Seaside brutalism - at the Port of Felixstowe

March 6th, 2021

On the beach, sat within wetting distance of the water's edge, there's a point where the noise from the container port begins to meld in with the shingle soft washing to and fro of the waves. Here, about a quarter of a mile away, towering gantry cranes can be seen whining backwards and forwards, deftly hoisting lorry-sized containers like little matchboxes from an impossibly vast supership. Venus, mega-sized, operated by China Shipping Container Lines, and with a warehouse-sized engine and chimney that throbs and pulsates the sea air for miles around. On this, a weekday last summer, the port and all of its rumblings form nothing more than a backdrop to what beaches are really for. Playing. Oblivious children constantly on the move run soaked and delighted to their families before rushing back to get ankle-deep in the waves again. Parents warn there's a stranded jellyfish, while claxons and two-tone sirens announce the peril of yet another swooping crane, on the horizon. There's a jagged beauty to all of this, a form of shoreline brutalism.

It is quieter up coast, around Languard Point and past Felixstowe town, where we also recorded that summer. You can hear these soundscapes in episodes 25 (Cooling off beside sifting waves at Felixstowe Ferry - 32mins) and 33 (Champagne shingle on Felixstowe beach - 19mins).

If you like brutalist soundscapes, we have more for you to explore.

The whispering trees of Bayford Wood

February 27th, 2021

It was our first visit to Bayford Wood. A country walk, on a bright July day which was not quite as warm as it should be. A walk under an undecided sky, from time-to-time enhanced with inexplicable flurries of raindrops that fell like scattering beads. As we followed the track deeper into the woods, surrounded by tall trees, long growing and cathedral high, a small propeller plane buzzed over. It made us look. Then, with the quiet returned, our ears became tuned to the presence of countless myriad things high above us. Whispering things, hissing things, softly shushing things, filtering down their fine gossamer sounds in slow undulating waves. Lung easing. Chest expanding. Mind cleansing. All from up in the vaulted ceiling of green, forty feet above, millions upon millions of leaves, set in tiny individual motions by the breeze.  We found a grassy bank set back from the track, pushed through a hedge of ivy, and left the microphones alone to record while we went off to brew tea on a camping stove.

Light rain beside the lane near Sandy

February 20th, 2021

It's all woods and rolling fields in rural Bedfordshire. Good for long walks under wide skies. A chance to get away from it all. On a wet February day, after splashing along muddy lanes and mud sliding footpaths, after passing a pair of Anderson shelters either side of an empty and waterlogged field, we saw a tumbledown wall cloaked in moss. Behind the wall, tucked down in a shallow dell, so quiet it hardly reached us, the melodious sound of a running winterbourne. Watery places always seem to cast a magic spell. So we climbed through the spiky trees peppered with lichen and left the microphones to record. It felt like a long forgotten spot, set back from people and the Iron Age track. When they were sure we had gone, tiny birds returned to flit about, distant cows lowed as the rain gently sifted down through the bare branches. A silvery sounding place, cool, and clean of clutter. In a few months the leaves will come, the fields will dry, and the landscape will sound of spring.


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Sound-scenes of Norman’s Pond as dusk turns to night - sleep safe

February 13th, 2021

The gates of the Lee Valley Park are shut. The people are gone. The miles of footpaths are empty, save for crossing ducks. Beside Norman's Pond, hidden in the scrub, the dark bush crickets have begun. Gulls cry out. On tepid summer water, swans are swimming, slow under the gathering shadows, drippling the mirror-still surface for food. Their calls bounce and echo across the empty lake. Melding with the sound of passing trains. With the tidal flow of the A10, London's artery into rural Hertfordshire.

The waterbirds are asleep. The shadows have gone. The lake is inky black. But hooting the commencement of real dark, of the real night, hear, the first owls. Through the scrub, the crickets have sharpened their messages. And at the very edge of the water, something very small scratches at something.  Delicately, with the patience of an invisible thing.
Dead of night. 
Emerging like a squeaky toy jumping through carpets of leaves, a creature on the run, or on the hop. It comes, and goes, right past the microphones dissolving into wherever. Owls hoot in the high treetops opposite, and some waterbirds have woken up again, now the air has cooled. It's shifted. Now there's a wind. The A10 sounds to the right of the horizon, and the undulating hum of the power station beyond the bird hide can easily be heard. A floating sine wave, the subtle underflow of our civilisation. Occasionally things splash into the water, and call out over the lake. Dry hanging leaves rustle in sympathy with the passing breezes. 

