The Wire

In Writing

Explore the sights and sounds of Jana Winderen's field trips

September 2016

From toadfish grunts in Panama to ice fields in Greenland, check out sounds, images and notes from the recordist’s expeditions around the globe

Geysir field – Iceland, 2006

Recording around the Great Geyser, inside and around the glaciers Vatnajökul and Mýrdalsjökull. This marks the beginning of my work with the sounds produced by glaciers and ice. The glaciers appear like enormous old creatures as they slowly descend from the mountains. This trip led me further, to the glaciers Jostedalsbreen, Briksdalsbreen, Brenndalsbreen and Folgefonna, and then the following year to Greenland.

This recording of a boiling hot spring is made close by the Great Geyser. The Great Geyser itself was impossible to record at the time since it was crowded with cheering and whooping spectators. I would have had to spend the night there.

Kangia icefjord – Greenland, 2007

A friend told me about the sound of the passing icebergs in the icefjord Kangia near Ilulisat in Greenland. So I had to travel there to listen. Not just the sound but also the landscape, the people and the atmosphere itself are exceptional. The Arctic is an indicator of the state of the health of the planet. The melting is accelerating. In 2007 Greenlanders started to be concerned about how their culture would survive the pressure of these changes.

The recording is made from close up, using hydrophones inside the ice itself and down to 90 metres underneath. The singing sound appeared a long way below. Recordings from this trip later formed a substantial part of the album Energy Field, released by Touch in 2010.

Placencia – Belize, 2012

Silencing Of The Reefs is a project I have been working on as part of my residency with Thyssen- Bornemisza Art Contemporary Academy on the vessel Dardanella (2011–14). In Belize I concentrated on how best to record fish in the shallow, distressed reefs. We collaborated with the Healthy Reef Initiative. The very audible but not very visible toadfish were protecting their habitat with grunts using different tones. They seemed to use acoustic environments to amplify their sound. In this recording you can hear the toadfish and passing echolocating dolphins.

Coiba Marine Park – Panama, 2013

As part of my Residency with Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Academy on the Dardanella, I recorded bulldog bats as they were hunting at night right behind the ship. They were fishing with echo-location above the surface of the water. We were recording at several locations by the Pearl Islands and in Coiba National Park, which is a marine reserve off Panama's Pacific coast. I recorded the underwater habitats both in ultrasound and in our audible range, under and above the water. It was incredible to be able to hear the spawning aggregation at the seamounts, to investigate the zooplankton which the local whale sharks were feeding on, and waking up to the slapping sound of jumping stingrays as they hit the water surface.

In the recording you hear the Bulldog bats fishing with echo-location slowed down ten and 20 times, into the audible range (they operate in the ultrasound range, above human hearing).

Helmer Hansen research vessel – Spitsbergen, 2016

As part of my ongoing project investigating what is happening in the Marginal Seasonal Ice Zone, I was invited by Paul Friedrich Wassman of Tromsø University to join the ARCEx expedition. A group of scientists were looking into the ‘Spring Bloom’ where the polar waterfront meets warmer Atlantic waters in the Barents sea north of Norway. In this area, during the month of May, the activity and spring bloom is at its most active. Photosynthesis by the phytoplankton produces half of the biosphere’s oxygen and it stores carbon dioxide. It is the largest carbon dioxide sink on the planet. We were searching for sea ice which in May should be at its thickest, but it was slushy and the ice floes were too small to walk on. We did not find any thick ice where it usually had been each year.

The recording is from a site off the coast from the Polish Research facility in Hornsund of a Bearded Seal. It was singing less than 50 metres away with an otherworldly ‘dropping’ tone.

The Bronx and Brooklyn – US, 2012

Water Signal was commissioned by Unsound and the Guggenheim Museum as part of their Stillspotting project. I was out recording with hydrophones in New Town Creek in Brooklyn and on the East river from a canoe with Willis Elkins from North Brooklyn Boat Club and Lawrence Kumpf and Andy Battaglia in various locations around The Bronx.

Several surprising sounds can be found in New York’s underwater environments, from what may well be fish, to signal emissions and resonances from land, including the low frequency drone that sits as a signature for New York both under and above the water.

Barneo Camp – North Pole, 2015

In 2015 I was generously invited by Frederik Paulsen of The Mamont Foundation to join their trip to the North Pole. It fitted perfectly with my still ongoing project about sea ice and the marginal seasonal ice zone. Working conditions were exceptionally cold, windy and very, very difficult.

Even if I have been in Greenland at minus 25 degrees celsius, and I had grown up in an area where it can even reach minus 35, it was difficult to move around and operate my equipment. I made hydrophone recordings with Reson 4032 hydrophones 15 metres under the sea ice. The sea ice can break up, unexpectedly, right around you. To lower the hydrophones into the water I would make a hole with my boot. The sea ice, which is from a few centimetres thick to a maximum of six metres, drifts around on the surface of water that is a kilometre deep. Each year you get less of the old ice – only the thinner, one year old ice will freeze over. So each year the older ice area is getting smaller and smaller.

The sounds of the power generators by the camp, and of the happy skiers who have reached the geographical North Pole, mean that it is not at all as quiet as you would imagine – unless you are fortunate enough to find yourself skiing there alone. The recording is a collage of the sounds I found there.

Jana Winderen is an artist and field recordist based in Oslo. She is one of the participants in Ableton Loop, a summit of music makers, technologists, critics and more which takes place this November at the Funkhaus, Berlin. The Wire will also be in the haus, staging the first ever live instalment of its longrunning Invisible Jukebox feature.

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