writes: ‘Winnall Moors becomes a space crisscrossed with countless actual, remembered, and imagined paths’. Throughout the project the temporality of sound has always held my attention, the traces of presence and the familiarity of place returned to. Each walk begins in the same place and at the same time, so that the listener is placed in and returned to a familiar landscape.
A natural consequence of field-recording, is to make the fluid, concrete, fixing the sound present as a moment past. And yet conversely such permanence reveals change and makes manifest the variation of temporal patterns. Such patterns are not confined to nature’s seasonal calendars of migration and breeding, they also include the religious calendar of church bells and the social habits of place. The archival voices, which ‘introduce’ the winter walk, saturate the moors in history, as people remember previous winters when the flooded moors would freeze and become a temporary ice rink. This year the moors have flooded again, soaking the soundscape in the gush and lonely trickle of water. Closed to the public, the footfall of paths, which last year were crisp with the crackle of ice and crush of frost, are this year quietly submerged beneath the un-trodden slosh and broken banks of the river Itchen. The moors are covered in large pools of water, whose mirrored stillness adds to the sense of a landscape paused. As I walk through the floodwater the ripples of my steps roll, return and dissipate. Looking at the surface of the water, I watch the trace of my presence slowly disappear as the wet mirror returns to stillness and pause. For Gaston Bachelard ‘water is the gaze of the earth, its instrument for looking at time’ (Gaston Bachelard, Water and Dreams). But time is also present in the voices of water. Listening to the breach of river, escaping across the paths, leaking into my wellingtons and the reedbeds of the reserve, rivulets of sound introduce trickles of movement and in the words of Thomas, ‘time becomes quietly audible’.