Woodland Sunday April 8, 2007

The term soundscape was coined by composer R. Murray Schafer, defined as sounds that “describe a place, a sonic identity, a sonic memory, but always a sound that is pertinent to a place”.

When I was a boy, I had a library book with an idea for a new hobby: take your cassette tape recorder into nature, around town, finding interesting sounds. I never did it, because it seemed rather abstract and aimless. What do you then do with those sounds, and what, really, is the point of it? I was content with my small pile of cassette music, and couldn’t see myself making a collection of interesting sounds. With digital technology, this has a new dimension: not only is the equipment better quality and considerably more convenient, but you can then put it on your web site which becomes the reason for doing it. It’s fun to use portable recording devices in this manner, in addition to the more professional uses in relation to photography: recording u>interview sessions, or as part of u>multimedia projects – audio photography is now a hybrid genre, not video, not radio, but supplementing the still image in a very creative way.

Clive Anderson, barrister and funny guy, was gently mocked on the excellent Have I Got New For You TV show for being the president of the Woodland Trust, who state on their web site:

The Woodland Trust campaigns to protect ancient woods, improve woodland biodiversity, increase native woodland cover and increase understanding and enjoyment of woods.

Indeed. But surely a bit like trainspotting, requiring an anorak? Actually, British woodland is rather lovely. I don’t know if it’s unique, but it probably has a uniquely British character like agricultural hedgerows. On a recent walk I particularly enjoyed the birds:

Or maybe I’m just feeling starved of sunshine and birdsong, after another crappy winter: extremely mild, probably at record mildness levels, but uniformly grey and dull. So then, a spring time stroll through some woods is very therapeutic. It’s not exciting – trees, brambles, bushes and trails – but imagine if we didn’t have these places to visit and enjoy which is what the Woodland Trust is all about, conserving these places against the ravages of urbanisation.

This little fella, it turned out, was a robin:

Hidden in a dense bush, after a few minutes of song he fluttered down to see what was going on and who I was, then fluttered back into hiding and reticent silence.

It is of course, easy to take this stuff for granted. I like the way he’s communicating with another bird with chirrupy signals saying what, exactly? “Eat anything nice today? Turned out fine again, eh? Don’t you just love the spring, when the sun sets warmly and later?”

Or maybe it’s just a pretty serenade, sweetly extended, but essentially the same as “You doing anything tonight, darling?” and she enjoys the attention, sings back excitedly, and starts to preen herself.

u>BBC birdsong