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Occasional posts on subjects including field recording, London history and literature, other websites worth looking at, articles in the press, and news of sound-related events.

09 August 2010

Mad about the buoy

MORE EXCURSIONS LAST weekend along the Thames estuary or ‘riviera’, as estate agents might prefer to call it. A few years ago at work I got a request from some people looking for a recording of the Tilbury Bell, which was something to do with one of the buoys moored in the Thames. No such recording turned up, but the project went ahead anyway as Soundings from the Estuary.

It still exists on the web with some good compositions by sound artist Dave Lawrence, and in my opinion Soundings from the Estuary compares well with Bill Fontana’s later and similarly-titled installation River Soundings.

Last Sunday the elusive Tilbury Bell was tracked down during a trip out to Gravesend, my favourite town along the widening Thames. In fact, every blue buoy marking the central channel of the river has a bell attached, but it’s hard to hear them ringing unless a boat makes enough wash to set the buoy rolling. It took a couple of hours sitting by the river’s edge like a fisherman to get this 23-second recording:


The day before involved an excursion dodging the showers to Rainham Marshes, where I spotted a huge mass of flying ants issuing from a crack in a bank of earth. Each flying ant was trying to climb the nearest grass stem, often clambering over knots of its fellows, before launching itself into likely oblivion or falling back to the ground again:


Quite a lot of EQ’ing was applied to this in order to make it sound like you’ve gone and stuck your head inside the ants’ nest. Who’d do such a thing? The evolutionary biologist WD Hamilton once crawled inside a vast wasps’ nest he’d found somewhere in the Amazon. But the residents’ committee wasn’t happy about this, and Hamilton spent the next week recovering from multiple stings.

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