Field Notes - Tuning into the Norwegian Landscape (2018 - 2021)
In the book and album Field notes - Tuning into the Norwegian Landscape (2018 - 2021), I have over a three-year period explored and examined the sound of the Norwegian landscape with both my eyes and ears, camera and microphones more or less in a chronological order. This has resulted in a solid collection of work-in-progress images and subtle sound recordings.
A PDF-album of the book can be found here
Through my research I have visited and listened to a wind farm, a buzzing bitcoin factory, the creaking hull of the Hurtigruta, the coastal steamer, a locked-down Norway, electromagnetic sound streams and the city's constant pulse and vibration. I have listened to and explored how sound affects us and changes our experience of time. memory and place. Is it possible to learn and understand ourselves through active listening and sonic mapping? How can we learn to listen to a faded history, the sonic presence and a possible future? Is it at all possible to listen to the world from a non-anthropocentric perspective? Can we imagine a world without ourselves? We know today that there are different forms of consciousness. Trees and fungi that cooperate and communicate. How does a mountain or a tree stump listen to a changing landscape? Although such a thought experiment may seem alien, it can help to give us new knowledge and insight.
These are some of the ideas and concepts I have been exploring in my research and through camera, microphones and audio recorder.
Already from the start I knew that I wanted to make a book. This was possible through UiT The Arctic University of Norway and Kunstakademiet, Dáiddaakademiija, the Academy of Arts’ generous budgeting. I contacted Petri Henriksson and Blank Blank Design, we know each other from the early 2000s and the music scene in Bergen where he used to book cutting edge international indie and electronic musicians for a festival called Transformator. We also collaborated with the design and selection of photographs for the Y- album back in 2020. Petri has a really nice touch with materials, traditional book and design craftmanship. He also has a lot of experience dealing with printing plants, colour corrections and so on. I knew I would be in the best hands. We had several meetings discussing formats, material, fonts, layout and so on. The biggest and most challenging job was actually to locate and select all the different images, covering three years. That is many thousands of images.
I went through my archive and selected the images that I felt were most relevant for the project and not only beautiful images of the Norwegian landscape. In the beginning we started out broadly, and then successively cutting down on numbers. We had to be very pragmatic and started to compose with the images right away, and it then became very clear what kind of images work and which do not. This was a quite intuitive and collaborative process. It was the first time for me crafting a book, it is a quite ambitious and focused process, but also a lot of fun.
Initially we wanted to include a CD inside the book, but it was totally unrealistic to be able to mix the sound properly, get it mastered, printed and then delivered to the book printing plant within the available time frame. I was documenting right up to the deadline. The last image is taken on 26th May 2021 in Tromsø. When choosing the title of the book, I wanted something simple, not as complicated as my artistic research projects, something more catchy, that would excite a general public as well as being an artistic addition to my reflection. In the end we chose to put a yellow QR-code inlay on the penultimate page of the book. In fact, it fitted really well and actually looked very nice.
We were discussing different sizes and cover materials and I came up with examples of old travel log and explorer books. I knew I wanted to use canvas, we started using that on the Y-album photo publication, I really like the tactility and texture. We ended up using a medium grey coloured canvas, not too rough. It looked a bit artsy but also a bit solid and old. In the end I was super happy with the result, such a nice product and collection of my field work and the Norwegian landscape. The fact we managed to get it to Tromsø in time (even though there were delays and Covid-19) was incredible.
Quite late in the process I asked Tanya Busse and Mondo Books to host and distribute the book. Managing all single steps in this grandiose production (that the project all in all became in the end), left some holes and delays. As a professional I am used to an apparatus of skilled people with different roles, that collaborates and moves forward together. Unfortunately, I think the artistic research program in Norway, lacks that consciousness when it comes to the expectations of the artistic results. I know this varies a bit from institution to institution, but I am at least aware that with more and better supervision, support and dialogue things would have been smoother. This is not meant as a complaint, more a reflection over the process and experiences of being an artistic researcher in Norway, and how things within the program can only improve.
