Radio Lento podcast
96 A blustery day begins on inland tidal water (headphones)

96 A blustery day begins on inland tidal water (headphones)

December 4, 2021

When we set up to record, there were no signs of the weather front. It was late evening. Low tide. We'd come across a Second World War armament, a pillbox. A lookout, that now, and for the last seventy years, has looked and been looking out on nothing more than the peaceful washes of tidal water. Overgrown, and with two benches on its shell-proof roof. We saw, forty yards away, a railing, sloping steeply down the seawall and into the water. 

A line along the seawall, where the rough shrubs and grasses stopped growing marked the high water mark. We climbed down, gripping onto the railing to be sure not to slip. It was velvety in places with a fine thin like moss. The sky had filled with dusk and we called for silence, to listen before attaching the kit. The river, its busily flowing water. The vast body of air above the river, the ding ding ding of redshank, the rasping calls of hardy gulls. A good place. And somewhere around, shaping the scene, the absorbent mass of Wallasea Island, far off over along the opposite bank, low lying, with not a light in sight. 

To make the long-form recording, we spent the night in an Inn, about half a mile up-river from where we'd left the microphones. Yards from the moored boats and old, built from the skeleton of a long forgotten sailing ship. In the dead of night we heard the rain, battering against the window panes, and wondered. What will it be like down at the seawall? Had we gauged the high tide mark right? Will the fluffy hat that we stretched over the kit box stand the pelting rain?

This section of the recording is from between 7am and 8am. Bands of rain are passing, landing like tiny pieces of grit on the nearby water, and sometimes hammering on the lid of the mic box. Seabirds are all around, mainly in the distance, between the gusts of wind, but sometimes they swoop by very close. Someone passes, up early and on foot, with their scampering dog.  A few planes traverse, softly reverberating the vastness of the sky above Wallasea Island. The hat that helps baffle the wind is by now wringing wet, and the wooden box protecting the kit is too, though luckily not inside. What comes out, despite the challenges, is quite a rough sounding recording, but one that has captured the wild landscape around the River Crouch, as another blustery day begins.

95 Suffolk Wood (part 10) - a voyage from dawn to day - spacious and subtle - best with headphones

95 Suffolk Wood (part 10) - a voyage from dawn to day - spacious and subtle - best with headphones

November 27, 2021

Day has arrived, and there's no mystery about it. Gone the voids. Gone the echoes. Gone the skewed sense of time, magnified, with distance overlapping. 5am, and it's here and there and all about. The present. The world, re-appeared. 

Light has come, yet the wood remains still. It's filled with the anodyne reverberations of the distant A12, reflecting off all the hard surfaces of the trees, revealing in sound the huge interior space that is the wood. Don't be beguiled though! These are the grey blue watery minutes, the slack, before the journey really begins. Stand behind the prow, and lean into this, a quiet voyage, from dawn, to day. 

Slowly, the creatures come. In the leaf litter, they nibble shoots, chase over fallen branches and twisted vines. Gambol around the microphones, as morning children do. They race through the night's re-arrangement of leaves, then stop to bathe in the newness of the wood, re-appeared. Some tiny mammal squeaks, from somewhere near. High in the branches above, the rooks caw, and observe. Maybe they see the cow that lows, in the field beyond. 

And what about the day? Dressed in the cotton soft coos of wood pigeons, embroidered by the sparkling songs of wrens, buttoned with the bright pips of the littler birds, the day is getting ready. Ready to rise up, and in the blue light, blink. Blink, and lift its shoulders wide, and stretch out its neck, for a touch of the morning sun. 

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We made this recording back in August 2017, leaving our microphones to record overnight and alone, in a rural wood, off-the-beaten track. This section is from 5am to 6am. Listen to the other episodes from through the night

94 The trees that wait for the chalk stream to flow (natural source of white noise)

94 The trees that wait for the chalk stream to flow (natural source of white noise)

November 20, 2021

Out of the 240 chalk streams globally, 160 are (or were) in England. 

For a moment, I thought I heard a splosh and the whip of a fishing rod. But how? Ankle deep in dusty soft leaf litter, several yards down in the waterless bed of a dried up chalk stream, I craned my ears. There it was again. More of a splish, this time, or was it a wish just uttered, by the trees. They swayed in a gust of late summer wind, and I swayed with them. 

