Radio Lento podcast
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.


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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Rising tide in the rock garden - the sea wall near Bradwell-on-Sea

Rising tide in the rock garden - the sea wall near Bradwell-on-Sea

August 21, 2021

Stop walking! There's a place to sit. Roll up your jacket to make a cushion and perch on the rocks, just for a moment, to take in the view. Look! Over the expanse of cloud-dappled water, beyond, where the outgoing surge of the river Blackwater swirls into the North Sea, that's Mersea Island. From here, just a sliver of low lying land.


A few miles up the coast, though not yet in sight, are the two giant blockhouses of the now decommissioned and quiescent Bradwell nuclear power station built in 1957. Between the cuffing gusts of the onshore breeze, the air here feels unusually still of human noise. Unusually crisp, unusually vibrant with textural sounds. Deep inside clouds and far out over the channel, are some passing rumbles. Not thunder, more like low flying military jets patrolling and underlining some invisible boundary out there, over the sea.
Their distant rumblings not only illuminate, through sound, the infinite void of the sky, but bring contrast to the very tiniest, very closest of sounds. Countless fine edged movements, of a sand made of featherlight shells. Shifting and sifting, picked up and dropped, by gentle, inquisitive waves. 


Somehow, a quarter of an hour has passed. The rock pools between the sunken concrete barges that make up the sea wall, are now filling, and swirling, with the rising tide. Moving back up the rocks, above the high water mark, you find a new place to sit, and watch, as the pools overflow, merge into one another, to become new areas of wide open sea. The planes are gone. The footpath beckons. But you stay for a little while longer, just to listen to the changing sounds of the fast disappearing rock garden. 

A doze in the grass on Wallasea Island (High-def sound and sleep safe)

A doze in the grass on Wallasea Island (High-def sound and sleep safe)

August 14, 2021

This, is summer island time. Sizzled by crickets, gusted to and fro by hot marshy breezes, a distant marine vessel softly thrums the air with a low soporific hum. Occasional planes pass lazily over. This is Allfleet Marsh on Wallasea island in Essex. East is Foulness and then the North Sea. 


Down a steep bank from the trail that leads from the car park to School House viewpoint where the River Roach flows into the Crouch, a swath of warm grassland basks under the hot August sun. Sheltered below the ridge, it's quiet, perfect for a doze. A few yards away from the microphones, behind the waist-deep sedge, a tepid inlet reflects glints of the summer sun.


It's hot here. Dazzling bright. Invigorated, the bees and hoverflies and countless other insects are hurrying skilfully by. The gusting winds don't affect them. Being early in the afternoon, nothing much is about, except for the sparse calls of a marshland bird. A tumbling chirruping song, fleeting, with a bright yellow timbre. Hidden, but only a little way off, somewhere amongst the tall grass. 

Essence of estuary

Essence of estuary

August 7, 2021

Plunge off the train and smile at the fresh air of nowhere! This is Thorpe-le-Soken in Essex. All ground and sky. The bell in the driver's cab rings twice, then twice again, and it's off. Next stop, somewhere else. The ensuing feeling of loneliness is only temporary.


With the decaying buildings of the old maltings nearby, proceed on foot towards the main road. The brick bridge should be firmly on your right. Don't go under it. Turn left instead and walk along the road for a few minutes, until on the opposite side of the road, you see the entrance to an overgrown footpath. This is the beginning of a country walk, that will eventually lead to the creek. 


In late summer, it'll be a corridor of deliciously verdant green, busy with butterflies. The aural presence of the B1414 will remain on the left. Follow the natural path all the way to the fast bisecting road, cross and continue along a lane surrounded by open fields until you reach another fast bisecting road. Join and follow, until a private road appears on the right. This is, though not signposted, the official footpath down into the creek.


It's a lane that ends in a handful of cottages, and a land that slides away between old timbered groynes, down shallow slipways of vegetated green, into nothing but wild, wide open water. Wind ruffled, low lying and unbelievably silent of human noise, those few miles we covered on shanks pony now feel worth every stride. We set the mics to record on a tripod at the water's edge, sunk part way in the wet spongy mud, tiny bubbles popping, and facing an island some way out into the creek. It was encircled by gulls, ringing redshank and curlews. 


