Friday, 17 July 2009

Day 9 Ilulissat Greenland.

Day 9. I go to the office, unfortunately the woman from the choir I was to meet is feeling unwell, so Konrad tries to arrange something else. I go off to the TV and radio shop to look for CD’s. I find several - choir and traditional drum music and I stay so long listening to them that I get asked if I’d like some coffee. After lunch I go to meet Konrad’s colleague Tom, who is in the choir and an ex policeman, so I’m hoping to get both a musical and social view. I speak to him for about an hour and he sings me the lullaby he sings to his six children. It’s an incredibly bright and sunny day, T-shirt weather After a few hours back at the hotel I head out to the church where the choir are meeting. I am invited in and I sit in the back to listen and record. It’s very very beautiful singing. A group of about 12 consisting of 5 women, the rest men. It’s SATB, some liturgical and some secular, all sung in Greenlandic. Tom gave me a list of songs to do with the spring, and nature, I’m trying to work out if I am hearing any of them. I chat to a woman and her daughter who offer more advice, I encourage them to sing the lullaby together that Tom sang earlier. I leave the church and head back to the hotel for my last night of iceberg watching.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Day 7/Day 8 Ilulissat - Greenland

Day 7. Back in Ilulissat, I take a taxi downtown to the office of Konrad who has been helping with arrangements for this trip. We are going to the harbour to meet Johannes the fisherman. This is a gear change, I am moving from the predictable tourist trail of the previous few days where the majority of guides at Camp Eqi are Danish students on their summer break to a thoroughly Greenlandic experience.

We board Johannes’ small fishing boat, it holds just 4 people, we are 3 plus my equipment and off we go, at speed. I hang on tightly, the microphone trapped between my legs. The water feels very close and even more worryingly so do the icebergs. I ask Konrad if this is safe, he assures me Johannes like most in Ilulissat has been sailing boats here since he was a child. Johannes is a very warm man He speaks a small amount of English and looks older than his 46 years, as Konrad points out he lives a hard life, but he seems happy in his work.

We eventually stop, I am so relieved, I gradually get more accustomed to being on a small vessel in a big sea and maybe even start enjoying the experience a little. Johannes prepares to haul in the fish. This is line fishing – he has already been to this spot at 5.30 this morning to put down the line, and there are 500 hooks on it, so winding it back in will take some time. Johnannes whoops with joy as the first halibut flaps into the tray he has arranged on the deck. The fish flaps, gasps and expires as another fish is piled on top. Konrad meanwhile asks me questions; do I eat sausage and beans for breakfast? Do I have a car? What brand etc. After awhile he moves to the back of the boat dons the plastic overalls and proceeds to help Johannes – it appears everyone is a fisherman here. Konrad proceeds to clean the fish which consists of slitting their necks and throwing their innards overboard to the joy of the expectant gulls. There is a lot of blood. There has already been some discussion of eating raw fish so I’m not surprised when once the cleaning is finished Konrad starts preparing a halibut for us to eat raw! He hands me a slice, I eat it. Johannes hands me some water to wash it down with, this is no ordinary water this is melted from icebergs – it’s potentially millions of years old – I guess it’s pure.

Johannes takes us to a spot a little closer to the harbour so I can interview him, Greenlandic is a percussive, airy language, I enjoy the sound of it. Konrad translates. Afterwards we sail to the harbour, on dry land my legs feel wobbly, I’m not feeling my best, it’s been a heady cocktail of fear, motion sickness, raw fish and blood. But there’s no time to waste, once the fish have been taken to the factory, Johannes is off to feed his dogs, we follow him up in a taxi. In the winter many people including both Johannes and Konrad drive dog sledges. There are about 4500 people in Ilulissat and about 3000 dogs, most are kept in designated areas on the outside of town, this is where we meet Johannes. As we approach the dogs howl, the noise is terrific and menacing –these are Greenlandic working dogs, not pets. They are descendant of wolves, kept on chains and not to be approached. This area is also shrouded with mosquitoes and I have been bitten from head to foot since I’ve been here. I interview Johannes some more and then head back to the hotel. I am very tired and intend to sleep for along time. However the midnight sun has other ideas!