There was someone there. An old man. He was  sitting bolt upright on the bank just beside me, with crystal clear water lapping at his leather boots. He was smoking a pipe, and holding a fishing rod. And he was swinging it in, right past my nose, the most beautiful fish I'd ever seen. A dark silvery torpedo shaped body with proud fin, hoisted and shimmering, in the setting sun. 

A fish! I exclaimed. Aye the old man muttered, from behind his puff of Parson's Pleasure. Just a grayling. It was so beautiful. Where did it come from I said? The wind gusted again in the overhanging trees, and they swayed. Swayed with what this time I knew was a kindly form of long-suffering impatience. Grayling used to live right there, where you are standing now. And many others like them. Mind you, there was a lot more life about when I was around, in those clear flowing waters. 

Before he and the fish vanished, I saw its iridescent soul rise up, into one of the trees. And I realised there, it will have to stay, leaf like, waiting with its kin, until the chalk stream returns.

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We recorded the natural white noise created by these trees a few months ago in the countryside near Newport in Essex. It was a peaceful place, with a tractor tilling a field in the far distance. The trees grew along the banks of what we later found in bygone days used to be a chalk stream. We think of it as a barometer of human impact, and turn to listen to the wisdom of trees.

Chalk streams are rare and fascinating. Find out more.

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93 Rain garden after dark (sleep safe)

93 Rain garden after dark (sleep safe)

November 13, 2021

Rain. Rain falling in the night. Falling in the night when there's nobody about to hear it. Falling onto a little ramshackle garden made up of upturned pots, a patch of leaf scattered concrete, and a square of grass surrounded by sleeping shrubs and plants. 

A little walled garden, basking under the falling water, still, under grey black suburban sky. Sometimes gusted, by a nosy, billowing  wind. Does the rain know where it's going to fall? 

An old tarpaulin hangs beside the raspberry canes. Beneath, a small piece of shelter. A small piece of peace, tapped by the tiny, scattering drops. Does this rain make a sound, when there's nobody around to hear it?

We hardly know anything of our garden at night. A few weeks ago we left the Lento microphones there, to find out. Under a waxed hat they recorded the passing hours of the night. City slumber, silk softness, and a band of tranquil, spacious rain. In the morning, it was the raindrops caught on the nasturtium leaves, that told the story of the night.

92 Up in the April hills of mid Wales

92 Up in the April hills of mid Wales

November 6, 2021

Up in the April hills of Wales, beside an empty road.
Behind the brambles, down a dell, a stream, over bare stone rolls.
What sing you mistle thrush?

The inbetween of holly trees, is lit by morning sun.
In the field beyond the birches, a thirsty sheep dog runs.
Green beach, open sky, scattered lines of sheep shells. Run run, you thirsty dog, the world's your oyster.
What sing you mistle thrush?

First car of the day, chases emptiness away.
Then another in its wake, lest it dare to stay.
Their bow waves press the brambles in. Their tyres peel gently by.
Their wind sends the dry straw up. It spins. Floats. Then settles down, upon the asphalt, in jumble writing.
Sing, sing, you mistle thrush. Sing your mottled, scuttled, song.

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This is part of an overnight recording we made in early spring 2018, up  in the hills above Kerry, mid Wales. We first thought it featured a spring blackbird, but now know it is a mistle thrush. Chif chaf, wrens, a juddering pheasant, great tits, rooks and wood pigeons can also be heard.

91 When woods go weird

91 When woods go weird

October 30, 2021

Three years ago we made another overnight recording at the edge of a rural wood. It turned out to be one of those night's when almost nothing stirred, just the faintest susurrations of wind in trees and the occasional crick of a dark bush cricket, hidden amongst the thick brambles that grew around the taught wire fence where we tied the microphones. Nothing happening, for hour upon hour. It seemed it wouldn't make even one episode. 

 

But then, just before the gothic bell clanked the half hour before 5am, something in the air changed. The wood, came alive. The change began with a tawny owl, far off to the left, that began to call. It was soon joined by another, replying in an unusually tremulous way. Their strange mid-distance hoots over time were joined by others. Some close, some farther away. Each owl, materialising in its own silent void of the forest, filled the space with what, at times, can almost be said to be an owl chorus. 

