Album – Passage – A cycle journey through Spain and Portugal

In March 2016 I left my home in the UK to cycle in Portugal. My panniers were full of camping gear, road essentials, and microphones. From the beginning of the trip I knew I was going to record a lot of sounds. I had no idea what I would produce out of those sounds. I imagined simply sharing the files, creating a sound map, maybe integrating them in a story in words. But never did I think, I would create an album.

When I came back home in July 2016, I was at a loss of what to do with all of my material. I wanted to share my story but I didn’t know how. Writing about it felt trivial. There was (and still is) nothing exceptional about what I did. I pedalled a lot of miles, slowly, and with a lot of breaks, in Spain and Portugal. I am one among hundreds of others.

Sharing the sounds as they were felt not enough. There was so much material, so many stories behind each sound. I wanted to give them more meaning, a way back into the world that was more than a dump of files on SoundCloud.

I struggled and beat myself up for not doing anything. Times was ticking on. I’d been on my journey, it was now time to share. But a friend reminded me that no, I didn’t need to share my story immediately. In a world that seemed dominated by the speed of social media and instant gratification, I forgot, I didn’t need to share straight away. I was allowed time to digest, time to forget and move on, time to come back to my memories. So I did.

I went on living life, creating a new home for myself, exploring new areas, building new friendships and stories. Until July 2017.

Out of the blue, Thaniel from Humanhood Recordings got in touch. His first message had nothing to do with creating an album but soon the conversation veered that way and I saw an opportunity, the possibility to find a home for my field recordings.

So I got to work. Evenings and commute time often taken by thoughts and questions about the album, days off spent staring at the audio editing software, moving files here and there, altering them, deleting everything, and starting all over again. Until late November. The album took shape, became as ready as I could get it, and it was time to release it into the world.

As I worked on the sounds, my sister worked on the booklet, and the album was complete. Get the booklet for free here.

There are no words in the album, albeit the ones from passer bys and friends from the road. The sounds are the story. But if you want something less metaphorical, the video below sums up four months in five minutes. All the photos can be found on Flickr. And if you want specific stories, you’ll just have to get in touch and ask.

Listen and buy the album here.*

*If the cost of the album really is a barrier, let me know. But before you get in touch, consider that your money will help a small label and me get more content like this in the future.

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Open your ears

If you’ve followed my #30DaysWild journey this year, you will have noticed videos appearing at the end of my weekly reports. Simple videos, a minute long, basic editing, and sound.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you will have noticed more and more sound files appearing in my posts. Field recordings, challenges, videos.

I listen. And I want you to listen too.

I began my sound journey in 2015 and I’ve since noticed that not many people listen to the world. We photograph it, we shape it into words, but we don’t listen to it. And yet, hearing is one sense we cannot fully block out (not unless we go to great length). It’s there, passive most of the time, and I want to change that.

I created Nature Sound of the Month with this goal in mind, to encourage people to listen to the world around them, not matter how trivial the sounds. But Nature Sound of the Month has run it course, with the last challenge issued in August.

But my mission is not over. Instead of challenging you to listen and record, I’m shifting gear and bringing the sounds to you. There will not be rare sounds from deep within the Amazonian forest, nor will there be unusual sounds from unexpected events. It is and will be every day sounds, the thing that you and I hear but don’t listen to.

One video at a time, a minute at a time, I want you to pause, open your ears, and listen.

New videos will go live on my YouTube channel every other Wednesday. I will share them on the blog the following day. Be  sure to subscribe to  my channel to be the first to listen.

An update on my 2017 goals

Six months have passed since I set myself goals to achieve by the end of the year. A lot has happened in those months and it’s time for an update.

  • Learn European Portuguese

    I have been learning a lot of vocabulary and I am confident enough to handle basic conversations. I understand soap operas when I have Portuguese subtitles on and I can read learners’ books. But I have not practised the language with a tutor or Portuguese person. I want to use a website called iTalki to help me improve but my work hours have made it difficult to arrange any kind of schedule. So instead I have gone on with a pattern of fuelling my vocabulary with a side of listening and reading.