Day 8. I meet Konrad at the office and we set off on a hike to Sermermuit, we are going iceberg hunting so I can record some more melting sounds. What starts off as a gentle stroll turns into a major hike as our search takes us further into mountainous areas. There are very few icebergs stranded here and they’re the ones to record apparently. I interview Konrad during breaks between walking and record a large lump of ice hissing and sizzling on the edge of the water. At this point we spot a minke whale, but it flips its tail up and disappears before I have time to record it or take a photo. It would have been good to record a whale using the hydraphone whilst I’m here but is dangerous to get too close to the edge in case an iceberg becomes unstable and rolls over creating a huge wave. The icebergs are huge here – much bigger than in camp eqi, these are from the Jacobshaven gletcher.

After several hours of strenuous hiking, recording and iceberg chasing we return to the town. Konrad seems to know everyone, so there are many pauses for chats in Greenlandic and Danish. We pass by the drugs and alcohol rehabilitation centre and the prison, it’s an open prison with a very good view out to sea.

We head back to the office and arrange for me to speak to someone from the choir tomorrow, they will also be rehearsing in the evening so I’m hoping to go along to that too. As I’m about to leave Konrad’s partner and 14 month daughter arrive, she is obviously a much cherished child and is yet another example that dispels the idea I’ve read in guide books that children are neglected in Greenland – from what I’ve seen there is a strong sense of community, with children at the heart. However, when I return back to the hotel and chat to the waiter he talks to be about the suicide problem here mainly amongst young men. So I guess, it’s not all a bed of roses.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Day 5/day 6 Greenland - Camp Eqi

Day 5. Trip to Camp Eqi to record the ice calving.

My alarm goes off at 5.30 – luckily I’ve not adjusted to local time yet. So I board the boat at 7 and set off on a 5 hr journey to the gletcher at Equp Sermia. The boat winds its way through a stunning array of icebergs – natures art, beautiful majestic sculptures, glistening white tinged with a vivid glacial blue. As we get nearer to the gletcher we pass through more sea ice – a sort of slush puppy consistency for those who remember the eighties! I get my recording equipment and sit in the bow ready to record the sound of ice hitting metal, this scenario reminds me that the iceberg that the titanic hit was supposedly from these parts. But this ice is more like lumpy soup, so I think we’re safe!

So I’m sitting in the front of the boat, before me the magnificent sight of the gletcher. What a sight! A huge wall of ice stretching back as far as the eye can see, sandwiched between mountainous rocky terrain. The ice looks like it’s been whipped into jagged peaks, but the edge that meets the sea looks like a solid cliff of ice. The boat engine cuts out and we wait…. And then it happens.. a rumble of what seems like thunder rips across the air and splash! Part of the ice wall cracks off and splashes into the sea. We stay for 2 hours and I record everything. I ask the crew for permissions to dip the hydraphone over board whilst we’re stationary – it’s fizzy in there – ancient air releasing from ancient ice. .

The engine starts up again and we cross to the other side of the bay, here I disembark and make the steep climb laden down with stuff to Camp Eqi. Exhausted I am directed to my hut – right opposite the gletcher! What a view, and all the while the intermittent rumble and crash of ice cracking and splashing into the water. I set my recording equipment up and experiment with every microphone I have with me. I battle with the mosquitos, - they are everywhere. But my hut is very nice, and quite luxurious considering where we are. I sleep so well – even though I keep the curtains open, I wake at one point to hear a skirmish outside – 2 arctic fox cubs are having a scrap just outside. I didn’t get a picture, they ran away too quickly, but they were very sweet.

Day 6. Up early – again! I’m going to try and walk into the moraine to get closer to hear the ice calving. I’ve been told it’s a relatively easy hike – although it apparently involves some climbing and leaping over rivers! After several wrong turns and deciding the river is impassable with the recording equipment on my back I turn back. I am totally alone at this point but totally immersed. I strike up an interesting dialogue with a bird. I’m standing there singing to this bird and it’s singing back – I record it, I’m glad no-one can see me! But this may find it’s way into the composition element of the project. The bird accompanies me almost all the way until I can see the camp again.

