The posthumous album of naturalist field recordings from The London Sound Survey: a sound-journey through the dark in East Anglia, roaming across the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk to places whose sounds have a precarious existence outside the crowded realities of modern everyday life.
Before his death in 2021, Ian Rawes had been making recordings across East Anglia, notably at Lakenheath Fen, an RSPB reserve on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. Like many of his projects, there was a tight logic to this collection. They chart the journey of natural sounds from dusk until dawn. The extraordinary sound of massed birdsong, the wind thrumming against an abandoned pumping station, the sound of common seals.
"A bittern called from time to time, sounding like someone blowing over the wide top of an old milk bottle. A distant machine tone came from somewhere to the south-east: perhaps from an agribusiness factory. It continued into the small hours. At around half past four in the morning I struggled out of my sleeping bag and began to walk east, carrying my bulky wooden mic baffle on its tripod. A small wood drew close and there was a brief pinpoint of light among the tree trunks. I stopped then moved on: the light was obscured. Birds hadn't stopped calling all night but now the intensity and variety of cries and songs was growing. I set the tripod down on a path running between the wood to the north and the reed-beds of New Fen to the south. The pre-amp and recorder were switched on. I listened briefly through headphones and swivelled the baffle this way and that before noticing how the flights of ducks and geese seemed to go from east to west. I set the baffle and its pair of mics to face south, then went to sit on a tree stump about forty yards away. For a short while everything felt unfamiliar while the dawn chorus took over my thoughts, as though suddenly immersed in a remote past."
Listening to this sequence transports you far away into the darkness of the night, to another realm altogether. We don't hear complete stillness—Ian Rawes's notes outlined plans to record Thetford Forest at 4am, but this wasn't among the files he handed over. When we tried to make this missing recording to "complete" the project, we found Thetford Forest to be anything but silent, even in the small hours. The nearby A-road dominated everything, and there was a distinct absence of wildlife. We suspect Ian made a similar recording in the middle of the night, and discarded the results.
This collection is a tribute to Ian's matchless ability to capture completely immersive, distinct environments. His recordings are valuable markers of change. They have the power to take you out of everyday life, to slow the heart-rate, and to make you really listen.
"This album is a remarkable collection. It has the ear, flair and tone
of Ian Rawes as a storyteller, and through the salt spray of
Winterton beach I can see him beaming."
The London Sound Survey, a web project founded by Ian Rawes (1965-2021) which collected over 2,000 recordings of everyday life in London between 2008 and 2020. It also has a wide and unique range of historical resources on the theme of urban sound.