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Water Beetles of Pollardstown Fen. TOM LAWRENCE
(Gruenrekorder 2011)

Stridulate: (Of an insect) to make a shrill sound by rubbing wings, legs or other body parts together.

As any sound recordist knows, dropping a hydrophone into a body of water crosses a threshold. A barrier is broken between our world and an alien realm that exists alongside it. Bubbles rising from underwater plants become radar blips. Unfathomable clicks and pulses emanate from the unseen inhabitants of a veiled world.

For this recording Dublin based acoustic ecologist and sound artist Tom Lawrence has documented the stridulations of the insect population of Pollardstown Fen, a 235 hectare area of peatland fed by calcium rich streams in County Kildaire, Ireland. The effect is of listening to broadcasts of unknown code. Invertebrate morse communications sent out into the submarine ether.

At times curiously reminiscent of the minimal electronic work of Ryoji Ikeda (+/- etc), there is a necessarily limited sound palate to these pieces. Yet the mystery of why this activity takes place adds an intriguing aura to the act of listening. Eavesdropping on Great Diving Beetles and Water Scorpions whose motives can only be guessed at. Any attempt to interpret meaning and context from these intentionally produced sounds must be tentative lest we fall victim to anthropomorphism.

Although divided into 10 tracks reflecting different environments in the fen, the work plays beautifully as a whole. Possessed of a certain scientific rigour, the well written accompanying text details each location, its vegetation and topography, and of course the insect residents which live there.

There has been mention in The Field Reporter of the whys and wherefores of detailing sound sources. Tom Lawrence’s recordings are a perfect example of how the attribution of a sound to its creator and location can enhance the experience for the listener. The fact that these songs are made by communities of tiny arthropods in a normally closed off realm cannot help but instil a sense of wonder.

The decision to provide additional written information alongside any recording is the individual artist’s, and should therefore in my opinion be considered as part of the work as a totality, together with any images or other material. There is always the option of not reading the track descriptions. The decision to do so or not is clearly the listener’s.

The final track is a study of a Water Scorpion stridulating into a hydrophone placed about 1 inch away. The piece lasts 13 minutes and is the longest of the tracks on the CD, yet the insect’s performance actually lasted approximately nine hours. A full working day. Impossible to fathom.

-Chris Whitehead

Tom Lawrence website
Gruenrekorder website