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.
The Tyne has changed course often… Swollen by floods, checked by salmon weirs, hemmed in by railway embankments, it has swung from side to side its deep valley, cutting under wooden banks, baring strands of pebbles, tangles of roots and ridges of sand, creating smooth tables of lush grass where once the current ran swift. Across the years the river has flowed on, in February gales, glinting under August sun. We can trace its old path, signs of crossings, relics on the shore, broken walls and cost gales and stories – evidence and guess work.
Jenny Uglow – A Life of Thomas Bewick
Last week I had the opportunity to take the Environment Agency’s electric car out for a spin.
I have been thinking about this car ever since Bob mentioned that I was able to use it and encouraged me to have a go. Could this be a social networking project? Could I plan a road trip where I would have to carefully map a route with stops and re-charge, cake and tea? People I would visit would have to share some power, give me some of their time – perhaps to talk about my residency before I would have to move on to somewhere else. 50 miles I would have before I need a recharge.
On Thursday I met up with Marina Zurkow who is resident at ISIS arts for a few weeks. This was the opportunity to borrow the car and get across town in what felt like a golf buggy. I parked near the Copthorne hotel and met up with Marina next to the river Tyne. I could be clearly seen under my Environment Agency umbrella – I had all the gear – car and umbrella.
Marina Zurkow makes psychological narratives about humans and their relationship to animals, plants and the weather. These take the form of multi-channel videos, customized multi-screen computer pieces, animated cartoons, interactive mobile works, and pop objects. It was really great to have some time to meet her in relation to the work I am doing at Environment Agency and look forward to staying in touch.
On Friday I drove to Morpeth depot to meet with Peter Angus. I was slightly concerned about the amount of power I had used to get up the A1 and whether I would make it back – but relaxing into my new kind of driving I plugged it in for a quick charge and got back on my way to Newcastle. Peter Angus was an amazing person to meet – he has worked for the agency for the last 43 years…
Tuesday 21 April 2009
I’ve always been intrigued by peat bogs. When I think about peat bogs I see mysterious, ancient, large, breathing brown sponges. I always remember the issue of choosing a compost from a garden centre and remembering all those years ago questioning why “because you are reducing the destruction of peat beds which have taken many hundreds and thousands of years to form” said my dad. My boyfriend is also called Pete so I daily here the word – Pete from peter is of Greek origin which means Rock so in some way it’s all connected.
I looked forward to the opportunity to spend an unromantic morning dedicated to peat and to meet a few people who’s daily lives are focused around it.
Peatscapes, a AONB (Area Outstanding of Natural Beauty) Parternship’s conservation project in the North Pennines, which works with Natural England, Environment Agency, Northumbrian Water. This has been managed by Nick Mason and Paul Ledbitter since it was set up three years ago.
The Peatlands of the UK hold more carbon than all the forests in the UK and France combined. However when peatland ecosystems start to break down they release their carbon and instead of being a carbon store they become a carbon source. It’s crazy to think that deteriorating peatlands contribute as much carbon dioxide to our atmosphere as the entire terrestrial transport system of the UK (from government sources).
SAVE THE PEAT
This was my first day with my new name badge of artist in residence. I spent the morning with Bob Carrick from the Environment Agency. We drove through the Derwent valley and onto Stanhope where we met Nick and Paul along with Rachel from Twisted Digits who have been commissioned to make a short three- minute film showing the benefits and importance of Peatscapes. This was for an application to support the continuation of this conservation project. Bob Carrick was there to do a short piece on why the Environment Agency invested in Peatscapes. We filmed at Smidds Shaw reservoir and Muggleswick common.
“ We invested in Peatscapes to look into the potential to reduce the flow of water from the peat bogs, which can increase flood risk. Healthy peatlands slow the water and the run off the major rivers in the area.
It is widely recognized that a healthy peat bog acts as a carbon sink. Restoring damaged bogs enables the peat to re-wet and improving its ability to store carbon, providing climate change benefits”. Bob Carrick
My first role as artist in residence was to spur Bob on, help with remembering his lines and to auto cue.
The peat in the North Pennines is riddled with grips, large drainage channels which slice through the landscape. These are the result of out dated land management policies, which contributes to the problem of flooding. The Peatscapes project is working with the partners and landowners to un-block the drainage grips that pattern the North Pennines landscape.
SIW (some interesting words) Im going to start using a lot of acronymus as the Environment Agency is full of them – I want to make my own.
Peat – a living history book. It can show us what pasts environments were like, how people lived and even what they ate thousands of years ago. Peat is Cool, waterlogged, acidic environment it acts as a storage device for ancient pollen, animals, plant and even cultural artefacts.
It is a highly absorbent organic material that forms in cold, waterlogged conditions. This type of environment favours growth of mosses, especially certain sphagnum species, which are important in peat accumulation. As plants die, they gradually decompose and the organic matter accumulates as peat. Pete forms very slowly at a rate of about one milimetre a year.
As it forms it locks in carbon contained in the plant matter and prevents it from being released into the atmosphere. Peatlands are described as a Sink for atmospheric carbon rather than a source of it
Sphagnum moss acts rather like a sponge and can stay wet long after any surrounding soil has dried out. It can soak up more than eight times its own weight in water.
A grip – large drainage channel
Man-made drains that across peat, channeling water into the catchment ares further downstream. By blocking grips water run-off is slowed down. Grips cause water to flow more freely off the moors and into our watercourses, making flooding more likely. By blocking these grips, the progress of rainwater into streams and lowland rivers, potentially reducing the flooding threat. This is one way of protecting against flooding at a local level. Water will be stored up and until the point that the blocked grips are full and the surrounded land saturated. Only then, when the land has reached full capacity, will the rain water drain away into the river catchment.