 

It is often said that everything connects, and so it seems. Whether roused from slumber or in some way spoken to, a cow lows back to the owls from the field beyond the wood. There is a timing to it. It isn't rational, of course, but the interaction is there, all the same, to be heard. Passing geese join too, calling down from their lofty processions, and the ducks laugh back at them, from their murky millpond. It is, in all respects, a weird time, a weird scene, from this wood several miles from the A12 in rural Suffolk.

 

Distant bells clank the hour. The parish clock strikes 5. The dark robe of night is slipping away. The dawn is nigh. Awake you wood pigeons. Fly by you large bird. Buzz you giant insect, sounding like two airborne elastic bands. Hoot, and hoot again, you strange owls. Welcome! The August dawn.

90 Wind on water, night curlews, rain later (sleep safe)

90 Wind on water, night curlews, rain later (sleep safe)

October 23, 2021

Deep and spaciously detailed night quiet, at the edge of the tidal river Crouch in rural Essex. Wind on water. Rain on water. Night birds over water. Water upon water. A real piece of time, captured from one rainy inclement night in August by a pair of weatherproofed microphones tied to a seawall railing in Burnham-on-Crouch.

Over time, and as the weather front rolls in, the delicate shifting movements of the water fill, and become richer and more pronounced. Unperturbed, curlew, redshank and distant geese patrol the black, empty night air. Their calls carry far, in long natural intervals, across the wide open space. It's the waiting, between the calls, that refreshes the mind.

Three step listener guide
1. Ear/headphones enable you to hear the detail and panorama of the captured sound. 
2. On a phone or tablet try setting volume in the middle but if you hear nothing nudge volume up, bit by bit, until you feel immersed in the light rippling washes of waves. Not loud, they should feel delicate to start with, because the soundscape is real. 
3. Unlike music or speech audio, playing back the detail and space of a naturally recorded soundscape is greatly enhanced, in addition to headphones, when your surroundings are conducive too. It's the listening equivalent of dimming the lights, closing the curtains and settling down to watch an atmospheric film. These are not sound effects, they are all 100% original and natural recordings from real places.

89 The birds of the leafy ravine - a tonic for tired minds (best with headphones)

89 The birds of the leafy ravine - a tonic for tired minds (best with headphones)

October 16, 2021

We're going back to early June this year, to the rich and intermingled singing of birds that happens at dawn throughout the spring and early summer. In Britain it's called the dawn chorus, a behaviour associated with song birds during the breeding season. 

Captured by a lone pair of microphones tied to a tree, above the watery and precipitous ravine that runs into the infamous Todbrook Reservoir at the Cheshire / Derbyshire border, this segment is from just before four o'clock in the morning. It can be hard to distinguish the different songs, but in amongst the mellifluous tunes there are song thrushes, blackcaps, blackbirds and robins, resonating in the fresh morning air of the ravine. From left to right the watery flow of the stream fills the space, and in the fields beyond, sheep and lambs can be heard. 

At four minutes some things with hooves, perhaps several small deer, scramble past along the precipitous path about thirty feet below the microphones. One small fleeting drama, on the cusp of a perfect June day. Far out on the right, where the valley opens out into the reservoir, occasional echoes of cars spill over from the country road between Macclesfield and Whaley Bridge. If, from inside their steel boxes, the occupants could have known about the dawn chorus from down in this secret valley, maybe they'd have stopped, turned off their engines, and listened to a phenomenon so few of us ever really get to hear.

88 An afternoon at Wrabness (part 2)

88 An afternoon at Wrabness (part 2)

October 9, 2021

Above the mud silt beach, it's all bright clouds, moving. Then the sun breaks through. The river is stretching wide here, left to right, silently carrying the land's outflow through marshes, and out to sea. Warm wind blows in between long spells of calm. Close by, on the tree holding the microphones, and almost within touching distance, small waxy leaves rustle in the summer breeze.

