Lee Patterson and I spent two days around Kielder and Allendale common looking at and listening to these rich and special landscapes. The landscape was wet and heavy rainfall in august was evident in how spongy and heavy the sphagnum moss felt beneath my feet.
Ling heather was in flower – close up a beautiful deep pink and purple. From a distance it was deep purple glow across the land, a truly beautiful site.
In August , when moored at Durgan Bay along the Helford River, Cornwall I experienced phosphorescence in the water at night. This slow releasing glow reminds me of the way heather covers the upland moors in late summer.
Looking at the deer grass at felicia moss during twilight was a kind of afterimage , where the grass seems to float before the eyes. Cowberry’s and cranberry’s were out, saw some bog rosemary – not in flower yet and the bog asphodel had changed colour from bright yellow (last saw in early July) to a dark orange. Sundews were everywhere…
Wind was prevalent and when thinking about sound and how Lee has to work with this it is important to know that wind and frost play a part in erosion of peat, as well as water.
Last week I spent the day with Debbie B and Sarah B on Allendale Common exploring the damaged and eroded blanket bogs. This is the beginning of a year long project that investigates the peat bogs of Northumberland and North Pennines both visually, sonically and their importance environmentally. Material will be collected over twelve months of the year. The development of Layerscape (peat bogs) is supported by VARC (Visual Arts for Rural Communities) and North Pennines AONB.
Rivers explores the energy, power, ecology and destruction of the waterways in Northumberland through the medium of sound. Artists Kaffe Matthews, Lee Patterson and Jana Winderen were invited to make field recordings of the river networks using underwater microphones to explore this environment. Their field recordings reveal new thoughts and foster a richer understanding of the rivers environment – discovering unseen sources of energy that although often invisible can make audible sound experiences and compositions.
Rivers are the veins of our country. They cause destruction and pleasure; change course, flood, flow fast and slow until they merge into the sea and are vital for a huge range of migratory fish, habitats, and people. Sound within this environment is key to our understanding as so often what’s beneath the surface is hidden from view. With hydrophone recordings these artists are able to reveal and inform the audience of this secret world, exploring the aquatic environment in subtle and creative ways. Scientists use a broad range of equipment to survey the river, where certain species may be found, the topography of the river bed etc. These artists present compositions and recordings which examine these waters in a similar vein, the only difference is that the language they use is not one of academia, but the words of the rivers themselves.
Kaffe Matthews’ commission entitled Where are the wild ones? follows wild salmon up the river Tyne from sea to source through sound. Matthews considers the river, its route and the shifting forces of water that flow to make a 12 channel composition. As part of her research she met and learnt from the people who manage, assist, live near, maintain and play on the river.
Each artist worked closely with me through the process of researching the location for the recordings. Each artists had some connection and collaboration with relevant members of the Environment Agency staff. This allowed a richer dialogue and understanding.
Jana Winderen investigated the river Coquet from source to sea. This began with a search for the source of the river in the Cheviots hills, just over the border in Scotland, where boggy pools and rough grass cover and hold the landscape. Jana then followed the river down through the hills, passing great historic sites like Holystone, Coquet Dale and Rothbury. The river meets the North Sea at Warkworth, where along the dunes and saltmarshes the river use to meander. This history was several centuries old before a storm created the new river mouth over a hundred years ago.
“I went back to the river mouth of the Coquet for the second time in February, discovering that the first salmon had been caught and different species of fish had started their migration up the river to spawn.
Listening to the river for sounds of the fish as they worked their way upstream. The main sound to be heard in the river was from the flow of the sediments. The water was muddy, the river had changed since my last visit in November; large trees had fallen in, and the mud banks had caved in at places. Some high frequency sound was audible, sounding like crickets… I have heard this sound before, in a river on the border between Russia and Poland. Can it be a creature the fish is
feeding on, or could it be the eels? The water was too muddy to tell. Hail storms hammered down as a heron gazed over its shoulders, the cormorants resting on the riverbanks and four male mallards performed something looking like a rivalry dance preparing for the spring. Next day, 0500HRS recording the distant thunder from the North Sea, thinking of fish migrating all the way form Greenland at this time, as I dug the hydrophones into the sand it gave in under my feet. The tide was coming in, the sun was rising and the dog walkers appeared. Time to go back to The Hermitage Inn to warm up and to enjoy a warm cup of tea and an English breakfast.”
Lee Patterson has focused on the area north and east of the Cheviot Hills where the river Glen joins the river Till. Patterson has been using hydrophones to explore energy liberated as sound within water bodies contributing to the catchment of these rivers, both tributaries of the Tweed. From field drains to springs, flood plain ponds to weirs in the rivers, fluvial energy transduced into sound can be encountered on a number of scales from the macro to the micro sonic. Groundwater from waterlogged land draining into freshly eroded flood channels, rain hitting the surface of a riverside pond, rock granules circulating in the up-welling flow from a roadside spring, alongside organic activities such as respiring pond weed and communicating fish, demonstrate the flow of water bourn energy within and through this landscape.
“As with the interaction of air upon air, it’s hard to say whether the action of water on water creates any sound, however where transducers exist, such as the waters’ own surface tension – where it meets the air, or on a river bed, where liquid interacts with solid, the energy of moving water is transduced, undergoing a change of state from the kinetic energy of flow into vibrations that may be perceived as sound”.
Atlantic salmon fish scale, #8197 4658, June 2009
Atlantic salmon fish scale
The purpose of scale reading is to interpret the age of an Atlantic salmon and sea trout from features on its scales including determination of river-age and sea-age. The examination of an adult salmon scale reveals two distinct parts. This can be defined as river and sea life and reveals different types of bands from winter, summer, homeward migration and spawning marks.
This drawing tells us that this salmon was 51cm long and was two years before it spent one winter at sea and returned to the river. This particular scale came from an angler on the river Tyne in June 2008. Fish scales are examined by the Sampling and Collection team at the Environment Agency.