What can we learn about places filled with ambiguity and unsuspected risks through the sound archive of two field-recordists? The field recordings of Sara Pinheiro and Magnús Bergsson will immerse you into the landscapes, as they use a variety of microphones and special sound equipment to capture even the most hidden technological processes and phenomena that we can’t hear with our ears. They have recorded a current of electric energy produced from coal, the cracking of ice floating on the surface of a glacial lagoon or the surprisingly unnoticeable gushing of lava using a hydrophone under the water, a geophone, which was originally designed for seismic measurements but can also pick up fine vibrations of different materials and even the Earth, or Elektroucho, an electromagnetic field receiver, which can, like a radio, convert these vibrations into audible sound, and many others.
Žarošice: Ritual fossile exchange
Scattered among vineyards and fields, oil wells are specific for South Moravia. These inconspicuous structures situated in the vicinity of Moravian villages have been pumping oil from the depths of the earth for over a century. The oil is almost gone. One of the last extraction sites in the area sits on a few dozen square meters of concrete panels. Behind the fence, a pumpjack sways in a monotonous rhythm to keep the pump barrels moving. The rest of the local infrastructure consists of storage tanks and a few portacabins that serve as facilities for the service staff. This is not the sole purpose of the site. The Earth's cavities are to be filled with compressed carbon dioxide produced by the fossil fuel industry. Sara’s recordings not only capture the sound of the technology and the extraction of oil, but also give us an idea of what the process sounds like to the creatures that live underground. The local color of the Moravian countryside is enhanced by the goats kept by the well operators behind the fence.
Milovice: Rewilding laboratory
The landscape that had been ravaged during the years when it served as a military training ground is gradually becoming populated by large ungulates that used to inhabit the area in the time of prehistoric hunters and early farmers – the wild horse, bison and aurochs. From visitor trails with overlooks, visitors can watch their herds grazing and moving across the local steppe in search of water. The modern-time visitors can also enjoy other recreation activities offered in the area. Just outside the fence is a golf course, a small airport, and a biker track. A busy road or a track designed for off-road vehicles also crosses the land. The soundscape of Milovice reflects on this contrast in an effort to record the native species that our ancestors domesticated amidst the hustle and bustle of the outside world. However, deep in the reserve, Sara finds enough peace to use her instruments to observe the behavior of ancient animals surrounded by thriving biodiversity, and capture the impressions of a landscape freed from agricultural production.
Tušimice: Overwhelming sound of the climate crisis
A look at the landscape that surrounds and feeds the coal plant reveals the violent effects of mining on the environment. At the top of a nearby hill, one can hear the mining sounds only in the distance as they are drowned out by the birds and insects. But a very different soundscape extends inside the plant itself, where the deafening roar of turbines fills the spacious main hall. By means of a contact microphone, a geophone and an electromagnetic receiver, Sara was able to capture the different facets of electricity production as the main nutrient of modern society. The sound of the cooling tower, reminiscent of a massive waterfall, brings a reminder of the immense flows of energy and labor that will need to be replaced by options more friendly to the environment, the landscape and people and other living creatures in the ongoing climate crisis.
Kaly: When crops grow from nothing
An inconspicuous building of a former pig farm in a small village near Brno houses a laboratory that develops agricultural processes with a revolutionary potential. On either side of a narrow corridor on the first floor, lettuce and herb seedlings grow in racks in sterile conditions behind glass and exposed to ultraviolet light. They are supplied with precisely measured and PC-controlled rations of nutrients through pipes from the building’s ground floor section, where fish are farmed. Sara’s instruments uncover sophisticated technological processes that allow plants to be grown without soil and practically also without water. The recorded soundscapes and elements prompt us to think about how agricultural production concentrated under one roof that does not require field farming using tractors and fertilizers can change our future and what forms of social arrangement it makes possible.