The tide's falling. Wind is pushing against the moored boats opposite and setting them swaying. In jolly colours they rock to and fro, like bath toys, masts knocking, ringing, bell-like. Mid-stream, marine vessels plough comfortably by. As they pass they make slow moving delta waves. V-shaped echoes, that travel along behind, and sideways, expanding, so that eventually, they wash up along the shallow shore, in clean bright, rinsing waves.

Gulls over the water. Wood pigeons in the trees. A mistle thrush too, somewhere far out to the left, Sounding something like a blackbird, still just practising his song. This is quiet time, in a place beside wide water. A place, beneath an open sky, that's not sea nor river, but estuary. Tidal, yet calm. Wild, yet sheltered. A place that's good for afternoon people. 

87 Sky landing - when the wind bends the trees

87 Sky landing - when the wind bends the trees

October 2, 2021

They look as if they are swimming in it. The banks of trees. Tense into the current, swaying, twisting in sympathy with the changing wind. Like they're wading out into on-coming waves, wading out to be washed in this force of sky, landing. 

And in-between, in the tranquil lulls, resting. Tall. Collegiate. Upright. With leaves still trembling. Equinoctial gales, glanced the highland cattle. Or the vernal winds, as the stalwart sheep prefer. A storm of wind that's come to sweep away the dry husks of summer. That's come to redden the leaves. 

Is it true though? That such thing as an equinoctial gale, is in fact a myth? Myth, roar the trees. A myth, mutter the scattering leaves. You'll have to ask the sky.

Now, the autumn air's blowing in. Along wooded moorsides, up and down the country, the season is changing. Time to blow away the cobwebs. To pack a rucksack, flask and tea. To check the map. To put on coats. To catch wiffs of woodsmoke in the air.

Night tide turning at pillbox point (sleep safe)

Night tide turning at pillbox point (sleep safe)

September 25, 2021

High tide on the River Crouch. Night. Not a soul about. Small bobbly waves gamboling along the brimming tideline. Playful, in swilling swirls, reaching for one more inch of land, before the ebb. From the east, a lazy wind muffles. 

 

Tide turned. The surface has begun to calm. Palmful waves bob over each other in glassy melodious slurps. Their thirst for land is over. Retreat not yet in mind, and still nudging the hard ground, they are letting themselves settle to its dry resistance. Night wind softly presses.   

 

The ebb. A grainy hiss of newly exposed land has appeared along the tideline. The water, relaxed, moving slow like a minute hand, is inching back. It's slackened, into tiny, feathery currents. This place is no longer about a shoreline. It's opened. Become panoramic. An aural vista. Wide, silent, tidal river. Far off, murmurs of nocturnal flying curlew, redshank, and geese. And of a low, soporific hum. A ship. In port. Docked, and sleeping.

Afternoon meadow in late summer

Afternoon meadow in late summer

September 18, 2021

Last day of August. Pleasant sunshine, blue sky. Wind 1 to 2 knots, barely noticeable. Standing tall with motionless leaves, the trees are leaning into the warmth, letting their limbs soak up every available ounce of the sun's golden heat. Along the old bridleway, away from the grey noise of a cross-country road, quiet fields are revealed. Knee deep with grass. Waiting to be mown. 

 

A hedgerow, beside a field. All around, the air thrums, with a feeling of wide open space. In the mid-distance, a flock of geese, slowly transiting the open sky. From near in a high tree, a rook calls. It echoes over the fields, a dry bark-like caw that spells the arrival of autumn.

 

In the next field, hidden from view behind a line of trees, a tractor pulls a long wheeled and bladed contraption up and down. It's mowing the summer's grass. Time to make hay. An old propeller plane hums proudly over. It's passage draws a slow, arching line, between the eastern and western skies.

 

Gradually, with nobody around, the birds return.  Magpies, to bully in the high top branches. The tchack tchacks, of scattering jackdaws. A pheasant, its creaky call like an unoiled gate somewhere in the undergrowth. Little birds, perched amongst the brambles, emit short, percussive sounds. The tractor continues to mow. More planes traverse the sky. And all the time, from everywhere and nowhere, the air continues to thrum with tiny, silken vibrations. These are the traces, the most elemental of aural fragments, the leftovers gathered at the edges of human hearing from the action of countless rolling tyres on fast asphalt roads, but that from here, filtered through so many trees and hedgerows, are safely  and forgettably muffled beneath the horizon.

