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. (Richard Allen)