Búðarháls: Electricity generated in underwater drama
The existence of Iceland's newest hydroelectric power plant, located on far-inland Lake Sultartangalón is heralded by the vast system of massive high-voltage pylons and artificial canals that scarify the landscape. The austere-looking complex of concrete buildings wedged into the lake’s shoreline is controlled remotely from the capital. Electricity is generated here without human staff and mainly feeds massive aluminum plants at the ocean's edge. Thanks to geophones attached to the fence protecting the transformer or to the dam railing, the processes that take place inside the facility become audible. The sounds also echo the deeper impacts that electricity production has on the landscape. Microphones below the surface of the water, which has engulfed a huge number of organisms, pick up bubbles of methane. The sound of a process that is invisible to the eye illustrates the risks accompanying the absence of carbon dioxide production in hydroelectric power production, as methane contributes to climate disruption even more dramatically.
Fjallsárlón: Library of thousands of years melting away
Along with the nearby even larger Jökulsárlón lagoon, the Fjallsárlón lagoon, formed by a melting glacier, is one of the main tourist attractions in the southern part of Iceland. It lies near the so-called Ring Road, the main road that winds around the whole island. Tourists can use a car park and a small restaurant. For his recording and listening sessions, Magnús chose a different route to the lagoon, a place with a view of the glacial outwash, without tourists taking selfies with icebergs and motorboats offering a scenic ride between the chunks of floating ice. A hydrophone submerged in the lagoon on a fishing rod recorded a microcosm of sounds of the melting ice. The monumentality of the place and the processes that take place there are captured in the recording with the sounds of ice blocks breaking off, slumping under their own weight into the water, rising back to the surface and starting to slowly drift away. The recorded palette of sounds suggests that nature has a personality and that in areas like this one, a prominent part of its identity gets lost.
Fagradalsfjall: Landscaping in real time
In less than half a year since Fagradalsfjall first made itself known – still only as a rupture in the ground – the valley with the active volcano has become one of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions, thanks to its good accessibility and location near the country’s capital. Therefore, it is not easy to find a suitable place to listen to the sounds of the volcano. The crest of the hill from which the crater and lava field are visible is teeming with tourists; drones and helicopters are circling the sky offering sightseeing flights around the crater, and the wind here is quite strong. The area didn’t calm down until dusk. Magnús used a microphone to capture the sound of the boiling lava that was pouring out of the crater like boiling water or a tidewave, and the crumbling sounds that only days or weeks old lava makes. In this form, the rock is not only very sharp, but also very porous and brittle due to air bubbles that enter the lava as it cools down.
Hellisheiði: Turning the danger into stone
The extensive operations under the earth's surface are apparent at first glance due to countless kilometers of pipelines that criss-cross the volcanic landscape in geometric patterns long before the Hellisheidi geothermal power plant itself emerges on the horizon. The thick white clouds of steam above its low building surrounded by sophisticated systems of energy capillaries evoke a fairly light production process. However, the microphones pointed at the turbines and transmission equipment attest to the immense power with which the Earth’s interior heats the water and which we reach through thousands of miles of boreholes. But Iceland's largest and newest geothermal power plant is actually the site of a completely different process, characterized by a sound very unlike the different kinds of humming emitted by the turbines. In shimmering domes reminiscent of space stations dotting the area, carbon dioxide is being pumped into underground caverns to fossilize forever. This emergency climatic solution takes on the form of quiet, soothing soundscapes. The fluidity and serenity of the soundscape evokes the hope that an elegant solution to the climate crisis is emerging from the bowels of the earth in a ghostly landscape between volcanoes shrouded in steam. But this is only an uncertain and shaky beginning of a long journey.
- Sound Devices MixPre-10T
- Sennheiser Ambeo VR Mic
- DPA SMK-SC4060
- AKG C411
- Telephone Pick-Up Coil1
- Aquarian H2a
- Elektroucho Pro
- Sound Devices MixPre-6
- Sennheiser MKH30/40 (MS)
- Sennheiser MKH8020/MKH8040 (AB40)
- DIY stereo mic. w. Primo EM172 capsules (Baffled - Binaural)
- Benthowave BII-7121 & Aquarian H2a XLR Hydrophones
- LOM geophones