,After a rather rocky 2 days of sailing through the Drake Passage we finally pull in to one of the northern most Shetland Islands. We have been briefed, performed safety checks, additional antigen tests, sanitised equipment + clothes and practiced entering and exiting a zodiac (these are the small boats you see in the images that are used to bring us to land while the main boat remains in deeper waters).....finally we are ready to set foot on land. The wonderful team here has arranged for us to travel with the 1st zodiacs , so that I can have some 'alone-time' with this glorious place + its population before other people arrive. Getting in and out of these moving objects with equipment has to be done with care and confidence!! (We are greatly tutored...) As we board the snow begins to fall and our journey to land is fresh, fast and a little scary.....We slowly clamber off the zodiac onto a rocky shore ...feeling very awkward with all of the extra clothes, wellies and of course gear! Already I catch the smell of the inhabitants....lots and lots of penguins. Two kinds here: Gentoo and ChinStrap. Ab, the expedition leader, leads me far away and towards the singing colonies up and over the ridge. He explains what I am seeing, but I will admit to a certain amount of my zoning out and simply being overwhelmed by these tiny choir masses! There I sit surrounded by these wondrous creatures, as they wander around slightly awkwardly, finish moulting, feed their young and I guess generally just try to stay alive. There is now a driving snow that gets heavier and heavier making mine a very difficult 1st day! I was really hoping for a softer start, but the sounds are so inspiring that I just keep at it and watch as my mics get covered in snow, protecting the cable connection points where possible. The ChinStraps sound in energetic bursts and otherwise fall silent, where the Gentoo is a softer and perhaps more familiar penguin sound. What is perhaps most noticeable is the communal waves of activity within each species - beginning from relative silence one penguin calls and soon follows most of the rest of group. All chiming in. Sometimes it spreads out and across the land area, but mostly the sound is temporarily contained within the group. The audio snippet below is of the chinstrap as they 'honk' to be heard! The beautifully captured image is of those same chinstraps by John Godfrey, who is by my side throughout.
I move as seamlessly as is possible amongst them, always making sure not to interfere with their path. (You can see in the snippet from my gopro video below that these are curious animals.....so much so that I almost fall over trying to move away from one little guy.) We are still in the moulting season for the chicks, so it is vital that we do not interfere with them or cause them stress, as each additional move costs them energy that they likely don't have to spare. We are still quite north, so not a lot of snow on the ground yet, but there is a real cold wind and coupled with the snow fall makes for a very tough recording environment. I have waited my whole life to meet these little animals and am delighted to say that it was worth the wait. I could just sit, watch + listen to them all day........
After hours we leave land and return to the ship. We are the first to arrive and last to leave.....
We set sail again and spend the early evening on deck watching this extraordinary place unfold around us, as we drift further into the snow and ice.
After all the preparation, worrying and stress I simply can't believe we are really here. The songs of my first penguin encounter fill my ears, as I begin to imagine the composition work that is to come.......
Lovely Karen, a rich collection
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A composer/sound artist whose compositions try to bring every day environments, how we hear every day sounds/places + how we are in the world into focus. At the root of this is a continued interest in blurring the distinction between what we consider ‘music’ and all other sound.