“The theme for World Listening Day 2021 “The Unquiet Earth” is an invitation to reflect on and engage with the constant murmur of the Earth, sounds beyond the threshold of human hearing, to remind ourselves that we share this mysterious and awesome planet. Small, hidden, subterranean, aerial, underwater, infra and ultrasonic sounds, inaudible to the naked ear, can bring a new, potentially hopeful, perspective on the future of the planet and humanity.”
As an audio artist my days are filled with the sounds of the things I see. Even before being confined to the house due to the pandemic, I have always been acutely aware of the mass of sound and noises that surround me everyday, even in very quiet places. To me the world has always been a hum, static, fizz to the ears, drones, and underlying miasma of noise even, in the seemingly most tranquil of places. Constant noise and static- where things not only have a physical shape but also have a sound wave. Animate and inanimate sing songs. Their songs and my sound image combine.
Last year (2020) for a very few short weeks there was a quieter world, fewer cars, people on the streets and aeroplanes in the sky. For a few short weeks I could hear the world more clearly but constantly there was the hum, the static, low level rumble. It was as if the world was speaking in a voice of resignation that although we stopped due to a tiny but dangerous virus, it was only temporary.
This year for World Listening Day 2021 I have put together three pieces that I think reflect on the theme ‘The Unquiet Earth’.
Floe – Created for World Listening Day 2021 is a piece of audio art about melting ice. How long have we been told that the ice caps are melting? How many times do we hear that the earth is getting warmer? We can see the changes. We can feel the changes. We can hear the changes. Found sounds and field recordings are manipulated to create a sound world of cracking, splintering, melting ice from under the surface. Large chunks grind and split. In the end there is silence.
A Quiet Field – Created for World Listening Day 2020 – There was so much talk of how, with lockdown, the world seemed to be heard more clearly. Without air traffic, cars and people in the streets, the usual hustle and bustle was silenced and nature took over in sound, especially birdsong but I didn’t feel this to be wholly true. Yes, at the very beginning there was a “momentary silence” where we were confined to our houses and with the window open every day, I could hear the world breathe again. No aircraft, cars, people on the street..
But it didn’t last long.
In fact, with people confined to home and then allowed into their gardens or outside for exercise, the noise levels increased. Good weather meant loud radios, diy projects, lawnmowers, garden games, children squealing, sirens in the background all en masse but yes at certain times of the day the birds seemingly sang louder and longer and with more variety.
This has stopped.
An early morning walk was a way to prove to myself that the world hadn’t changed all that much to me and was maybe just a blip on the sonic map. Yes, the beautiful birdsong I heard was seemingly louder and clearer and my brain honed into it with joy. Without humans wandering around, the birds began to venture out of the woody strip between two roads towards the edges and sang with full throttle and my brain focussed mainly on the birdsong. I recorded it to preserve its beauty but what was that? The recording was not what I thought I had heard. The birdsong was in competition with the increasing passing traffic on the dual carriageway and the site machinery on the roadworks. Sirens too….and the static, the hum, the unseen soundwaves were still there.
So, I took the sound file and broke it down into its digital information. The birdsong was not as loud. It was masked and in competition. The quiet sections were unmasked not to be silent but to have traces of waveforms and the midi track only upheld visually what I had suspected. Taking just the one recording I created what turned out to be a very noisy track. ‘A Quiet Field’ is proof that we don’t live in a changed world of sound. It never was and is not now, quiet.
Larks – May 2021 – A walk along the cliffs, one blue skied day, led to a chance encounter with two forces of nature. On one side the sea , on the other, Larks soared in the sky and in between, I was immersed in the sound waves and static. Larks tries to recreate that fleeting moment in time when, with eyes shut, I could feel the breeze and hear it, the sea, the larks, my breathing and the underlying electrical hiss and static of the world.
Composed, Recorded, Produced by O Johnson / Museleon
Artwork is based on original watercolours by O Johnson
Many thanks to phillchabbb and northern87 of the Freesound community (freesound.org ) and to Kit Johnson for their original field recordings which I reimagined into Floe.
All other sounds recorded by O Johnson.