A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of joining Chris Watson, Jez Riley French and several others on an enjoyable field recording trip/workshop in College Valley, Northumberland. This was my 3rd Wildeye course actually so I knew exactly how to prepare and what to expect.
The workshop location was Mounthooley Bunkhouse, same as last year. For those unfamiliar, this is deep in the College Valley, far away from traffic or industrial noise and surrounded by hills, pastures and wooded patches. College Burn flows close by and can make recording ambiences rather difficult since it's quite noisy however.
The roaring of the College Burn wasn't an issue for me as my purposes there were primarily to relax, see old acquaintances, to meet new people and to talk about field recording. And that I did for a very pleasant three days in very good company.
When we arrived there on Friday afternoon the weather was fine, a bit cloudy and windy but not too bad. A very vocal Song Thrush greeted us from a tree close to the bunkhouse, and cuckoos could be heard singing all over the valley. To my pleasant surprise I found out that the attendees included musicians, photographers, field recordists, ornithologists, ethnomusicologists, and even 3 game audio people (including myself).
On the first evening we went out on a short trip and saw a Barn Owl and several Woodcock flying about. The sudden change from the bustle of the city to the stillness and calmness of the College Valley was a bit staggering at first, but we soon got used to it. Back to the house we had a short introductory chat and a delicious dinner, after which a few dedicated recordists went back out again while others stayed in and talked until midnight.
Saturday was definitely not a good day for recording. It was foggy and damp all day, with visibility under 20 metres. Very few birds were singing, and unless they were close by their songs were muffled by the fog. This however didn't stop a small group including myself from going on a 5 hour trip in the Cheviot Hills with Chris leading us since the knew the surroundings so well. Some even brought recording equipment along, but most of the day's recordings were rubbish due to the weather and large number of people walking, talking and sloshing about.
To top it off I managed to jump into the bog up to my knees which made things even less enjoyable. The good thing about it was that I didn't have to avoid puddles and streams anymore as there wasn't anything worse that could happen. On the way back I even waded through the College Burn instead of having to find a good place to cross.
Back at the house we sat around the fireplace with wet boots and socks hanging around and discussed Ornithology, field recording, trips to exotic countries etc. Since my hiking boots were drenched there wasn't a lot I could do outside so I enjoyed the conversation, tea and the feeling of being dry and warm again after half a day sloshing about. After dinner discussions lasted well into the night, with some of us playing interesting recordings and then discussing how and where they were made.
Sunday was quite the opposite of how Saturday had been. At about 9am the fog suddenly moved away through the valley, leaving us to enjoy a perfect albeit slightly breezy day. My boots hadn't yet dried up so I borrowed a pair of wellies from the bunkhouse, but after spending 10 minutes frying in them I ditched them for my trainers.
At this point Chris did a short presentation on surround sound recording showing us his double MS rig and Soundfield mic. This reminded me how important surround sound is in the context of the current trend in Augmented and Virtual Reality. Possibly the most interesting thing that came up is that you can record quad ambiences with a pair of handheld recorders (Sony PCM D100s for example) as long as you place and sync them correctly.
Once Chris's presentation was done most of us split up and went our own way in the valley or on the hills. I recorded some interesting ambiences in a derelict shack until I was joined by a small group of others. We then headed towards Henhole which is an even more remote part of the valley where the College Burn goes through a series of waterfalls.
We stopped for lunch close to the largest waterfall we could see and then we did some more recording. After a couple of hours in the sun at Henhole the others went forward towards Cheviot peak. Since the wind had picked up I decided to go back to the bunkhouse and recorded some nice waterfall roar along the way. Back at the house I went out and recorded about an hour of wire fences singing in the wind, which came out excellently (see the end of the post).
On Monday a few of us woke up early and went out recording, but I was too tired to do it. I preferred to join Chris and a few others on a short trip to Lindisfarne which is a tidal island off the coast of Northumberland. I then headed back to Edinburgh after 3 days of being cut out from email, internet and man-made noise.
Overall it was as pleasant an experience as I could hope for. The food was excellent, the attendees were varied, the conversations were inspiring and the trip was a definite success. Many thanks to Chris, Jez, the Wildeye team and all the folks attending for making this possible.
You can listen to Carole Finer talking about the trip in her "Sound Out" radio show on ResonanceFM. She also plays a short excerpt from one of my fence recordings around the 3 minute mark: https://www.mixcloud.com/Resonance/sound-out-17th-may-2016/.