Tide rising, a wind was beginning to whip up. A weather front was approaching from the south. From some trees farther along, we sat in the grass and watched the rain approach while the mics recorded. Listening, helped by some tea from a flask, It was the sound landscape we'd hoped we'd find. Essence of estuary.

The birds that sing on the cusp of night - a leafy ravine in the Peak District (sleep safe after 16 mins)

The birds that sing on the cusp of night - a leafy ravine in the Peak District (sleep safe after 16 mins)

July 31, 2021

Early June days, up in the green of the Peak District hills, do not give way easily to night. The birds won't let them. Brimming over with life and song, they sing at the dying light to stay, with all the gusto of dawn.


Here above the deep leafy ravine, their mercurial voices can be heard, pouring out into the sheer air, and down, onto the shallow stony river flowing below.


The light, for a while, stays. The day, balanced upon the very edge of the horizon, has, with its luminous glow, turned back to catch the last arias of the ravine.


As night falls, the last to sing is a robin, the last to fly is a goose. A lone rear-guard bird, filling the dark shrouded void with sparse echoing calls , as it flies back down the valley to join the others, amongst the woodland beside the reservoir beyond.


This is part of a 24 hour recording we made last month to capture the sound landscape above the infamous Todbrook reservoir of Whaley Bridge. This spot was just on Cheshire side of the border with Derbyshire, the river a natural border between. We tied our spatial microphones to a tree growing out of the steep banks, about 60 feet above the river that feeds the reservoir with an almost unchanging flow of fresh moorland water. The aural space of the ravine on the transition into night is rarely if ever heard, and makes for a uniquely peaceful soundscape.

The cuckoo of Swanscombe Marsh

The cuckoo of Swanscombe Marsh

July 24, 2021

Swanscombe is one of the last surviving brownfield sites in the Thames Estuary where threatened wildlife can live. On the Kent side of the Thames, to the east of the QEII bridge, opposite Grays on the Essex side, it is an oasis of natural quiet. We took a train and a bus to get there, then walked a sloping path, paved then muddy with the sound of the road dying away. The marsh was full of fascinating life, though empty of people, except for a couple of weekday birders who gave us a wave.


Onwards we walked, heading to the UK's tallest pylon, scraping the sky from the very edge of the river. Impossibly high at 600 feet. We hoped it'd hum, or be drizzling so we'd hear it fizz, or windy so we'd hear a whistle, But instead it stood silently in accepting partnership with its sibling on the other side of the river. 


Though strictly-speaking too quiet to record, we tied the mics onto one of the giant pylon's legs anyway, and left them alone. Listening back, days later, we discovered the mics had captured not only splashes of the lapping Thames and the wide spatial feeling of the place, but also some astonishing and unexpected sounds. Listen and hear the gifts from the marsh. Truly, a magical precious location to be protected.


How many different birds can you hear singing on the marsh? Surprising answers revealed by the winner of the first Radio Lento Golden Lobes quiz see our blog!


Find out more about the campaign to Save Swanscombe Marshes.

Last pasture before the sea - Winchelsea to Rye

Last pasture before the sea - Winchelsea to Rye

July 17, 2021

Our first really clear sound-view of the landscape came along a footpath a mile or so from Winchelsea station, with the A259 behind us and, according to the map at least, the open sea ahead. It was in all its peaceful wideness, its pastoral mildness, there to be heard, from inside a little outcrop of blackthorn trees. Every branch covered in the healthiest grey lichen we'd ever seen. Blossom just starting to appear. We named it lichen thicket. 


The land from Winchelsea to Rye is not only pleasantly low lying and bucolic, but the last before the shingle. We walked it before the summer came through all the new bright green, under a changeable April sky, under the thin calls of distant seagulls and passing geese. Hot sun shone between banks of fast moving cloud. Fresh breezes blew, they smelled at first of luscious hedgerows, then as we got closer, of the salty tidal zone.


A see-sawing great tit watched as we set up the microphones. Then as we scuffed away down the stony path, we heard the tumbling song of a chaffinch. Time begins to pass, pushed along by a gentle wind. Some falling drops of honey: a willow warbler. Distant activity on a farm. Yard dogs barking, rooks surveying the ground. Amidst the long quiet, two propeller planes pass, one behind the other. 

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