Back to Mondo Books, they are a small and independent, artist-run initiative that focuses on art publications, fanzines, and printed matter from artists from the circumpolar North. They also run the art book shop at Tromsø Kunstforening. It was important for me to find a distributor, so the book was not just put in a storage at the university somewhere. Finding a local publisher at the same time, did not feel wrong. It actually feels so right, right there where the book comes from and belongs.
Selecting the material for the field recording album, I wish I had more time, it became a fight against the timeline when finishing the exhibition and reflection. To listen through all the material demands weeks, but I also like the idea that some of the recordings are fermenting for further use, as listening sessions or art projects. I was mentally scanning through my sound archive that contains countless hours of recorded landscapes and environments. I tried to recall what places and soundings stood out, which evoked a unique feeling or atmosphere. That was more obscure than descriptive. I made a selection consisting of eight tracks, each 10 minutes long, 80 minutes of sound in total. That is massive.
Some of the recordings from the album was also used in the exhibition, the wind turbine recording from Vannøya was used as source material for Dissolving Topographies, the black sand platform installation in the dimmed room at Tromsø Kunstforening. It sounded very different from the original recording, so that is also the reason why I chose to present it as original. The recording was made at an early stage of the project, nor did I have the technical skills or technical equipment that I developed and gained access to later. Still I think the recording stands out, it is dark, almost dystopian and spacious. You can hear how the wind turbine is turning, at some point a bird is passing and you can hear a close up of its flapping wings. I really enjoy that moment.
Track number one. The album that wears the same name as the book, starts out with an electromagnetic recording I did back in 2019, when I was a guest teacher at Nordland School of Arts and Film in Kabelvåg. I was walking around casually in the square when suddenly the antenna picked up some interesting frequencies. As I have mentioned earlier, the EMF-antenna enables me to perform the recording. I started to rotate in circles and this made the melodies and the various frequencies move in and out of the transmission. Suddenly a car passed and I picked up all the electronic signals that run the car.
Track number two is from the abandoned swimming baths in Digermulen. I was part of the Coast/Line Kelp Workshop together with a group of international artists. The workshop was led by Amy Franceschini from the Future Farmers Collective. During a couple of days, we made excursions and happenings along the coast. One day we visited the local primary school and I accidently came over the empty swimming pool. When I mounted up my gear I instantly knew that this recording was ‘special’, the deep rumbling bass, maybe from the school’s ventilation or even the ocean outside, the constant hiss and the random cracks that appear (no, it is not me mowing). This recording was made with a stereo Sennheiser MKH8020, using the ORTF-technique.
Track number three is from Tønsnes Varden a mountain close to Tromsø with an old-looking concrete and brutalist designed antenna, similar to Tryvannstårnet in Oslo. This recording was made inside a tiny entrance, with the same set up as the previous track. I remember turning on the recorder, it was set to a normal level, and everything peaked into read. Wow, I was really surprised. Here there is something going on that I cannot grasp. I adjusted the levels down and realized there was some heavy bass modulation going on. I wonder how this is for the animals living up here? If it affects their behaviour and life? Inside the book you can find an image of the recording session, it is dated 08.10.2019 17:57. In the end you can hear me sniff and move around. I think it brings in an interesting human touch into this ‘bassy’ and serious atmosphere.
Track number four is from KryptoVault, the mining company that I visited inside the old textile factory in Dale, Hordaland in 2019. This track consists of several recordings, put together in a collage. This is the only track on the album that uses this compositional technique. While walking around inside the factory, it was challenging to maintain concentration and to be able to focus undisturbed. I was not able to record long durational sequences. At the same time the variation of the acoustics changed rapidly from room to room, so I thought of a good way to highlight that. A glimpse of different sounding environments. This is also one of two tracks when you can hear someone is talking. I thought it was an interesting example of the different sound levels that were produced and how loud the background noise really was, compared to me and my guide talking. For these recordings I used a handheld Røde Shotgun NTG-3 microphone and a blimp.There are also several images from this uncanny and strange place in the book dated 04.02.2019.
