The rhythm in rain, doors and hammers

Clothes drying on a metal gate

Rachel and the volunteer work party meeting the barn

On what the BBC had forecast to be a day of showers and sunny intervals, I met up with Rachel and a work party at Barton Farm barn in the north of the moors. The work party were charged with replacing a wire fence and when I arrived the volunteers were getting the wire and tools together. The sky looked dark and ominous and sure enough the clouds opened, the torrential rain cascading down on the roof of the barn. There is comfort in the sound of heavy rain, when you are enclosed and sheltered from its precipitation, even more so when the acoustics of the space are so voluminous, emphasising the percussion of the rainfall.
After the rain, the blocked gutters of the barn continued to pour, decanting wet patterns of pitch and tone as rainwater dropped and dripped upon the floor and ran down the plastic sheets protecting the first bails of summer hay.
In his book Touching the Rock, John M. Hull recounts his experience of blindness, he provides a wonderful description of listening to rainfall and its rhythms:

First I notice differences of place. Some sounds come from the left […] some from the right […] Next there are differences of speed. There is slow, steady drip, drip, drip, and a more rapid cascade, against the background of the pitter-patter of the individual drops on the windowpane […] I notice now there are differences in intensity. Here a surface is meeting the full force of the rain, but here is a sheltered place […] Differences of pitch emerge. There is the high-pitched drumming staccato as the drops fall on metal, the deeper duller impact on brick or concrete […] This built up into a complex pattern. The more intensely I listened, the more I found I could discriminate, building block upon block of sound, noticing regularities and irregularities, filling dimension upon dimension […] The patterns of water envelop me in myriads of spots of awareness.

It is not surprising that the word rhythm is related to the word stream: deriving from the Greek rythmos, related to rhein: to flow.  As I listen to the emergent chaotic pattern of dripping water, my sensitivity to the rhythms within it seems to be amplified. My ear seems to have become sensitive and considerate to the metres of time and space appearing. As I recorded the rain falling from the gutter, the volunteers continued to load the tractor, their voices coming in and out of the acoustic cover of the barn. The sound of the huge barn doors closing has its own spatial rhythm, revealing the large empty acoustics of the barn, then a long quiet pause, as the person closing the barn walks across to the other side. Finally, space disappears behind the stuttering clunk of a door closing.

Work party volunteers cutting back the reeds to get to the wire fence

close-up of barbed wire fence

In his book The Soundscape: Our sonic environment and the Tuning of the World, R. Murray-Schaffer, the pioneer of soundscape studies and composition, discusses the different rhythms that exist and have existed in our sonic environment. He describes the rhythms we introduce and carry with us, the rhyme of walking, the pulse of breathing. Schaffer laments the audio-rhythmical loss brought about by the industrialisation of our rural landscape: the extinction of individual rhythms on the pyre of combustion engines and the regulated rhythms of industry.
In mending the fence, the volunteers re-introduce the primordial hand-held rhythm of the hammer: a rhythm measured by the arc of an arm and the acoustic space of the environment. Although more intermittent, the hammers sound and rhythm shares the variation of rainfall, the volume and bluntness of its acoustics bring the hammer closer to the listener and help to provide a location in an intermittent landscape.
The rain introduces another pattern into the day, a sudden downpour and everyone takes cover under the trees. Although ill prepared for such a downpour, I endeavoured to attach a contact microphone to the old wire fence and record the sound of rain falling on a barbed wire fence that is soon to disappear. John Hull describes how sound makes space apparent. ‘The acoustic world is one in which things pass in and out of existence’, emphasising a temporal spatiality rather than a stable and substantial one. With the rain returning and falling upon the boundary of a wire fence, that which once demarcated and fixed space can be heard to disappear, as we listen to a line of metallic rhythmic intervals: space passing in and out of nothingness.

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