[This page supplements the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art installation “From Sea To Skye: An Ocean of Sound”]
Our oceans are full of sound. Human ears aren’t adapted to listening underwater but we can use special microphones, called hydrophones, to reveal these hidden worlds. By adopting this oceanic perspective, I believe we can learn to understand the incredible richness of life beneath the waterline.
As well as raising awareness, this project aims to contribute donations towards the goal of safeguarding 30% of the world’s oceans from destructive or extractive activities by 2030. If you choose to purchase from my Bandcamp page, 30% of the profits will go towards the #Love30x30 cause.
An Immersive, 3D Audio Soundscape (best with headphones!)
The composition, made entirely from field-recordings, conveys an upward journey from the ocean depths to cliffs far above. Passing layers of underwater acoustic activity, the calls and echolocation of dolphins act as our guide. Eventually we breach the water’s surface to hear a harem of seals howling from the shore, resident fulmars flying overhead.
Watch the video again here
The original plan was to create a bespoke ‘sound dome’ fitted with an ambisonic sound reproduction system to immerse listeners in an underwater soundscape, sounds to swimming around the ears. This project is supported by a Pioneer Award from Newcastle Institute for Creative Arts Practice.
This work isn’t a replacement; I’d still like to complete this structure. But to keep things moving, this is an offering that invites people to get involved online. It’s a scrapbook largely centred on Grey and Harbour Seals from the Hebrides and Northumberland.
Partnerships and collaborators
Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust
I joined Silurian and the crew for a 10 day survey in September 2019. The Trust was particularly exciting to me as in addition to visual surveying they monitor cetacean acoustics using a towed hydrophone. I had an absolutely amazing time alongside all the volunteers and couldn’t recommend it enough. Rebecca Dudley (Science Officer), Quentin Dimmer (Skipper) and Brian Condon (First Mate ) were excellent hosts and unbelievably sensitive to my additional recording needs, so huge thanks to them. We managed to travel 303 nautical miles over the ten days, racking up some serious time “on effort”. He’s a map of our journey, beginning at Kyle of Lochalsh, Isle of Skye:
Below is an excerpt that explains the HWDT’s survey protocol. If you’d like to learn more about species ID visit this fantastic page: https://hwdt.org/species-index
Acoustic Network Gateway buoY (ANGY)
USMART is a collaborative project between Newcastle University, Heriot-Watt University and the University of York to develop affordable technology for large scale, smart wireless sensing networks to be deployed in the oceans.
ANGY is a data-buoy which provides the hub for an underwater acoustic communications network with two NM3 modems suspended beneath it. The addition of two hydrophones and a wifi link back to shore provides a high quality audio stream to support acoustic communications experiments in the sea, as well as recordings of local wildlife such as the visiting bottle nose dolphins.
Newcastle University’s Jeff Neasham, Senior Lecturer in the School of Engineering, and Dr. Ben Sherlock, Research Associate in Marine Engineering, have been pivotal in helping me get this project off the ground (no pun intended!) providing some excellent audio recordings, particularly of dolphin whistles and echolocation calls.
A Video That Took 17 Years To Capture
This incredible video footage was shot by Dr Ben Burville, a researcher in Marine Biology at Newcastle University. You can hear these seal claps on my Bandcamp page, from recordings taken in the Outer Hebrides, September 2019.
The full article from earlier this year can be read here: https://www.ncl.ac.uk/press/articles/latest/2020/02/conversationsealsclapping/
I’m also sharing an informative journal PDF by David Hocking (Monash University) called “Percussive underwater signaling in wild gray seals” which will help to explain the behaviour in the video. Well worth checking out.
(Hocking DP, Burville B, Parker WMG, Evans AR, Park T, Marx FG. Percussive underwater signaling in wild gray seals. Mar Mam Sci. 2020;36:728 –732).
I’d like to say thanks to BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Mel Whewell, Richard Talbot, Mel Robson, Alison Lomax, Ben Sherlock, David Hocking, Ben Burville, Jeff Neasham, Becky Dudley, Morven Summers, Mariam Rezaei, Katie Hickman, Emily Holmes and Euan Preston.