Adhocracy weekend and Reclamation (Part 1: hydrophones, the natural world and mystery sounds)

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I am currently confined to bed in the late afternoon with what feels like the beginnings of a typical winter cold.  I am also feeling rather exhausted.  It has been an incredibly hectic couple of months and I’m suprised I lasted this long and my immune system was up to the task of keeping me from crashing into a heap.  Thankfully I have enough reserves of energy this afternoon to write a bit about my recent Portside activities.

The past long weekend has been consumed with my Reclamation project for this year’s Adhocracy held at the wonderful Vitalstatistix theatre in Port Adelaide.  Reclamation was concerned with seeking out sounds of the natural world in the industrialised (and post-industrialised) waterways of the Port district.  I used my recently purchased JrF D-series hydrophones to record sounds of the underwater environment from docks, boat ramps, pontoons, muddy banks, rocky outcrops and other landings that allowed me to maintain my equilibrium whilst lowering a stereo pair of hydrophones into the water.

I find that every time I visit a given location with hydrophones I am discovering something unique and unheard for the first time, and the Port waterways were a good example of this.  From my first recording trip on Saturday morning what I discovered residing in the southern passages of the Port inlet was both suprising and strange.

A rich texture of clicks, pops and snaps permeated the underwater landscape with dramatic spatial detail in a variety of intensities, pitch and timbre.  The calm conditions on the water only made this discovery all the more odd.   Since there was an absence of any underwater currents or wave action, the clicking dominated against a muted environment.  A totally unique space.  The spell was eventually broken when a rowing boat entered the audible field with the recognisable sounds of water churning.

But what was responsible for the clicks, pops and snaps?  At first I thought it must be electrical impulses travelling through the water, but I eventually concluded that the sounds were too organic sounding.  A quick glance at my surroundings maybe provided an explanation – at various recording sites the columns, docksides and rocks were covered in mussels, mollusks and sponges – the seemingly insignificant inhabitants of the Port waterways.

UPDATE (1/7/2013): Jay-Dea Lopez suggested that this could be the sound of Snapping Shrimp (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snapping_shrimp)

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Over the course of the long weekend I considered that these sounds represented a ‘sonic continuity’ of the waterways – the dominating soundmark of this environment.  What I found particularly remarkable about this was that I had come to the Port concluding that it would be a challenge to seek out the natural world, when it had evidently been there from the very first recording I made on Saturday morning.

Perhaps this reclamation by the natural world had already been in motion for some time?  After all, a significant part of the local industry had since left the district decades ago, along with an industrial din that would have violently permeated the underwater environment.  Somewhat ironically, over the next couple of days I would find it occasionally challenging to seek out the sounds of the industrial world in the Port’s waterways.

I’ll cover the industrial side of things (along with some other stuff) in my next post.

Love and thanks to my partner Lauren Playfair for the images.

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