Friday, January 23, 2009

Adelie Footsteps and Sleeping Seals

Here are a couple of sounds I mentioned earlier.

First, here is an Adelie Penguin's footsteps as he (or she) walks across the tinkly, chiming rocks of Torgersen Island. The island is covered in these unusually resonant stones. The Adelies build their nests out of Torgersen's smaller rocks, and the penguins have been using and reusing these for so many years that the stones are polished from wear. The larger rocks that lie along the penguin paths have also been worn down by the birds, their edges smoothed and rounded from all the foot traffic. I have gathered a few of these musical penguin path rocks to bring back with me to California (normally removing materials from Antarctica is not allowed, but I have permission to take a few objects for my project). Ultimately I'll be using these rocks as instruments in live performances of the music I create for this project.

To record the Adelie footsteps first I had to observe them for a while to figure out where they were going and realize that they have distinct routes they prefer to use between their colonies and the ocean. I tried to select a location that was on one of these paths, but not too close to either destination, as I wanted to minimize the background squawking and surf sounds in the recording. I staked out one of the paths, setting my mics up right next to it, and then positioned myself about 25 feet away so that my human presence wouldn't worry the Adelies and make them decide to choose a different route. My fake fur-covered microphone (aka Yeti) didn't seem to bother the penguins. Every so often one would amble right past it. Over the next few days I'm hoping to stake out the Adelie paths out some more, because I still don't quite have the footsteps recording I'm looking for.

Secondly, here is a recording of some Southern Elephant Seals over on Old Palmer Island. There are several groups of these seals that like to haul out and nap on Old Palmer. I've been spending the most time with the seals that haunt a cove known as Lover's Lane, Sheathbill Cove, or Jeff's Unnatural Obsession, depending on who you are talking to (Now I know the story behind the cove's multiple names... People at Palmer had been referring to the cove as Lover's Lane, but Jeff was displeased with this title. He rallied for there to be a vote to select a name for the cove. I think Sheathbill Cove won, or maybe that was the name Jeff preferred. Anyhow, because Jeff had made such a big deal out of the naming process, folks started referring to it as Jeff's Unnatural Obsession.).

This recording was made right at the edge of the cove. Behind me was a dripping, melting, orphaned remnant of glacier that used to be connected to the Marr Ice Piedmont. In front of me was a very large sleeping Elephant Seal. In fact, I had to tiptoe past him to get to my recording position next to the ice, which I was sure would shelter my microphones from the gusty winds that were blowing that day. Before I decided to sneak by the gargantuan seal I thought long and hard. I had heard that Elephant Seals weren't bothered much by the presence of humans. Supposedly you could walk right up to them and they would just continue sleeping. I'd never been this close to such a hefty creature though, and what might happen, should he suddenly awake, gave me pause. Plus, beyond the possibility of bodily harm, I wanted to honor the Antarctic Conservation Act - we are not supposed to get so close to the wildlife that we cause them to change their behavior. I weighed these considerations against my very strong desire to record the seals, which was only possible if I could make it past him and out of the wind. Finally, after working out an emergency exit strategy that involved running and scrambling over glacial moraine while carrying nearly $5000 of recording equipment, I held my breath and ninjaed past the slumbering beast.
Luckily he remained sound asleep, and you can hear his long, slow, deep breaths in the recording. The crazy sqwonking sounds that are also on there were produced by a couple of other Elephant Seals, farther away, that seemed to be having a small altercation, or maybe they were just pleasantly chatting about the weather. Sadly I do not speak Southern Elephant Seal. Though after listening to their strange alien voices for several weeks now, I really do wish I could understand them.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Cheryl, would be nice if you could post a pic of your gear in action.

    Peter, Brussels, Belgium.