A large rock transported by a glacier and set down by the melting ice is known as an erratic (from the Latin “errare” meaning to wander). On the north coast of Tiree is an erratic, made of granite, an alien amongst an indigeneous geology of gneiss.
The ringing stone has an ancient history. The cupmarks pitting its surface mark the spots where humans have hit the large stone with a smaller stone striker. With your ear against the stone as it is struck you can hear an extraordinarily resonant spatial sound, with a metallic ring.
The effect is due to the density of the rock and absence of flaws or fissures. Some think that the void or cleft underneath the stone also contributes to the sound produced.
It is well worth walking off the track to experience it first hand.
The Harpa Concert Hall, located in the harbour area of Reykjavik, was designed by Henning Larsen Architects and Batteriid Architects. The Danish-Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson, collaborated on the design of the facades taking inspiration from the Icelandic landscape and the crystalline structure of basalt columns, which give a strong sense of identity and place to the building. It is a kind of people’s palace for the Icelandic capital – a cultural centre but also a public space and place to meet, protected from the elements. The building contains concert and performance spaces, and international standard conference facilities – Reykjavik is ideally located between Europe and the US.
The Icelandic landscape: inspiration for the building design from ice, snow, rock and water, from the colours and the effects of natural light.
Interesting features of the acoustic design of the concert hall interiors include the perimeter screens of twisted timber slats, and adjustable felt blinds behind, creating the tools for varying the acoustic to suit different types of musical and speech-based performance.
Having done some research into bird vocalisation and the technology of the avian syrinx, I became interested in how the Herring Gull adopts a particular pose to express a particular call: the relationship of sound to form. The dynamic shapes of the Mew Call (head down) and the Long Call (head up) express the production of sound energy in these two loud penetrating calls. I made the collages to experiment with ideas of composition and three-dimensional form in relation to a notional horizontal – a water line.
‘No Man’s Land’, an installation by sound recordist Chris Watson, on the curve of the cliff at Berry Head Quarry, Brixham, played for nine days in September 2017. This ambi-sonic installation included high-quality recordings from orcas to Weddell seals. Ranging across the frequency spectrum, there were high frequency bird sounds and low frequency humpback whale sounds including chest-thumping infrasonic frequencies.
Electronic sounds can be used to great effect in this kind of natural environment (but only outside of the nesting season). Using the natural acoustics of the cliffs (as the seabirds do), and the unexpected acoustic reflections from the concrete hut on the quay, the installation has a real impact, with remarkable sound quality.
Chris Watson, sound recordist and longstanding collaborator of David Attenborough, hosted a fascinating workshop at Berry Head Quarry, Brixham in September. With a storm raging outside we gathered in the Artillery Store for Chris’ introduction to sound recording and the acoustic world of the ocean. (As a novice sound recordist I had my Zoom H4n handy recorder with me, eager to pick up some tips). During a brief break in the weather we walked down to the Quarry Quay and Chris showed us how to set up the hydrophone (underwater microphone) equipment with plastic bottle floats, canes as fishing rods and cable lines – literally fishing for sounds. With a speaker set up under an umbrella, we could clearly hear the pistol shrimps (or snapping shrimps)
Pistol shrimps are common throughout the world’s oceans, and their sounds are the background fuzz of the underwater soundscape around any shoreline. The snapping sound is made by the implosion of an air bubble produced by the shrimp’s powerful claw, in order to stun their prey.
I am interested in the visual and acoustic qualities of water in the wild, and how these might inform the treatment of water in an urban public space. These photographs from a trip to the Hebrides in August show the ocean in various states of animation, transparency and colour. Different states invoke different emotional responses. The water in motion makes its own sound, and the surface properties of the water affect the acoustic reflections of ambient sounds.