Tom Lawrence | Water Beetles of Pollardstown Fen

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Avant Garde: Sound Art New Age: Environmental Moods: Type: Experimental
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Water Beetles of Pollardstown Fen

by Tom Lawrence

Explore the underwater sound world of a magnificent spring-fed wetland in Ireland, featuring the clicks and squeaks of a wide variety of water insects. If you like David Dunn's insect recordings, these more naturalist recordings will delight.
Genre: Avant Garde: Sound Art
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Point of Gibraltar
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5:50 album only
2. Seven Springs
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5:49 album only
3. St. James's Well
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6:29 album only
4. Moore's Well
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5:27 album only
5. Hawkfields
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7:32 album only
6. Milltown Feeder
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5:52 album only
7. Scarletstown Swamps
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7:36 album only
8. Clongownagh
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6:48 album only
9. Rathbride
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6:18 album only
10. Grand Canal Springs
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13:00 album only


Album Notes
All of the sound we hear is only a fraction of all the vibrating going on in our universe - David Dunn

What is presented in this CD is a very alien world, a hitherto unheard auralenvironment that breaks with all our preconceived notions of what underwater life should sound like. All our traditional conceptions and inherent cultural conditioning are overwritten, deemed void and deleted. The work contained in this CD redefines our notions of underwater life and presents a world of alarming sophisticated communication; a myriad of signal generation, perpetuated by a plethora of intelligent species. In this booklet, Pollardstown Fen and the mechanics of insect stridulation are examined before an explanation of the contexts of the sound recordings and the methodologies employed are discussed. While every attempt at comparative analysis, spectral analysis and species identification from the known literature have been made, a certain interpretive license has been used in suggesting the meaning of the sounds recorded. Without doubt, further detailed investigations are necessary to beconvinced with scientific certainty the meaning and context of each communication. Another consideration is that no mechanical devices were operating on the Fen during the period that these recordings were made. The recordings are not contaminated by any electrical interference. Other than an occasional overhead aircraft, no other sounds from above the water are present in the recordings.

Pollardstown Fen is one of the last remaining calcium-rich spring-fed post-glacial valley fens in Western Europe. Preserved by the constant flow of water from 40 springs, the fen is an alkaline marsh of around 550 acres on the northern margin of the Curragh, Co.Kildare (grid ref. N765160). An ancient landscape with a unique ecology of rare species, Pollardstown Fen is of international importance and is designated a Statutory Nature Reserve, Natural Heritage Area, Special Area of Conservation, Ramsar Site and Biogenetic Reserve.According to extant research, amongst the plethora of stridulating invertebrates that exist in the aquatic ecosystems of Pollardstown Fen, are the following water beetles and water bugs: Water Scorpion (Nepa cinerea), Greater Waterboatman (Notonecta spp.), Lesser Waterboatman (Corixa spp., Sigara spp., Hesperocorixa spp., Callicorixa spp.), Water Beetle (Acilius sulcatus), Great Diving Beetle (Dytiscus marginalis), Whirligig Beetle (Gyrinus substriatus). Each of these water insects are known to produce sound through a process called stridulation.