 This is peace in the Lee Valley. Edgeland peace. A peace formed out of calm rather than absence. Tranquillity, not from being away from human things, but beside them when they are at ease. 

After the dawn chorus in the Forest of Dean

February 6th, 2021

There is a time when thin light broadens into day, when the sun is properly up and warm and every diurnal creature is settling into its daily rhythm. A time when the delicate trickles of the night stream can no longer be heard as the ambient sound within the forest has grown into a mellifluous hum, made up of birdsong, gentle wind, and of buzzing bees. It's the time before most people are awake, where all natural things are up and weaving themselves back into their world, threading their strands of aural colour through each and every tree, each and every tangled vine. An early corner of the day most often unheard. This episode, discovered in our archive due to ongoing lockdown restrictions, is the forest in late May 2019, just before 6am. Other parts of this same all-night recording can be heard in episodes 17, 30 and 38 (visit our blog for links to them all). We made this recording by leaving a pair of rain-proofed microphones hooked up to a field recorder on a long-life battery, hidden up against the trunk of an ancient oak tree, in a remote clearing inaccessible to people. 

The balm of warm woodland in late summer

January 30th, 2021

Locked-down and nowhere to go. With pounded pavements all pounded, and back gardens beleaguered under pallid skies so dull sodden with wet, it's hard to remember the feeling of travelling out of London to walk free through a forest in barmy summer heat. It feels important to think of it now though. More than ever. Really think of it. Reawaken it. The experience of a late summer walk through the Bayford Pinetum in Hertfordshire. A day when the air was so warm to the skin that it disappeared, leaving one freer to move. And of all the other sensations. Of twisting along endless paths under trees. Of quietly and rhythmically stepping over dry leaves, between ruts in the ground, over fallen branches. Of an ankle caught by a bramble and a hand out to steady against a tree trunk. And an ear brushed by a leaf and a fleeing insect. And walking so unlike in a city, with head swung side to side to better smell the light perfumes. And to let the ears sponge up the atmosphere, the susurrating trees, the birdsong. The way birdsong echoes. The way their calls reveal the long spaces beyond what can be seen. The way muntjac deer bark like lost dogs. The way robins seem to sound sweeter the later in the year they sing. And remembering all of these experiences through a recording we made on that day. This is a different spatial audio recording to the one that we used for episode 31. We made it as a fall-back, using a parallel set of mics positioned about 200 yards from the main pair. They picked up a completely different perspective of the Pinetum, with so many layers to hear. The trains gliding through the railway cutting sound wonderfully spatial reflected down from the tree canopy. There are more active birds compared from this angle too and a startlingly lovely buzzard. 

Garden birds under a silent sky

January 23rd, 2021

Every year, on or near the 4th of April, we leave the microphones out in the back garden to record the dawn chorus. It's a simple ritual, partly to mark the beginning of a new season, and partly to compare how the dawn chorus sounds now compared to last year. Despite us living in Hackney in the North East of London, where the buildings and roads don't change much, the soundscape from year to year does. It's always different. We've been making these recordings for 12 years and, not surprisingly, last year saw the most dramatic change. London was in its first lockdown. The schools were closed, the roads mostly empty, reduced to a fraction of the normal traffic. And the skies had fallen silent. No more planes chasing the tail of another, minute by minute. As the day dawned and the sky lightened, the gardens behind the terraced houses woke to high circling seagulls and silky soft birdsong. Unimaginable, impossible in any other year. Gone the rumble and whining of jet engines, gone the rattling bumps of cars on speed bumps. Gone the heavy grey noise, the aural fog that coagulates the air. Instead see-sawing great tits, echoing, crisp and pure. The jovial cooing of wood pigeons. The cawing of rooks. Some screeching green parrots on a mission to get somewhere else fast, and little delicate chittering birds commuting from roof to roof. And like an operatic performer, like a musical instrument perched in a tree, the most totemic of garden birds began to sing its song. Melodious. Perfectly clear. Wonderfully inventive. Inflecting notes of cheer and even glee, as it embarks upon its journey into spring. A blackbird.