    Lately I have let this goal slide. Other commitments have taken priority over learning Portuguese and I find myself struggling to maintain my daily practice. I am aware that I have overgrown simple vocabulary learning but alternatives are more time-consuming – which doesn’t help me timetable them in a busy schedule.

    But, I have began a new job with more regular hours, and this I hope, will make it easier to make time for iTalki tutors and boost my language skills.

    One thing I have completely given up on are the videos. They took me too much time for not enough return. So only one video was ever produced.

  • Take a photo every day

    At the beginning of the year, I used Splodz very helpful monthly prompts to help me focus and remember to take a photo a day. But I soon gave it up as the habit became more ingrained in me. My eyes automatically catch details and I remember to stop to take them in and capture them. I have gone through days when no photos have been taken, but most days I do and I’m happy with that.

    Follow me on Instagram if you want to see all those (almost) daily shots.

  • Record a sound every day

    This goal has been dropped back in April.
    I started this exercise to push myself to listen and use my recording equipment more. And I do. But recording every day proved too much. Instead of pushing me creatively, the process began to hamper me. I would grudgingly record a sound which resulted into a bad recording. Then I would have to spend hours at my computer to edit what I had captured instead of devoting time to other sound exercises that I found more valuable. At first I pushed through, thinking it was a hump to go over. But the feeling of time lost and wasted never stopped. So I stopped.
    I did not put my recorder and microphones away. Instead I took the time to develop a new sound specific project, one that forces me to listen and record regularly, but also one that is more meaningful and encompassing. But more on in another blog post (coming soon…).

    Follow me on SoundCloud if you never want to miss one of my recordings.

  • Other goals included

    -Setting up a new blog: this is probably not going to happen but I’m fine with it.
    -Sharing the sounds and story from my journey through Spain and Portugal: coming in September and December.
    -Going on a longboard microadventure: this is probably not going to happen.
    -Walking the West Highland Way with Zoe and Jenni: due to work issues, this is not going to happen for me but other plans are afoot.
    -Exploring the areas around my new home: this is well underway.
    Reading a book by a Portuguese author every month: this is going well although my library is running out of Portuguese authors.

Overall I’m happy with how I’m doing with my goals. There is room for improvement but setting myself targets has provided a focus I wouldn’t have otherwise had.

Have you set up goals and resolutions for the new year? If yes, how are you doing with them? Are you on track?

Exploring Somerset – A solstice microadventure

‘Do you want any specific days off in June,’ my manager asked as she prepared to write the team rota.
‘If I could have the 21st and 22nd off it’d be brilliant.’
‘No problem.’ She left the shop floor for the quiet of the stock room, leaving me grinning like an idiot at the idea of having the whole solstice off work.

Planning for what to do was a short affair. I had wanted to cycle south from my front door since moving in, following Sustrans cycle route 3 to Glastonbury. After that, I didn’t know or care very much. There were plenty of options. So on the 21st of June, I packed my panniers, pumped my tyres, and pedalled away from home, my skin lathered with sun cream.

My handlebar bag was full of camera and recording gear and my mind breaming with ideas. I had been wanting to film one of my journeys for a while but I didn’t see the point of filming me. There seem nothing extraordinary or worth recording about me, not on film anyway. So for a long time, I did nothing. It was only when attending the Cycle Touring Festival a month earlier that an idea had began to emerge. I had joined the ‘Filming your trip‘ talk and discovered another way to record cycling journeys. Most videos focus on a person, but Geoff Broadway offered another possibility. His film excerpt was about the place he had visited, not about him. It was a simple idea but one that, for some reason, hadn’t occurred to me. I kept thinking about what I could bring to a cycle touring video and this is my answer:

For photos of the trip, visit my Flickr account.

#30DaysWild – Week 04 and a bit

Make room for nature!

This is a cry from The Wildlife Trusts, urging us to remember nature and pay attention to it during our everyday life. Nature isn’t something to be enjoyed during our time off and lose sight of when we fall back into our daily routine. It is a home that needs to be nurtured and taken care of constantly. But this, is too easy to forget.