1. The Point of Gibraltar 5:47
Rising like the bow of the titanic out of the mist, The Point of Gibraltar is intimidating to any boatman. Excavated by Grand Canal Company in the 1790s, this is the point where the grand canal divides into two deep drains; east and north; this marks the aquatic ecological entrance to Pollardstown Fen. Track 1 commences with a time-lapse hydrophone recording taken from a crevice deep within the Bog. This recording was made over 24 hours and time-compressed to reveal the subterranean world that exists below the fen. Sounds existing below the range of human hearing (>20Hz) have been brought within the audible range using computer software. The recording montages into the bubbling sound of photosynthesizing Water Mint, Water Horsetail, Whorled Water Milfoil, and the mating calls of water beetles. An underwater community of corixids (Waterboatman) and Whirligigs soon envelops the sound recording joined by the unmistakable clicking of the Great Diving Beetle. A close-up corixid alarm call draws the recording to a close.
2. Seven Springs 5:45
Navigation for barges on the east drain becomes extremely complicated as the water depth becomes shallower and the drain narrows towards St. Andrew’s Well. Very few barges have actually navigated this waterway. On the journey towards St. Andrew’s Well you pass through Seven Springs where many calcium-rich springs feed into the drains. This track commences with the songs of water beetles which segue into the alert calls of larger water bugs such as the water scorpion. Mating sounds are replaced by the communal pulsations of corixids, Whirligig communications and larger beetle stridulations in antagonistic high alert.
3. St. James’ Well 6:28
Since the formation of the fen (about 10,000 years ago), man has attempted to fashion considerable influence on its history. From the destruction of ancient prehistoric burial sites in the south-west to the extensive mining of sand and gravel in the west. During WWII, extensive peat removal left the fen greatly reduced in size. As a result a large re-forestation project was undertaken during 1963 by the Forest and Wildlife Service. In the 1960’s an attempt to drain the fen for agricultural land resulted in the development of a huge culvert between the two main feeder drains. Vegetation was regularly burnt-off and drains were dredged of all life. The precious ecosystems of Pollardstown Fen were almost lost forever. In 1981 on recognizing the ecological importance of Pollardstown Fen, 60% of the land was acquired by National Parks and Wildlife, the culvert was blocked in 1983 and the area was re-flooded. The Fen was declared a National Nature Reserve in 1986 (EU Special Area of Conservation No.396). This recording commences with an autumn thunder storm over the fen which montages into the close-up song of a corixid (Waterboatman). This song was actually recorded at the end of an eight-hour stridulation. The detail of the radiating oscillation and the lowering of the fundamental frequency is astonishing. In the background the sound of St. James’ Well can be heard as calcium enriched water bubbles permeate up through the water. In the second half of the recording various communicative pulsations of larger Water Beetles can be heard.
4.Moore’s Well 5:27
During the 9th International Phytogeographical Excursion of 1949, botanists Braun- Blanquet and Tuxen detailed the flora and vegetation of Pollardstown Fen. Amongst the many types of vegetation recorded were: Water Mint, Water Horsetail, Lesser Duckweed, Whorled Water Milfoil, Purple Moor Grass, Fly Orchid, Pugsley’s Marsh Orchid, Fen Bedstraw, Broad-Leaved Bog Cotton, Black-Bog Rush, Meadow Thistle, Saw Sedge, Tufted Sedge, Slender Sedge, twenty species of brown moss and rare arctic-alpine moss. Such flora and aquatic vegetation are essential in the support of complex ecosystems. This recording features the alert calls of larger water beetles such as the Great Diving Beetle from differing perspectives. The track develops into a myriad of underwater communications by a multitude of different species including Whirligig beetles.
5. Hawkfields 7:31
Pollardstown Fen exhibits a variety of habitats; lake, drains and canal feeders, reed beds and sawsedge swamps to damp grass lands. Habitats rich in birdlife; Mute, Whooper and Bewick swans, Mallard, Teal, Pintail and Tufted Duck, Coot, Moorhen, Water-Rail, Little Grebe, Barn Owls, Reed Buntings, Wrens, Snipe, Meadow Pipit, Sparrow-hawks, Kestrels and during the summer Sedge Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler and Savi’s Warbler. Sightings of White-Tailed Eagles have also been reported. This recording starts with an autumn gale captured at the entrance to Pollardstown Fen and immediately montages into the oscillating song of a Waterboatman. In the background the familiar rhythmical drumming of a Great Diving Beetle pulsates. This is replaced by the antagonistic songs of a corixid community in high alert. A community of Great Diving Beetles and singing Water Beetles envelops the recording with an engulfing intensity. Finally the wonderful sound of a Water Beetle’s elytra stridulation reminds us of the dynamic range encompassed by that insect. The track closes with the alert call of a community of Whirligig beetles.
6. Miltown Feeder 5:48
Pollarstown Fen also contains a large number of mammals; Otters, Hares, Pygmy Shrews, Foxes and Badgers and amphibians including; Smooth Newts and Common Frogs. Amongst the invertebrates are: Bloodworms, Caddisfly Larvae and Dragonfly Nymphs, Caterpillars, rare Black Snails, Butterflies, Moths, Dragonflies and Damselflies. What is represented at the commencement of this recording is a myriad of species’ songs, chirps, calls, oscillations, almost human cries which makes the recording very disconcerting. A community of Great Diving Beetles provides an incredible rhythmical accompaniment to which Water Beetles respond. What we are hearing are the communications produced by a forest of aquatic animals.
7. Scarletstown Swamps 7:36
With the onset of winter the collision of hot and cold weather fronts causes winds to whip-up at Pollardstown Fen, sweeping down the valley and swirling across the ancient landscape. This recording starts with the sound of bog rush blowing in the wind. The recording segues into the sound of Waterboatman in high alert. Another complex oscillation ensues accompanied by the musical and rhythmical drumming of a Great Diving Beetle.
8. Clongownagh 6:46
This recording continues the bubbling sound of photosynthesizing Water Mint, Water Horsetail, Whorled Water Milfoil, and the prolonged mating songs of Water Beetles. The sound of a Water Beetle’s elytra stridulation and the alert calls of a Water Scorpion soon engulf the recording. These calls are accompanied by a community of Great Diving Beetles. Wind above the water causes the stems of the rushes to creak and rub together under water, providing an interesting accompaniment to the calls of corixids and the slow winding down of a water bug. The recording finishes with the rhythmical drumming of Great Diving Beetles feeding at the bottom of the east drain.
9. Rathbride 6:18
This recording focuses on the close-up detail of a community of Great Diving Beetles at the bottom of the north drain. The hydrophone has been carefully positioned about two inches from the insect. This sound is joined by an oscillating Waterboatman at the end of it’s antagonistic stridulation process. The variation in pitch and the arpeggiation strikes of the stridulation can be clearly heard.
10. Grand Canal Springs 13:01
This recording is a protracted performance given by a single waterbug (Water Scorpion) in heightened antagonistic stance. The hydrophone has been positioned about one inch from the insect. A reading of 110 decibels was measured during this recording. The insect stridulated in this way for approximately nine hours. In the background the communicative songs of the wider ecosystem can be heard. Towards the end of the recording an interesting oscillation technique takes place.


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