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Singing beck below Black Hill (sleep safe)

January 16th, 2021

High on a Derbyshire moor below the summit of Black Hill, between Disley and Whaley Bridge, there's an ancient trackway. It runs almost level across boggy ground with views over rough pastures and gritstone walls to a lone standing stone. After about half a mile the track descends sharply into a tree-lined dell. Nestled in amongst a wood, there's a small farmhouse mostly hidden from view. It was, more than a lifetime ago, in 1898 the home of Carl Fuchs, a distinguished cellist, who played in the Halle Orchestra and the Brodsky quartet. At the point where the gorse bushes are, where the path narrows and sinks below the gritstone walls, and the deep ruts get deeper, the traveller hears water. A babbling beck, waiting to cast its spell. A sonorous moorside stream that has to be forded, on tip toe, over exposed rocks. In his memoir, Carl Fuchs when working in the stream, once told travellers that the water was safe to drink. Clear, and from the mountain. Being within a natural cutting, overgrown with straggly trees, its sound is amplified. Shaped by the action of water over rocks, and conducted by gravity, the beck rills the air, as it has for centuries. The deep rocky pool into which the water tumbles, sings watery notes. Colourful, resonant, vibrant. We pushed through the undergrowth and left the microphones to record overnight, downstream of the pool. Time passes. Tiny flurries of rain fall onto the sheltering leaves. The beck flows mellifluously, down and away into the wide open valley to the right. The vastness is sometimes revealed by a passing plane, or a car on a distant road. The birds are asleep. Nocturnal things hold their silence. The beck casts its spell. 

Suffolk Wood (part 6) - 1am to 2am sleep safe with owls

January 9th, 2021

All is still in the wood. It is mid-way through a barmy August night. There is no breeze to rustle the trees. Dark bush crickets trichit the passage of time on crickle-dry carpets of leaves. Carried clear over the surrounding fields, the bell of Saint Mary's church chimes one. It's this time, in between the small hours, when the landscape is farthest from light, that the balance between what is near and what is distant shifts and blurs. Cows low. Geese and ducks fly high overhead. The nocturnal noise of the distant A12 has thinned, become a panoramic drape around the wood sharpening what's heard within. Echoes. Of owls. Far off. They're on the other side. Dead branches drop. Thump the hollow ground from where a hidden creature silently emerges to nibble at leaves. Then, they come. The Tawnies. A male and a female, maybe more. They land on high treetop boughs. Cast trembling calls. Haunt the breezeless voids. Time passes. The wood rests. The clock strikes 2. 

Abney Park on Christmas Day in the morning

January 2nd, 2021

Through the bare limbed trees of Abney Park nature reserve in Hackney, London a song thrush sings sweetly. It's first light. The air and the microphones are frozen, left behind through a long night and its icy winds. Ivy hangs still, above the lion on the tomb. Abney Park is both a nature reserve and one of London's 'Magnificent Seven' cemeteries. It's early, silky quiet. The park hasn't opened yet. The derelict chapel is an angular shadow beneath leafless trees. Footpaths lie empty, gravestones unread. Everything's waiting for the people to appear. Bathed in the soft city rumble, the softest it can be, the rooks see the light and caw from the treetops. Wood pigeons wake up. Robins stationed on branches one, two, three, brightly twistle strong melodies, mark their territories, all puffed up against the cold. Seagulls wheel in the wide open above the wood, and a sparse few planes rumble by, long haulers coming in, they must be, this being Christmas Day. With the gathering light comes the dazzling spacious song of wrens. A woodpecker. A fleeting murmur of passing geese. A hint of a breeze, a moment of shift in the ivy. And then of alerting birds and far off the sounds of people, a family, happy children and their dog. The first in. The first through the gate. The first to breathe the pure crisp air of Abney Park, on this fast brightening Christmas Day of 2020. [This episode was produced in collaboration with the Abney Park Cemetery Trust.]

Quiet field by Young Wood

December 26th, 2020

It took several miles, over claggy east Hertfordshire footpaths and a waterlogged bridleway, to find a quiet field. A peaceful spot where the susurrations of the natural landscape outweigh that of the distant A10. To break our winter walk, we came off the bridleway and followed a babbling brook into a spindly thicket, where we left the microphones alone to record. The water's running steady. Rilling over dark stones, flowing in and out of small pools hidden under grass, from where a bit of bobbing wood spins and softly knocks. Above small birds flutter and chitter in the leafless trees and far off, seagulls. An old Land Rover splashes its way down the empty puddled lane. A lofty buzzard circles and droops its whistling call high over the nearby wood. Behind tails of wood smoke, jagged shapes of crows, leap and caw between the trees. Somewhere deep in Young Wood, a pheasant creaks. It's waiting for the dusk.

