First frost motet: ghosts and the sound of empty landscapes

first frost of autumn

Up early to find the dawn and the moors covered in the first frost of autumn, a mist held over the river, slowly lifted with sunrise. The soundscape was strangely sparse and silent, all sound seemed distant and vaporous, small sonic details suspended within the particles of water.  The sound reminded me of the films of Andrei Tarkovsky, and in particular Nostalghia (1983). Tarkovsky’s films lack dramatic events, they proceed slowly, character and place seem to hover somewhere between presence and absence, time appears suspended. So to, here in this first frost, I listen to nothing much happening.
From the bridge over the Itchen close to playing fields, I made a recording of this uneventful silence. At this early hour, silence is usually solitary, but around 7am on the park side of the reserve, the sounds of dog walkers often drifts over into the moors. The voices of people calling their dogs back are reflected again in the architecture of the Art School: an echo of presence in an empty landscape, interrupted occasionally by early morning runners as they approach, arrive and disappear, bringing with them a moment of nearness in an otherwise vague and distant landscape. To add to the spectral qualities of this soundscape the squeal of a Water Rail rents a hole in the fabric of silence.

Frost crystals

To listen requires the silence of a listener, and so in listening, we remove ourselves from utterance. This is also the case with recording, I normally attempt to remove my own acoustic presence, I feign stillness and try not to speak, at a technical level, Low-cut filters are switched on to avoid accidental handling noise. But walking brings us into the soundscape and this morning the sound of my steps on the frosty ground is very tempting. In particular the sight of frosty grass just makes me yearn to tread upon it and hear, perhaps even ‘feel’ the textural collapse of grass covered in spicules of ice. Even the grit of the path sounds glacial.
The frost also alters the sound of the boardwalk over the reeds. In fact the variation in the sound of footfall on the boardwalk, describe and are themselves described by the changes of the seasons. With the frost the wire netting covering the wood sounds brittle, a cracking noise slightly amplified by the sounding board of the wooden boards underfoot. As I walk out across it I hold the microphone close to my steps to hear my movement through the soundscape, accompanied by the crisp whisper of a cold breeze moving through the reed beds. Listening back to the recording, I try to keep my feet in time with the rhythm of my previous movement:  walking with my own ghost.

My steps are not the first, at the mini-stream the frosted boards record the paw-prints of a fox pioneer. Perhaps, like myself,  the fox could not resist the temptation to walk over the cold and saturated air and hear the crush of it’s own presence.

Water level in the dipping pond falls

Repairs now complete, the river returns to the mini-stream and spills into the reeds. The pondweed in the dipping pond hangs from the dried out stems of the reeds, but the river is returning to fill it once more.   The sound of the mini-stream has changed since its repair, the water is gushing through the Hatches, although as the streams join the sound is quite delicate, the hydrophone reveals a more tumultuous sound as the current throws the water around, offering up other voices  for the river motet of Winnall Moors.

This entry was posted in Autumn, field-recording, Gruenrekorder, River, sound art, sound walk, soundscape and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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