Track number five is from Henriksen Kaia, Kirkenes/Girkonjárga. Two Russian Kamchatcka Crab fishing boats were docked. I was visiting the Barents Spektakel for the first time as a member of the audience and I was accidentally walking around to explore the area. I brought my recording equipment, just in case. When I entered the area where the fishing boats were lying I realized that this was something I wanted to record. The sound of the northern Norwegian crab fishing industry. It started to get dark, it was snowing (you can hear some soft tapping on the microphones. For this recording I used a stereo DPA-4061 set, the same as I used in the recordings of Høyblokka, the H-block in the governmental quarter in Oslo. In the beginning there are some sounds from renovation and construction work. A bonus, for me as a bird spotter, was the immensely intense sounds from the long-tailed duck (Havelle). I could not see them, only hear them, Bøkfjorden was fully cloaked in fog. At some point someone flushes the toilet in one of the boats, it is a bit humorous and sharpens your focus to all the rich details of the recording.
Track number six is from Fakken Wind Turbine Park at Vannøy/Vardnásuolu, north of Tromsø. This recording is dated 02.06.2019. The recording is made from a distance, from a hillside on the opposite side of the road that cuts through the landscape. I really wanted to go closer to the wind turbines, but I was afraid that security would chase me away. I did not ask for permission to be there, so it felt a bit ‘activistic’, a form of sonic activism, like a good-hearted hacker fighting for a better world. Sitting there, on the other side, listening, a bit secretively, made me think of how important and effective civil disobedience, nonviolent resistance and demonstrations are. Not that I am a full-blooded environmental activist, but they have my mental support.
Track number seven is from the Huk beach, located at Bygdøy in Oslo. It is a very popular area for trips and excursions. In the summer this beach where I was sitting is full of naked men, it is one of Oslo’s few naturist beaches and is also a popular site for gay cruising. The recording is dated 13.02.2021 19:40, Oslo is still closed. I really needed some fresh air and decided to go for a trip, I was not alone. At first when I arrived there were crazy numbers of people there, families, couples, teenagers and so on. It made me a little depressed, actually. After sitting there for a while, the silence came and the landscape started to speak. I could hear the mallard ducks quacks carefully, the water plopping and squeaking, the dominant bass sound that comes from a huge cargo ship, sailing out of the fjord.
Track number eight. The final track is from Hurtigruta, the coastal steamer, Norway’s most popular boat trip along the coast from Bergen to Kirkenes. This trip was really special, it is dated 30.04.2021. Still lockdown, and after a serious outbreak earlier on one of their ships, all travel routines became improved and much stricter. Everyone entering the ship, had to show a test, or scan their face, to see if they had raised temperature. All in all, we were 50 people traveling from Tromsø to Brønnøysund, it was like a dream. I was running around photographing and recording on my own, and hardly spoke to anyone for a couple of days. In this recording I used a Parabolic dish and a Telinga Stereo MK3 microphone, which leaves out the overview and focuses on a limited area, optimal for bird songs and other detailed recordings, when you want to filter out the surrounding ambience. In this recording you can hear the sound of the ship that cuts through the water, you can also hear the waves that vanish to the side. It is also possible to hear the hum of the engines in the distance, this warm and calm steady beat that transports us safely through the seaway. I am pretty sure I will never be able to experience this again, and I am so glad I have that recording, it means a lot to me, even if I am not able to transmit that feeling to anyone else.
Most of the recordings on the album are from 2019, only two are from 2021. Since I started in 2018, I did not really record that much during the first semester. In 2019, I was quite active and visited several areas and places. In 2020, when the pandemic hit, I stopped travelling for natural reasons. I still have several recordings from Oslo and Tromsø from that time. The recordings from Tromsø can be experienced at ILP, the new Teacher Training Program at the University Campus in Breivika in Tromsø. You can read more about the Tromsø Sonarium - 69°39′07′′N 018°57′12′′Ø project here. The recordings from Oslo are still not processed, my plan is to include this in a future album project, only using seismic recordings. I have so much material, that I doubt I will ever be able to listen to at all and I don’t know if it is necessary. For me what is most important is to be present in my work and to be able to listen, engage, collaborate, to reflect and to be able to share that knowledge with others, humans, non-humans and a diversity of landscapes.
The album is also possible to listen to at SoundCloud, when you purcase the book.