November 2017


LATEST ON THE TIMELINE : From Bridge Farm to Westham, the untold story of Pevensey School


article courtesy, Civic Brighton and Hove platform

In the first of a series of anniversary articles celebrating the work of associations, societies and agencies based citywide in Brighton, we invited Sarah Ticho, a project administrator at Lighthouse, to write about an aspect of her work. Here she tells us about a visit to Pevensey Bay in East Sussex to find out more about the work of the Ocean Song Project, with internationally acclaimed sound recordist Chris Watson and the team from the University of Cambridge Museum of Zoology. The year 2016 will mark the thirtieth anniversary of the agency that began life in 1986 with meetings as a voluntary organisation in Brighton.

In 1865 the iconic Pevensey finback whale washed ashore in Normans Bay, near Pevensey, East Sussex. Measuring 71feet long and weighing up to 80 tonnes, it is one of the largest of its kind ever to be beached.

The event caused a huge surge of excitement across the UK as up to 40,000 visitors made their way to the area to view the colossal creature, putting Pevensey on the map.

Following a brief stint at the Hasting Cricket ground, the whale was then sold at auction to Lieutenant Colonel Shakespeare who purchased the skeleton for £55 on behalf of the Museum of Zoology, Cambridge, where it has resided ever since.

Nearly 150 years on, the museum is now undergoing major refurbishments, including the building of the new Whale Hall, where the finback’s skeleton will be rehoused.

As part of the works, the museum has commissioned legendary wildlife sound recordist and musician Chris Watson to create an immersive soundscape installation to accompany the whale, set to be unveiled in November 2016.

The project, titled Ocean Song will explore how humans and animals produce and perceive sound, weaving together aquatic sound recordings with songs and voices from community groups and choirs.

Since the project began, The Museum of Zoology has been working in partnership with the Pevensey Timeline Association. The organisation has been researching the local history of the whale.

Since October last year, Chris has been travelling across the UK, collecting aquatic sounds from across the country that will feed into the final installation.

On Sunday 23 rd August, I joined the team at Normans Bay, the original landing site of the whale.

Alongside a captive audience of sound recordists and wildlife enthusiasts, we met with Chris who introduced the project to us, and shared some of the most peculiar and astounding sounds he has recorded from across the globe, from the clicking of limpets scraping off algae with their tongues (radula) to the haunting siren-like song of the bearded seals,.

It is clear that despite what Jacques Cousteau believed, the underwater world is anything but silent.

One of the most fascinating sounds we came across was the gentle popping and bubbling of the Pistol Shrimp. Arguably, the loudest and most ubiquitous sound in the world, Chris has captured these sounds from Scottish rock pools to Floridian mangroves. H

However, one should not underestimate the shrimp by the gentle pop it creates. Functioning much like the vibrant Mantis Shrimp, they use their claws as powerful sonic weapons, firing bubbles which reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour, which subsequently stun and kill their prey.

The firing of the bubble releases a sound reaching an astounding 218 decibels and commonly interferes with sonar and underwater communication.

Before heading to the beach to begin collecting ocean sounds, Chris demonstrated the incredible capabilities of some of his microphones and recording equipment. Amplifying radio signals, and the hum emitted from lighting and laptops, it truly highlighted how unaware we are of the invisible sounds around us.

Whilst we are frequently reminded of the devastating effect of marine pollution and contamination through the irresponsible disposal of oil, toxic chemicals and waste, we equally cannot underestimate how damaging aural pollution is to maintaining the health of functioning marine ecosystems.

Anthropogenic noise pollution such as ships, offshore drilling and seismic exploration of oil and gas create sonorous vibrations which travel across the oceans strongly interfere with mammalian communication.

It has also been found it can create structural damage to cephalopods such as octopi and squid, causing lesions in their auditory structures thus throwing them off balance.

Following the workshop, we then headed to the beach, to begin capturing the sounds of the sea.

We launched hydrophones into the sea at varying distances, whilst burying some under the pebbles to avoid the hydrophones being knocked around by the waves and picking up unnecessary noises.

Other recordists used standard microphones to record above the water, standing at varying distance to the sea, to capture different sound levels and atmospheres. As the recordings are edited, they will be woven together to create a rich and deep tapestry of oceanic sound.

Later that afternoon, we reconvened at St. Nicholas’ Church, led again by Chris and joined by choir leader Rowena Whitehead.

Alongside choir groups and local community members, we created a symphony of ocean sounds using human voices, mimicking the crashing of waves, the scraping of the limpets, the beating sounds of the haddock mating calls and wails of the bearded seals.

We were split into groups and sang old Scottish sea shanties, along with rhymes and sayings about whales which echoed throughout the church.

The culmination of this project has resulted in an excellent feat of public engagement and participation, not only in the final project itself but the collecting of soundbites and the coming together of communities to sing. The project has brought people from across the country together.

Before the final work has even been completed, Chris and the team at the Cambridge Museum of Zoology have already raised incredible awareness of the fragile nature of marine life and animal communication.

The installation will be unveiled at the new Museum of Zoology, Cambridge in November 2016.

To read more about the Ocean Song Project browse more information here.

If you have any aquatic recordings from the South East, please contribute them to the project! You can upload them alongside the recordings from Chris’ workshops onto the blog.

IMAGE CREDIT: Sarah Ticho, Norman’s Bay Beach, Sunday 23 August 2015, Chris Watson (right)

Sarah Ticho is a project administrator at Lighthouse, a digital culture agency based in Brighton. The company supports, commissions and exhibits work by artists and filmmakers in their own venue in Brighton and beyond, nationally and internationally. Lighthouse manages the high-level production scheme, BFI Shorts, in collaboration with the British Film Institute, which has produced 17 major short films over the past two years. The year 2016 will mark the thirtieth anniversary of the foundation of Lighthouse, which began as a voluntary organisation with meetings at the Brighton Unemployed Centre, in Tilbury Place, in 1986.