I am standing on top of a large slippery rock in the nature reserve of Hernyken. The rock is slippery because of the guano brought to land by the seabirds breeding here. The rain is pouring down and I`m becoming soaking wet, but I barely notice as I`m mesmerized by the sound world I am within. I have got a pair of DPA microphones behind my ears, as I am attempting to do a binaural recording of this moment in time. The rain is rushing down harder and harder and splashing against the ocean, the rocks and the landscape. The geophony of the rain against the variation of surfaces is rich and vibrant. Through the heavy curtain of rain sounds seabirds are calling. Guillemots rafting out in the ocean are communicating with family members in the bowler skree behind me. They are louder and more vocal than usual. Maybe so that they can be heard through the rain or could it be because my presence is less felt, smelt, seen right now? I am also hearing the resonating of Puffin wings above and around me, and the distant growls of Razor Bills.
An hour later that evening returning to the field station, I am very keen to listen back to what I have captured on tape. Will it sound anything like I experienced it? I press play, but the recording stops just after little more than 40 seconds. The battery must have gone flat. I feel deeply disappointed, but then I remind myself that I will carry the moment within me and that a recording could never represent the time and the place itself, especially not for a person unfamiliar to the site.
I have spent the past two years collecting soundscapes in the fascinating and magical Røst archipelago in Northern Norway. I am carrying on this summer. I have done hours upon hours of recordings, and for the first volume in the Soundscape Røst series, I´m presenting my current favourites. I would like to remind you as a listener, that these field recordings, are only documenting a brief moment in time. They are not meant to be a representation of the ”real”, even though some of them do sound quite like a soundscape on Røst. As a sound recordist I have created hyper realities and made some artistic decisions along the way, that have shaped the content of what you listen to. I hope you take time to listen to these soundscapes with a good pair of headphones in a dark, quiet place. However, what you do is your business after all! I hope the sounds will come alive inside you, and that you might be inspired to discover the origins of places like Røst yourselves.
I have been working on the self initiated project Soundscape Røst since August 2009. It begun as a response to the continuous decline in the seabird populations of the Røst archipelago in Nordland, northern Norway, as reported in media, summer after summer by seabird specialist Tycho Anker-Nilssen (NINA). I decided to travel to the Røst archipelago myself, begin to collect sound and document how the soundscapes where changing over time. Røst is home to the largest seabird colony in Norway, with more than 400000 pair of Puffins coming ashore every spring to breed on the rocky slopes of the bird mountains. Norway is home to approximately one quarter of the Northern European seabird population, a huge responsibility when many of the species seabirds are on the Norwegian red list.
Røst is ocean, skyline, changing weather, wind, seabirds, birdlife, stockfish, dry fish, fishermen and women, fish factories and the local community. Røst is abundance of coastal history and tradition. I am fascinated by how the sound environment on Røst is, has been and will be. Can we trace a sound history on Røst? What did Røst sound like when the Norwegian artist Theodor Kittelsen drew his pictures here in the 1880s, before the fishing industry got industrialized? What did Røst sound like when it was breeding ground for the most numerous puffin population in the world, numbering around 1,5 million pairs in the late 70s? And what did it feel and sound like to row past Vedøy when 22000 pairs of Kittiwakes and 10000 or more pairs of Guillemots where breeding here? I am not the first artist to visit Røst and become enchanted. The fantastic Norwegian artist Theodor Kittelsen spent a few years on Skomvær lighthouse in the 1880s. His sister was married to the lighthouse guard. As a tribute to Kittelsen, I have used drawings from his Røst stay on the cover and on the back of the record.
While collecting sound and other material on Røst, I have understood that I have embarked upon the large task of documenting an important part of not just Norwegian, but worldwide coastal history. However I have no intention of putting this documentation in a museum. I would like for it to stay alive and to be like seeds in the seed vault. I am using the material as a library to create artworks from. I hope to inspire people to keep coastal culture and tradition alive, and to spread knowledge about the serious state of our marine ecosystems and the seabirds and other creatures that inhabit them.
Elin Øyen Vister, Byneset, March 2012.
Spaces and Species Vol. 1
The Listening Lounge
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Side A - North
Side B - South