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The crunch of gravel underfoot… leaves rustling in the breeze… birds singing… the odd giggle (or scuffle!). And the quiet stillness in between. If you happened to be down at Glencanisp yesterday afternoon, you may have been surprised to suddenly happen across eleven mostly-silent 8-10 year-olds. It was certainly a surprise for us to discover how quiet they could be, and how absorbed they became in listening and recording sounds during a workshop delivered by CALLP’s Artist in Residence, Alex Mackay. Alex has spent the last few months popping up and down between Glasgow and Assynt to collect recordings as he interprets Suilven through the medium of sound (more here), and he’s spent his latest visit sharing his passion with others.
We began inside where we listened to some of Alex’s creations, guessing the subjects of his musical compositions, along with a couple of BBC Planet Earth recordings. Imagine 11 facial expressions after discovering one of these turned out to be the noises of vultures tearing at a zebra carcass, in which the sound recorder had been strategically placed!
Guessing what the small furry object is for (answer: mic wind shield) and listening to how sound travels through objects to learn how the hydrophone works. © Scottish Wildlife Trust/Katrina Martin
Alex introduced us to the recording equipment he uses and after a briefing on how it all works, we ventured out, tuning our ears in and capturing the sounds of the environment around us. We were even lucky enough to listen to sounds picked up by a hydrophone (a mic that is especially made to go in the water). It was pretty cool tuning into a whole different habitat, and also happened to be very relaxing.
Learning how the equipment works and testing it out. © Scottish Wildlife Trust/Katrina Martin
Exploring the environment through the medium of sound. © Scottish Wildlife Trust/Katrina Martin
Listening to the underwater habitat of the loch. © Scottish Wildlife Trust/Katrina Martin

On returning inside, we had the opportunity to play with a midi keyboard, connected up to the software that was playing the resultant recordings. Everyone got a turn to manipulate the sound and add a range of effects through a series of dials. And a second layer was added to the track, with tunes created via a keyboard-style application of the sounds we had collected. There seemed to be lots of DJs in the making and it was great fun to hear all the unusual, funky, bizarre and humorous compositions that flowed out. It certainly proved to be a highly enjoyable experience.

Experimenting with the midi keyboard © Scottish Wildlife Trust/Katrina Martin
Today S4 and 5 music students from Ullapool High School visited for a workshop, followed by an adult workshop once the school had left (more on that in another blog!). Suffice to say Alex has had his hands full these past few days and we are extremely grateful for the insight into his work and the opportunity this has provided to showcase a unique and interesting form of art and environmental exploration to the local young (and slightly older!) people. Thanks Alex!

Katrina Martin

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