U12 | Chris Whitehead | Ravenscar
alum : excerpt
grass : excerpt
format : CD ltd to 200 hand numbered copies
release year : 2012
length : 43’21
status : still available
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(Belgium) : 13 € (inc.postage)
(Europe) : 14 € (inc.postage)
(World) : 15 € (inc.postage)
: info :
“Ravenscar stands 600ft above the restless North Sea. To many it is simply a stopping off point between Whitby and Scarborough, commanding expansive views of the beautiful North Yorkshire coastline. Yet this place is also a canvas on which the overlapping layers of history have left their fingerprints.
The recordings that form this work were collected over two years during various seasons and in a range of weather conditions. Natural materials collected from the site were manipulated in several ways to add a sense of intimacy and perspective.
Although the piece is intended to be listened to as an unbroken whole, five distinct phases are passed through:
Wind: A consequence of Ravenscar’s exposure is its surrender to the wind which sculpts the cliff top trees and relentlessly batters the sparse buildings. Much the same prospect must have confronted the Romans when they built a signal station here in the 4th century AD.
Alum: In 1640 alum was discovered in the rocks, the production of which became the first British chemical industry. An alum works was built on the cliff top where the complex production process took place. It involved fire, seaweed and huge quantities of stale human urine.
Tunnel: When the railway came to Ravenscar in 1884, W. H. Hammond paid for a 279 yard tunnel to be built so that the view from his house was not compromised. The line closed in 1965. The disused tunnel now remains as a dark and baleful monument to the ghosts of steam.
Grass: In 1897 the Ravenscar Estate Company Ltd. began building roads, laying sewers and creating gardens. Their optimistic vision to fashion a holiday resort rivalling nearby Scarborough bore little fruit. Few plots were sold, and in 1913 the company folded leaving nature to reassert her dominance.
Radar: The stark remains of a Second World War radar station stand at Bent Rigg. Operational from 1941 to monitor shipping and aircraft, these long redundant concrete buidings are now used by sheep as a welcome refuge from the unceasing winds.”
: reviews :
Ravenscar is a small coastal village in North Yorkshire on the east coast of England. There’s not a massive amount of evidence of the presence of humanity on this recording as instead of the village Chris focuses his attention on creating a five part phonography of the surrounding environs.
It’s a really lovely set with quite a bleak and isolated character to it. Some of the sound sources are maybe a little commonplace but they are situated so as to offer character rather than as a primary focus. At no point does this ever feel like the focus has become the recordings rather than the area it is documenting.
A beautiful and immersive release that really does feel like it speaks of place, time and perception.
Wonderful Wooden Reasons
2012 has been a very successful and prolific year for Chris Whitehead with releases like ‘Gryphaea’, ‘South Gare’, ‘Ravenscar’ and recently ‘Ch – da ( d – 2 )’ with Darius Ciuta.
This time I will focus on ‘Ravenscar’ published by Unfathomless one of the most active and relevant labels on the musique concrete line.
In the beginning ’Ravenscar’ presents us the sea, the roaring and loud waves of the ocean…later some ‘tactile sounds’ appear and merge with the waves sounds.
By ‘tactile sounds’ I mean sound explored on a magnifying approach where the textures, friction and the smallest movements are amplified .
I say tactile approach because this is probably done with contact microphones that capture the sound that propagates through solids through a membrane that is placed on the surface. I have the notion that the artist is particularly fond on looking for the detail in materials like wood, stone and concrete where he explores their textural and other material aspects through a micro approach.
These tactile sounds are something Chris Whitehead is a master of: whether he uses only contact microphones or air microphones pointing to small events, this is a characteristic formal aspect of his work that again on ‘Ravenscar’ is greatly instrumented.
When Chris Whitehead juxtaposes the sea waves and the magnifying sounds I personally feel like we are listening simultaneously to the roaring surface of the sea and all the tiny small movement occurring underwater on the often quite ground of the sea. Quite a potential poetical analogy.
When the sea waves sounds start to fade we are left to this micro universe where wood and stones and other material ‘play’ in a very organic way: whether it is done in the style of Foley or capturing natural incidental processes these sonorities present an enormous formal value that the listener could fully enjoy.
The sounds of water in their different manifestations are greatly instrumented by the artist along ‘Ravenscar’ where he explores their different acoustic properties from the sounds of the overwhelming sea waves to the sounds of small creeks and little dripping. Water presents always this ecological implications of being the origin and sustain of life and this is something we can’t escape from. In this case water functions like a narrative linking element that connects the different fragments of the piece.