I go back to camp and after lunch spend the last hour before the boat comes to pick us up recording as much of the booming ice as I can. I think I have now used every microphone and every item of clothing I have bought with me!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Day 4. Greenland

Day 4. On the flight to Ilullissat (Jacobshaven) Greenland from Reykjavik it occurs to me that this journey is the culmination of much pondering! I’ve been brewing this project since 2005 and it was probably around 2006 when I first read David Shukman’s article about the sound of the ice sheet crashing into the Atlantic, it was his evocative description that planted the seed of an idea in my mind. But I wonder what I will hear?

We have an incredible view looking down onto a river of ice as we fly into the town. (note to Jacob Z – it’s definitely too wide to jump over). When I arrive at my hotel, I go to my room and from the window I see icebergs (note to Jacob Z – some icebergs are as big as you, some are as big as a boat, some are as big as a house and some are as big as a huge palace.) I head into town, it‘s warm, very bright and incredibly sunny. The air is so still – this place has interesting acoustics, sounds travel far. I hear the sound of people cheering, so I follow the sound.. it leads me to a harbour area in front of the zion church where there’s a kayak race in progress – I watch and record the atmos for a while before heading on to the local museum. I’m now back in the hotel, watching those icebergs and wondering how I’m going to sleep with this intense bright sunshine streaming in.

Day 3. Iceland

Day 3. Up and out.. a little later today after the party. Visited the University of Iceland Library to look for material that had been suggested by Steindor and the Folk museum. Spent an enjoyable morning listening to recordings – heard a beautiful choir version of 'Sleep long love mine' and read some more about Rimur in a magnificent black velvet book called ‘Silver recordings of Ithunnar’. I started a debate amongst the librarians about the origins of ‘Sleep long love mine’… it really is dark…Despite unseating the young librarian with the possible origins of a song she’s known since childhood, she directs me back to bad taste records (or Smekkleysa as it’s known in Icelandic.) to purchase the book and CD. I’m excited about what I have gathered here… it’s all coming together rather well.

Reykjavik is very warm today, and the streets are busy. There’s some street theatre and a brass ensemble play on the main shopping street, but I want to find shade so I return to the Boston Bar for some excellent fish stew and rye bread. I give into my weakness for wool and pop into the Icelandic Knitting Association shop before heading back to the hotel for an early night in preparation for heading to Greenland.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Day 2. Iceland

Day 2. Up and out! i think i was probably the first customer of the day in the bad taste record shop. I was on a mission.. i bought the CD 'Raddir' I had been trying to get back in the UK, it's a compilation of old recordings of people singing folk music - including Rimur. Rimur is a kind of icelandic poetry, which is sung or chanted. You can read more about it on the website of icelandic writer and poet Andri Magnason. I asked if there were more Rimur CD's and bought another by Steindor Anderson, who has recently collaborated with the band Sigur Ros. I went off to the Tourist information centre to see if i could find out anymore about Steindor and the folk music of Iceland. a few steps out of the Tourist office I got a call from Steinunn at the State radio RUV, she invited me for lunch and suggested we called a few people about interviews. We were in luck, Glaciologist Oddur Sigurdsson from the icelandic meteorological office was available, so I walked over to meet him and had a fascinating interview. He measures the rate the glaciers melt. He had a lot to say about the sound of glaciers too and told me about a very dark and melancholic icelandic lullaby which talks about the howl of the glaciers. It translates as 'Sleep long love mine' .

Back at the hotel i spoke to Steindor, and the folk music museum. more details on Rimur and the song 'sleep long love mine'. That evening I went over to Rikke's apartment for a party. It had been her birthday and her husband had recorded songs for her, that night he performed them. It was a really great evening. Towards the end the remaining guests sung a version of 'Sleep long love mine' which I recorded. Rikke's niece told me more about it's melancholic origins.... very sad!

Day 1. Recording trip to Iceland and Greenland.

Day 1. Standing in the queue at Gatwick to check-in I got talking to Sigga, one of only 2 dramatherapists in Iceland. She offered excellent advice on Reykjavik and also sang me a childrens song, she said it was about mother nature. After arriving at my hotel I headed out, the first thing i noticed was the sensation of the air on my cheeks, it felt very gentle, I doubt the weather is always this kind here. I went to meet Rikke and Thorgedur in the Boston Bar, they are 2 radio producers who have been advising me. I had a really good evening with them - I'm not sure who if anyone I will be interviewing in Iceland, so it was good to discuss the possibilities.
I walked back to the hotel, enjoying the lightness of midnight.