Outside-In: Cato Langnes

by 5:4

It’s three months since i began the Outside-In project, responding to the lockdown by compiling submitted field recordings that could act as vivid reminders of, and virtual windows onto, the outside world during a time when we weren’t able to experience it first-hand. Thankfully, much has changed and improved from that initial state of lockdown, so with today’s recording, i’m bringing the project to a close. The final recording comes from Norwegian sound engineer Cato Langnes, who works at Notam, Norway’s centre for technology, art and music.

Cato has been by far the most enthusiastic participant in Outside-In; during the last couple of months he has sent me a large number of recordings made both before and during the lockdown, the longest of which was almost an hour long. Any of them would have been a fine addition to the series, but the one that i like most he recorded a few weeks ago in the woods beside Lake Øyungen, around 15km north of Oslo. The recording was made on 15 May using a RØDE NT-SF 1 ambisonic microphone and a Sound Devices MixPre-6 recorder.

At 17½ minutes, it’s the longest recording featured in Outside-In, and it works as a diptych. The first half is the more neutral; in the midst of the wind – which you’d be forgiven for mistaking as water – we can hear the modest sounds of the passive countrywide. Birds call, chatter and quack, for the most part buried in the ambient noise along with occasional wooden clonks betraying possible signs of human presence. As we become accustomed to the noise over several minutes it becomes easier to make out these sounds within the randomness of the wind. Around 6½ minutes in, there’s a sign of what’s to come, in the faint calls of a blackbird that become increasingly strong. At almost the exact centre of the recording there are some very loud bursts of birdsong, which usher in the very different second half, consisting of an extended dialogue between at least two blackbirds, which Cato has helpfully situated clearly to the left and right of the stereo field. Blackbirds are one of my favourite songbirds; i find their tiny bursts of song, every one of which is structurally the same but entirely unique in terms of detail, endlessly fascinating to listen to. Whether what we’re hearing is a conversation or, more likely, a pair of rivals taking turns to make their case for being the most suitable mate, hardly matters: i love the ping-pong effect of their songs, resonating over the lake and dominating the noise that had previously swamped the recording. Next time i’m in Oslo i’m going to have to make sure i set aside some time to visit Øyungen; it sounds, literally, like a wonderful place to be.

Cato also sent me a binaural version of this recording, which means that, through headphones, you can imagine you’re actually there, looking up at the blackbirds in the trees beside the lake. i’m including the binaural recording as a bonus track on the album.

In bringing the Outside-In project to a close, i want to thank all of the contributors who took part: JLIAT, Jonathan Coleclough, Ian Wilson, Kenneth Kirschner, Þóranna Björnsdóttir, Chris Legg, Davíð Brynjar Franzson, Ed Nixon, Monty Adkins, Luís Salgueiro and Cato Langnes. Field recordings capture reality in such a vibrant and illuminating way; i’ve found it a deeply enriching, beneficial experience to spend time immersed in these twelve very different soundscapes. i hope you have too.

All of the recordings featured in Outside-In are available to download or stream; there’s no charge for downloading, but you’re free to make a payment if you wish, and all proceeds made will be shared among the contributors.

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Chris Ryal

Thank you Simon! (And of course to all the contributors, too.) This has been a wonderful series.

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