Through the beginning of the second third of the piece something dark starts to arise with a series of droning sounds and some guttural bird sound that is combined with repetitive sounds which bring the work to a very intense point that kicks out like a perception-altering drug. Here the listener is put near the boundaries of his comfort zone, the levels of acoustic intensity here reminds me of the great soundtrack of the movie ‘ Fando y Lis’ by Alejandro Jodorowski where sound is explored in its eeriest and harshest facet.
The intensity levels gradually fades through the middle of the piece until grave drones take over while he can simultaneously listen to the sounds dripping water inside some sort of cave or a similar structure. This is like being in the outer space and the city’s sewage system at the same time.
After this beautiful sequence the releases enters a territory where droning sounds, tactile sounds, processed material and quotidian sounds are juxtaposed building a strong emotional atmosphere where the sound images bring to live something potentially scary and yet strongly beautiful that somehow never fully develops…later the sounds of wind emerges to cleaning it all out.
The wind fades to the sounds of bleeps and the droning sonorities of an airplane.
Then it all ends.
‘Ravenscar’ is a really carefully and thoughtful composed piece -yet very emotional and open- where the structure on time and depth is taken advantage of to its fullest. Here we are confronted to the cosmological and the quotidian, we are confronted to to the magnitude of the universe addressed in both its immensity and its detailed and infinite complexity.
‘Ravenscar’ rather that a sound release is a movie, a sci-fi movie in the style of Kubrick’s 2001 or Tarkovski’s Stalker where an inner trip of obvious-cosmological nature takes place in the nature, in the urban areas in our quotidian life, all spaces that are built on star dust.
The Field Reporter
The village of Ravenscar, located in North Yorkshire, is the home of many geological formations and scenic vistas. The variety of potential sounds makes it a natural choice for field recording expeditions.
Although the album is presented as a single 43-minute piece, it is presented in five distinct sections. The first, and most powerful, is “Wind”, which stretches eleven minutes into the piece and hearkens back to the work of Chris Watson.This section alone – meticulously mastered with an ear to stereo effects – justifies the purchase. Sharp sounds press against dull resonances to create a three-dimensional effect. Sheets of rain battle with the waves as sullen seabirds seek shelter.
The second section begins to creep in halfway through “Wind”, but becomes much more noticeable as the wind retreats. ”Alum” is the sound of jostled rocks, whose chemicals were processed in early industry. The restrained nature of this section makes one wonder why it didn’t launch the album; it’s smart to start with a compelling section, but it’s hard to descend from excitement to introspection, which is why schoolchildren don’t begin the day with recess. But then a weird, unidentified noise enters the mix, sounding like a cross between a synthesizer, a bird and a mechanical device. This otherworldly tone provides a sense of mystery, but deserves the context of exposition.
The wind returns, subdued, in “Tunnel”, which grows more active as drips and echoes increase. Whitehead calls this section “a monument to the ghosts of steam”. A dog barks and pants; human footsteps fall; the timbre turns hollow and desolate. As we leave the tunnel, we hear birdsong once again, which arrives like a blessing, an escape from the claustrophobia. ”Grass”, by far the warmest section, incorporates the sounds of insects and farm animals. These bucolic reminders are joined by the sounds of rushing water and nearby traffic, which gather like members of an orchestra waiting for the final push. These sounds continue into the album’s shortest segment, “Radar”, which introduces tantalizing electronic pings and airplane motors, turning the album toward the scored. Turns out the radar station has been abandoned for years, and is now used by sheep retreating from the winds. In light of this fact, “Wind” might have made a stunning conclusion, but it’s the only change that might have been made to this evocative album.
Chris Whitehead has done a splendid job gathering these sounds to create a geographical postcard. With any luck, it will be sold in Ravenscar shoppes for years to come.
A Closer Listen
This Whitehead is not to be confused with the other, Gregory (of whom we haven’t heard much lately, sound wise that is) and I don’t think I heard music from Chris Whitehead before. He did his bunch of field recordings in a place called Ravenscar, in North Yorkshire but he also uses materials which he retrieved from the site. I looked the place up on google maps and it looks like a quiet small place near the coast. But maybe that was something I could have told you from listening to this forty-three minute work. It starts out with sea waves, it has the cracking of leaves, rusty agricultural devices (which occasionally buzz), all melted in a fine long piece that has somewhere between the twenty and thirty break (indicated on the cover as ‘Tunnel’) some hollow sounds, the tunnel probably, and some close range fire like sounds. It has a nice drone like texture to it. Towards the end the live farm stock plays a small role too, as well as a bit of street sounds. This is not the work of pure sound documentation which we sometimes see in the area of music, but Chris Whitehead has perhaps (!) processed a bit of the sounds, and if not, then he surely did a more than fine job in putting all of these recordings into an excellent audio picture of that area.
Frans de Waard