So this month, I, and hundreds of people across the British isles have pledged to be a little more wild. Here is what I chose to do during the second week. Catch up with week 01 here, week 02 here, and week 03 here. For daily update on what I’m up to and spotting around me, follow me on Instagram or Twitter.

Day 22

The day before I had pedalled away from home with no destination in mind. It didn’t matter that I would have no bed for the night, I was sure to be able to find a spot of grass somewhere in Somerset to lay down in. And sure enough I did, ending and beginning days in my favourite way: outside. Breakfast over, I cycled on, home a vague destination to reach before sundown. I found small roads and dirt roads, a long beach and plenty of head wind, long grass and insects against my bare legs, and birds happily flying and singing in this season of plenty.

Day 23

I was cycling once more but this time to commute along the Avon New Cut. As I’ve written before everything is green along its bank, a monochrome world only broken by the brown flow of the river. So when this spot of purple appeared, I immediately pulled the brakes to inspect what they were. My botanical knowledge being quite poor, I turned to the Internet and was told those are common mallow (malva sylvestris). I’m okay with identifying trees, but get completely lost when flowers and other plants are involved. I want to be able to name the world around me, know it and make it mine, but I’m so often frustrated by the difficulty of browsing through endless Google pictures. Do you have resources you find particularly helpful?

Day 24

I had a date with the library before I had to rush to the post office and then work. It was all a bit of a blur until the yellow of this label caught my eye. ‘Be happy, and smile‘, it said. So I did. I raised my eyes, looked at the trees and the breeze swinging their leaves left and right. And I smiled. And I was happy, my perception that little more acute again.

Day 25

Since returning from my mini cycle tour in Somerset, everything had been frantic. I found myself having to cram so much outside of work, I was running like a headless chicken most of the time, only stopping for sleep. So that evening, I decided to drop my plans of video and sound editing and sat in the garden with a cup of tea. The sun had set but there was still some light. I listened to the children next door playing quietly, the birds singing the last of their songs, and the traffic dying down on the road nearby. And gradually, the stillness that had escaped me for the past few days began to return.

Day 26

The clouds had settled in, turning the world grey once more. But it’s near impossible to find a monochrome dullness in summer. Instead there were yellows and purples glowing bright in the grass lay-bys, and pinks and blues of flowers in the cracks of the pavement and buildings. I was reminded that it’s not the blue skies that make summer.

Day 27

Work over, my partner picked me up and we headed to mid-Wales. We drove out of Bristol without a problem, A roads soon replaced by B roads and the familiar sights of Gloucestershire by the Shropsire Hills. Mounds of earth rose and we slowed often to watch them undulate in the landscape. We crossed the border between England and Wales several times, a squiggly lines that doesn’t care for roads. But soon the signs were in Welsh, and we swapped B roads for small lanes, finding our way to the yurt we had booked. We lit the fire, settled in, and watched the world grow dark with a glass of wine in hand.

Day 28

The forecast was for rain and clouds all day. And it was correct, mostly. We didn’t see the sun that day and we got damp but it didn’t stop us enjoying a walk in the countryside. I had hoped for right of ways through fields and meadows but we were advised against it if we didn’t fancy sinking into mud and muck. We didn’t and took to the lanes instead. Tarmac under our feet didn’t mean nature wasn’t all around. Sheep grazed and called one another, snails make their slow way to where they wanted, and the vegetation glistened under the rain drops. Four hours went before we reached the yurt again.

Day 29

The day began with an outdoors breakfast before we had to pack our stuff and head away from the yurts. Eager to see more of the Shrophire hills, we drove in their direction, selecting a different route than the one we came through. We slowed often, stopping the car for a good look at the views and a walk in a forest. I breathed in the smell of wet rotting earth and for a moment all was still and quiet in me.

Day 30

30 days have passed and it ends as it began, in my garden. I’m no longer suffering from the flu, the spittle bugs have gone, and the flowers have transformed. And I’m a little different too. I’ve gained new knowledge, I’ve tried new things, and I’m a little richer in life.

Bonus video

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