(Gruenrekorder 2013)

Review by Jay-Dea Lopez

Field recordists often demonstrate the concept of place through its indigenous sounds. Another approach considers how present-day sounds reveal layers of history. The latter is an intriguing practise. What events have affected the soundscape of the present? I considered this while listening to Lasse-Marc Riek’s field recordings from the German archipelago of Helgoland. Over the duration of 40 minutes Riek presents a series of wildlife recordings from Helgoland. Here the cries of seabirds and sea lions testify to the continuation of life in a place once overwhelmed by the instruments of modern warfare.

Without any knowledge of its twentieth century history the field recordings on “Helgoland” could be of curiosity to bird lovers and other nature enthusiasts. The majority of Riek’s recordings focus upon the relentless calls of seabirds such as the Northern Gannet, the Arctic tern and the Black-legged Kittiwake. The field recordings give the impression of a place dense with birds underfoot with Riek’s microphones capturing a sense of acoustic spatial perspective.

Until the final recording it seems that Helgoland has known little of human interference. Barely any industrial sounds can be heard above Helgoland’s native landscape and wildlife. However during World War Two Helgoland was a site of intense bombing by British aircraft. In the immediate post-war period the British used the area as a bombing range, detonating such immense amounts of explosives that it radically altered the main island’s topography. How closely was this region reduced to silence?


[Helgoland; photo courtesy of the Alfred-Wegener-Institut]

With this awareness “Helgoland” resonates as more than a simple collection of wildlife sounds. The recordings assert the continuation of life in the face of a devastating history. The call of birds and sea lions announce an exuberant vitality while the sound of waves suggests the passage of the eternal. Riek’s recordings peel back Helgoland’s multiple historical layers allowing the listener to move between the past and present.

Riek has an obvious love for his subject. Each of the tracks on “Helgoland” captures an intimacy that is shared by the recordist with his audience. Without any knowledge of Helgoland’s historical context Riek’s recordings could be relegated as a mere assortment of localised wildlife sounds however Riek has compiled something much stronger than this. We listen to “Helgoland” and are connected to place and time and, more essentially, to life itself.


[Lasse-Marc Riek]

Lasse Marc Riek website
Gruenrekorder website

Jay-Dea Lopez

Sound artist and journalist at Sounds Like Noise.