Walk out to winter: a puddle and a plastic bottle

Christmas Day 2011: the moors flooded

Christmas Day 2011: A plastic bottle in a river

Christmas Day 2010: the cackle of reeds with occasional crow

Christmas Day 2011: a Christmas puddle

Up at 4:30 to walk into winter and Christmas Day on winnall moors. Last year, I was disappointed to find the traffic noise arrived well before sunrise, so this year I attempted to beat the traffic and enter the moors with night still present. The first sound I heard as I walked from the streetlight of the Durngate into the moorish darkness, was a gentle and intermittent clunk. In order to locate and amplify the sound, I swept my microphone through the landscape, like a snakes licks the air with its tongue. The clunk was found to be coming from a plastic bottle, caught in the current of a water hatch, where the river Itchen spills into a carrier. This detritus of daily life had become a chaotic percussive clock, ticking away at the precise measurement of time. I listened to this rhythm, recording it from a number of positions in order to mix the sound of the river with the escapement of the bottle. By this strangely mesmeric watch, the space between seconds could expand or decrease. Normally I find the presence of litter depressingly offensive. I complain to myself about the selfishness and inconsiderate nature of the human race, people do not appear to care about their environment or about the danger and harm they leave behind. But here I was, in the moors before dawn on Christmas Day, listening attentively to the sound of an unwrapped present: a plastic bottle in a river.

This year, Christmas day in the moors was wet and dank; pools of water rising and stretching out to submerge areas normally left dry. I remember last year the temperature was below freezing, a Celsius reflected in the crispness of the sounds recorded. In 2010 Christmas cackled with the rustle of reeds and occasional crow, the sounds available seeming sparse and distant. This year too, the echo of birdsong suggests a deserted landscape of scattered voices, but there is also a sense of dampness hanging in the air. Merging puddles of water cut off the path to the pond, which has now become a hidden place, available only to the wellington foot of the well-prepared walker. There is something about puddles that reduces me to a playful child. It is wonderful to walk through a deep puddle and hear the splash and squelch of your own footsteps, without the consequence of getting wet. I feel intrepid, as if I were conquering not only land but also the confine of my senses. I bring back these sounds like Walter Raleigh brought back potatoes and tobacco.

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