Derbyshire gales blow away the cobwebs

December 19th, 2020

It is one of those bright-skied days when the clouds are moving faster than they should and you can hear the weight of the trees. A gale is sweeping the moorside, clearing down the dead wood. Sheltered inside an outcrop of trees, everything's in motion. What's loose is up and swirling, what's tethered bobs and waves. Banks of wind surge, roaring through the high treetops, bending hundred ton trunks that in turn lean, and straighten. Eddies are whirling down through the foliage, lifting tangled vines and rustling crisp leaves. Beyond the wood, sheep stoically graze, knee-deep in green grass. They're overseen by the cockerel crowing hard to be heard. Chickens poke and cluck over the rough ground by the farmhouse. Its roof appears and disappears behind rocking boughs. A tractor chugs by on the lane, its smoke dragged out flat from the chimney. Birds come and go, twittering and calling, unperturbed by the wind. Hill walkers clink a distant gate. Time to take it all in. To fill one's lungs and let a Derbyshire gale blow away the cobwebs.

Night rain falls on a Peak District moorside (part 2 - sleep safe)

December 12th, 2020

It's the early hours of the morning. Shrouded under dark sky and cloud, the rain's falling heavily on the moor above the Whaley Bridge reservoir. It's dowsing the trees in this small wood, pouring and scattering through the waxy June leaves, filling the air with a springly spray of refreshing sound. The sheep and the lambs are asleep. The farmhouse over the field is a murky shadow beneath a haze of yesterday's wood smoke. The cockerel, the chickens and the dogs are silent. Only owls are there, somewhere in the inky dark, far echoes from another wood. It's a Derbyshire landscape, all hills and fields with gritstone walls and slopes that end in valleys. Time passes. The rain falls. And as it slowly eases to a patter and the last jets have ploughed their lazy ways down into Ringway airport, the owl comes close. Almost incredibly to a tree near where we left the microphones. A tawny owl, calling for its mate. It just appears. Its wings make no sound. 

Bucolic contrasts under low cloud - the land between Sandy and St Neots

December 5th, 2020

Tingling droplets still hanging in the air from the clearing mist, with not much daylight left, we finally managed to find a place to record. A lonely outcrop of oak trees beside the trackway, with a clear view of the surrounding landscape. Magpies circling. The spot had an interesting feel to it. We found later that the track dated back to the Iron Age and then became a roman road. Half a mile back down the track we stumbled upon a long overgrown airfield, a barn in a cluster of trees containing a memorial to the people stationed there. During WWII it was known as RAF Tempsford. Covert missions were deployed into occupied France. Now, from this little outcrop of trees, the air is ringing under low cloud with the sounds of today's bucolic contrasts. Of sounds near and far. Of harsh tchacking magpies and distantly mellifluous starlings. Of a loud croaky wood pigeon at roost in the tree, and of a pheasant making its creaky calls as it roams the nearby field. Of trains skimming the horizon on the mainline from London to Peterborough. And of a noisy farm vehicle as it rattles and splashes and bumps right past the microphones on the puddled trackway. Then by again. Grittily tracing its way back to the far field whence it came. It's a late November day, less than an hour to sunset. There's a horse, echoes of bird scarers from across the fields, and still a bee, buzzing by left to right between the leaf-bare trees.  One for sorrow two for joy, three for a girl four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret never to be told. 

Tidal water mirror still - a sound view from Canvey Island

November 28th, 2020

A bird calls out. Its cry carries far out over the water on this, a rare day of no wind. Not even a breeze or a whisper of leaves in the trees. Cows low from farmland on the floodplain beside the Thames Estuary. From a hidden nest, little birds flutter in and out. What planes there are pass softly, almost inaudibly, but just enough to reveal the vastness of the bright afternoon sky. It's hanging on, the light, longer for a late November day. Away from the footpath down a thick grassy slope we found the water, at rest between the tides. Shallow over boot stealing mud, it was mirroring the sky. A corner within the landscape of visceral stillness. Tiny bubbles are popping on the surface of the water. Almost too delicate to hear. We lower the tripod to get the microphones closer, then carry on with our walk to let them record alone. To the keen ear, murmurs waft in from out over the estuary of curlew, avocet and geese. Crows caw. A horse neighs. The air vibrates. This isn't just a pastoral landscape beside a wild estuary, it is edgeland too.  On the western horizon, three perhaps four miles distant are tall cranes at work shifting containers. They place and drop, each makes a gentle roll of thunder. It's the London Gateway Port. The still water bubbles and pops. The little birds flutter back. Walkers clink the gate up by the field but this spot is well hidden from view. And what was that? Something plopped into the water. Or jumped out of it? Who knows, there was no one here to see.

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