At daybreak, my face still turned to the wall, and before I had seen above the big window-curtains what tone the first streaks of light assumed, I could already tell what the weather was like. The first sounds from the street had told me, according to weather they came to my ears deadened and distorted by the moisture of the atmosphere or quivering like arrows in the resonant, empty expanses of a spacious, frosty, pure morning; as soon as I heard the rumble of the first tramcar, I could tell whether it was sodden with rain or setting forth into the blue.
Marcel Proust The Captive (1925)
Leaning out of an upstairs window I can hear the sound of hedgerow birds, chickens running in one of the nearby gardens; a football bouncing on a paving slab and then being kicked into the shrubbery; a lone car heading West on the A4130 sounding the asphalt; a Red Kite circling overhead. I lean out further, listening into the distance, into the future, waiting for the tide of mechanised sound to return, for the drone of tyres on asphalt, not the phasing passage of a single car, but the sweeping tide of traffic sound flooding across fields, down lanes, through dense woodland. Perhaps it is still here, cars pass in groups, the air vibrates, the X2 pauses at the bus stop. Covid 19 has transformed our sounding environment, but how much is that transformation felt in any one place, in a place on the periphery of the situation? Can I hear it from my window? Is it evident in my everyday? And when will the tide of sound turn? and when it does turn how will we feel about it? As the air begins to vibrate with the phasing of distant jets will we want to step back or will we embrace the return to the normative sounding of the world? The soundscape is ambivalent. It represents the reduction of pollutants in the atmosphere but also signals the absence of loved ones. The temporary absence of friends but also the permanent absence of those who have lost their lives. This is a soundscape of hope and a soundscape of loss. It is a soundscape of a brighter future, one where listening to the world is part of the decision-making process we undertake when we chose to travel or not to travel; but it is also a soundscape of a brighter past, a past where now lost loved ones were still with us, where we could hear the sounds of their voices vibrating in the air and not just in memory.
The fields that I have been exploring at Fortescue Farm are very exposed to the elements. There is a rise to the North that provides some protection for the field nearest the farmhouse – known as First Marsh – but the landscape is open to the East, South and West so the wind can sweep across the fields at a fearsome pace. This particular quality of the site provides a ready supply of aeolian sound as the wind activates gateposts; fence wire; tall grasses; the small copse of trees near the dry river-bed; and any other objects that might vibrate in the wind. Following serious flooding, which had damaged the fencing in the fields new gates and gateposts are installed. This is the blog post from a particularly windy visit:
On April 16th I visited the site with Emma Welton. As we walked away from the relative shelter of Fortescue Farm it became evident that strongly gusting wind was going to be a strong feature of the day. The wind cut across the site making the sound of the wind in my ears the most prevalent sound of day. This always seems amplified when wearing headphones as the wind is channelled through the gaps between the headband and the earpieces.There’s very little shelter on the site until you get to the copse of trees in rough marsh so this made recording very difficult even with a blimp. We heard all manner of aeolian phenomena during the day including the crackle of dry grasses; the tapping of tree branches as they are pushed around; the flutter of boundary tape; and the rush of white noise as the wind got amongst the grass in rough marsh. The most distinctive aeolian phenomena of the day was the sound made by the passage of the wind through small holes in the new gates that had been installed to replace those damaged in the flooding earlier in the year. We set up next to one of them and spent some time listening.
Later that day we worked with the violin in the centre of one of the fields and listened as the wind activated the strings.