Down at the marina on a weekday in August

Down at the marina on a weekday in August

September 11, 2021

Sunlit pontoons. Taut ropes. Empty footways. Still, like a photograph. So many boats moored up, waiting for someone to come down to sail them. This is the marina at Burnham-on-Crouch, Essex, where to the eye, on this hot summer day in August, everything looks still. To the ear though, it's a different story. 

 

Guy ropes whistle and moan in the wind. Halyards ring against hollow masts. Tidal water swells, and though smooth on the surface, slaps impatiently against the pontoons. And when the wind eases, crickets in the long grass discretely sing.

 

Out on the open water, small craft on small journeys manoeuvre. Mid-stream, a heavy-engined vessel labours against the out-going tide. Docked, distantly opposite the marina, machines relieve a bulk carrier of its consignment of timber. All the sounds of an August working day. At eleven minutes, six, soft edged, evenly spaced booms. Detonations from the firing range seven miles southeast on Foulness.

 

The aural ambience in the air around the marina pushes to, and fro, like the ever-changing water. Filling, then emptying, filling, then emptying, in slow, peaceful transitions. It's the sort of place where one can go to just listen, and take in the atmosphere. A waterside place with sun-warmed railings for leaning into, where everything is there, and everything is happening, but in a more reflective, tide coming in and out, kind of way. Summer beside the marina time.

 

Suffolk Wood (part 9) - the hour before dawn with owls and nocturnal animals

Suffolk Wood (part 9) - the hour before dawn with owls and nocturnal animals

September 4, 2021

From over the fields beyond the edge of the forest, the bell of St Mary's strikes 4. Within this empty space between the trees, the golden sound rings pure and clear, though there's no one around to hear it. Soon, the dawn will come.

 

For now, down amongst the leaf litter, the dark bush crickets are still counting the seconds. Still twinkling, like tiny jewels on the velvety dark carpet of peace that stretches out in all directions over the forest floor. Around, nocturnal animals pad lightly in the darkness. Above, traces of a breeze. Of dry twigs and branches dropping. Of the last drifting echoes of night haulage from the distant A12. Across the resonant wood, owls call. Time passes.  

 

Then, signalled by one single rasp from a rook, something in the air changes. It's well before sunrise. In the mid-distance, a wood pigeon begins to caw. Are these the internal circadian rhythms of life or have they both seen some kind of light? Perhaps a stratospheric cloud, illuminated by a first shaft of sunlight? Whatever it is, a cockerel crows. The bell strikes 5. The night is over. The day has come.

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This is the 9th episode in our series made from one continuous recording through the night in this special location. You can listen to all previous episodes via this blog post

Hill top oak in strong wind - a natural source of white noise (sleep safe)

Hill top oak in strong wind - a natural source of white noise (sleep safe)

August 28, 2021

Artificial white noise generators designed to promote sleep and relaxation are widely available online and via apps. For anyone trying to steer their mind away from the distractions of the world they provide a stream of wind-like sound, that masks, washes, and soothes. 

 

Of course natural noise generators exist everywhere. Unlike their artificial versions, they produce their noise in infinitely varying ways. So much so, that rather than thinking of them as making just noise, they can be thought of more as instruments that enable you to hear the shape of an ever-changing current.

 

Perhaps the most abundant and interesting of natural noise generators, are trees. Evolved as giant plants able to thrive with almost any strength of wind, their leaves, boughs and branches convert even the softest of breezes into perfectly audible sound. 

 

Having evolved in and amongst trees, over several millions of years, our listening minds must have been fundamentally influenced by these kinds of sounds. So it must be, that all of us must have and share an intrinsic ability to understand the language of wind in trees. It might also help to explain why listening to white noise of any kind, works as a type of sound therapy.

 

High up on an exposed moor, between the Derbyshire towns of Glossop and Buxton, an old oak tree leans into the wind. Its sound is heard only by passing walkers, who from time to time, clink through the gate on their way over the exposed moor. As we passed, we tied the microphones to one of the low boughs, leeside of the strong prevailing wind, and left them alone to record.

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