Maybe it was the last warm summer day of 2012. I took a longer walk up and around my favorite hill, enjoying the warmth and the silence – nobody was around and sometimes I need to be completely alone to find myself.
There was no wind and it was very quiet, except for some faraway birds and some crickets. I stood and scanned the far horizon when I became aware of a very quiet, almost inaudible high drone – and of a cloud of several dozen tiny insects that circled around and above my head.
I don’t know why these insects flew around me – they didn’t settle on my skin and they seemed completely harmless. They liked me for some reason, and they stayed with me for about 15 minutes. They were very small and very fast, tiny dots, barely visible against the blue sky. I couldn’t believe my ears – I don’t think I have ever heard something like this before. Unexpected and magical!
I found that the swarm of insects reacted to my movements – I could raise a hand, and they would back up a little bit. For some reason, the pitch was higher when they were close, and it went down immediately when they went further away. Eventually, they flew away, and the sound vanished into silence.
I did not have a recorder with me to record the sound, and the insects were very quiet, almost inaudible, the recorder wouldn’t have recorded much. Here is a recording of a swarm of insects inside of a hedge behind my house, recorded in 2007. I sped the recording up to give it a pitch that was like what I heard today. It sounds a bit different (that sound was much more steady and quiet), but you can get an idea.
People do strange things. Many people (including my wife) think the things that I do are quite strange too. Last Sunday afternoon, I found myself sitting alone at the waterside in a small harbour in Cologne, recording underwater sounds. Luckily, nobody was around who wondered what I was doing. This activity would probably have looked quite boring from the outside, but whenever I do this kind of thing, I feel like a boy inside – an adventurer, a discoverer, hunting for the unknown – excitement.
The underwater sounds in this place turned out to be not very interesting, but I know that one has to be patient and record for a while just in case. Eventually, all I got were distant boat motors, and yes, there was a shoal of small fish but they didn’t talk (sometimes you find places where fish make all sorts of strange and interesting noises, but you have to be very lucky). Instead, they inspected the hydrophone which resulted in loud bumps on the recording.
While recording this, I found that the reflections of various cranes, towers, and ships in the water looked quite beautiful. I took a number of photos and they looked so nice together that I turned them into this video, very slowly fading one into each other.
The video soundtrack should have featured the underwater recording but since this turned out to be disappointing, it fell through. Instead I created several layers of treated sounds from these sources:
underwater insects of a nearby lake that I had recorded a week ago
a propeller plane that flew above
a contact microphone recording from the same day of the nearby Rhine bridge
a wonderful pump organ that I had played and recorded in the Stockholm music museum
The slowed down bridge sounds creates a beautiful drone of howling traffic and wind vibrated metal, and of course now that I hear it, it reminds me of Eno’s White Cube recordings. It still amazes me how he has influenced my musical thinking and often when I find some interesting new way to paint with sounds … he has already been there.
The pump organ with its wild pitch changes lets me think of Györgi Ligeti’s 1967 organ piece “Harmonies” (not that I would compare myself with this master of course). I found that pump organ in the Stockholm Musikmuseet – here is a short video. I played and recorded just a few minutes and this is the material that is used for the Crane Sunday video – pitched down and equalized a little. Oh how I loved this instrument, it had such a charming breathing sound – and not even keys to play! I would have stolen it but it was too heavy 😉