Movement -Holkham-. PETER TOLL
(Engraved Glass 2012)

Review by Cheryl Tipp

Listening to a publication for the first time always comes with a sense of anticipation. How will it sound? What form will it take? Will it match my preconceived ideas or will it surprise? Will I like it? Right from the start I knew that Peter Toll’s ‘Movement (Holkham)’ would not disappoint. This lovely release from Jez riley French’s Engraved Glass label comprises two compositions which have been built from a series of field recordings made in the Norfolk village of Holkham, England. These recordings, made during the winter months of two consecutive years, introduce some of the habitats that make up the Holkham Estate which include grazing marshes, a country hall, pinewoods and even a beach. Toll writes:

“For this album I tried to record the natural, wildlife setting of some of these habitats with as little interference from humankind as possible. I wanted the listener to feel that he/she is floating in time & space. Pausing at each different location, quietly listening to the wildlife and energy of each position, before gently moving on to the next”

This short paragraph perfectly sums up the spirit of ‘Movement (Holkham)’. Feeling more like a relaxed ramble than a whistlestop tour, the listener is not rushed through each habitat; enough time is given to immerse oneself in the soundscape, pay attention to the variety of sounds found within it, enjoy the act of listening and then move forward to the next segment. The pace is relaxed and the whole journey is a seamless transition from one habitat to the next.

‘Movement (Holkham)#1’ is the longer of the two compositions and includes some really brilliant field recordings. Beginning with a cold autumn night in the grounds of Holkham Hall, the crisp air is filled with hooting Tawny Owls alongside the movements and calls of Fallow Deer. The detail here is fantastic, with delicate rustlings through the leaf litter sitting effortlessly next to the deep resonating calls of Fallow bucks. Quiet descends as we then move into that undefined space: Edgelands. Somewhere between a marsh and a wood we are able to eavesdrop on the comings and goings of the nocturnal inhabitants of this area. Distant Muntjac, squeaking shrews, a calling Tawny Owl and vocalising geese all contribute. ‘Geese at Dawn’, the third section of this piece, summons images of an awakening landscape. The brash calls of Pink-footed Geese gradually swell into an overwhelming cacophony as the flock takes to the sky. Finally, as night becomes day, the sonic landscape shifts. Calling tits, a crowing pheasant, mooing cattle and a strident Wren come together to create this final scene.

The second movement, ‘Movement (Holkham)#2’ comprises just two recordings, both of which covey a sense of expansiveness. A strong, gusting wind through lofty pine trees is accompanied by gentle creaks and crisp flecks of sound as the trees begin to lose their seeds. Then we are enveloped by the sounds of the North Sea crashing onto the Norfolk coast, both above and beneath the surface.

Aside from admiring the technical quality and compositional structure of this publication, I feel a real fondness for ‘Movement (Holkham)’, probably because it represents the sounds of home. I’m not from Norfolk, nor do I reside there, but these recordings speak of the natural England which I and many others cherish.

[Peter Toll]

Peter Toll website
Engraved Glass website

Cheryl Tipp

Wildlife sounds curator at British Library.