Caught by the River

Woodnotes: The Hooded Crow, Releasing the Huntress and New Rabbit Friends

Laura Cannell | 24th August 2017

The second instalment of Laura Cannell‘s monthly column on music, wild animals and other adventures…

The Hooded Crow appeared in front of me two days ago in Bergen, Norway. We were both crossing a tramline, both looking left and right and left again, both on the lookout. Why would a bird choose to walk across the road when it could fly? We silently went and I was struck by the black and ash-grey of the crow’s plumage. In Suffolk our crows are black with menacing beaks, glossy coats but no light and shade.

I played at Poekhali at Bergen Kunsthall, and sitting backstage talking to artist/musician Russell Haswell we soon discovered similar experiences about living in Suffolk and travelling to perform. The extreme rurality and extreme intensity, like stepping out of your front door straight into a festival for a day or three days, then returning to the same door different but the same.

In November 2016 I performed at Landmark in Bergen. The building’s atrium has the most crisp yet long reverb, and at the bar after the gig we came up with a plan for me to return to Norway to record. On Sunday night nearly ten months later, this is what happened. The atrium has a glass ceiling. The night before there was a performance from the loudest band you ever heard, feet and lights visible through the translucent glass underneath. Peter Meanwell of Borealis Festival and Late Junction set up his location recording kit, and I played into the night. We also explored a couple of improvisations with him on accordion and the incredibly biting sound of the bowed steel strings of a banjo. I’m not sure if that was meant to be kept secret, but the room exploded with sound as double recorder frequencies boomed in the air.

Whenever I find myself in a space with this kind of reverb I have to get over my lack of singing confidence and make some noise. It seems to happen not with singers, but with people interested in spaces and other sounds. I now have a series of recordings: from Mistily Towers near Manningtree with Foghorn researcher Jennifer Lucy Allan (following our numerous trips for tea and sound), an impromptu four-part vocal improvisation from an empty Salford Cathedral with Ex-Easter Island Head prior to our performance there with members of the BBC Philharmonic, and now some heterophonic improvisation with Peter in the Kunsthall in Bergen in the middle of the night. Maybe these will become a release.

The week before, I had performed at Flow Festival in Finland, a huge festival based in and around an old gasworks. As I was about to go on stage, the manager told me not to expect much response as [Finns] are not known for being verbal. This put me at ease – every performance has a different audience, and a different atmosphere – but it turned out oppositely anyway. Hundreds of people whooping after a double recorder solo is a dream! We spent the evening watching people, looking at bright art installations, and drinking Finnish cider. After a 3am start, travel and a gig, the weird twilight and cider began to meld. It was a peculiar and magical 24 hours, and then we were home.

I did an interview for a new Radio 3 series about composers and the sounds which have inspired them, which airs in the autumn. I unearthed my recording of Muntjac Deer barking in the woods from a couple of years ago, and it felt kind of strange to be in Broadcasting House talking about a sound that I had heard from my kitchen, and quickly grabbed my zoom recorder to capture. Once recorded it inspired a double recorder piece, which was on my 2015 release Beneath Swooping Talons. You never know where inspiration or an action will end up.

Amid the travelling we moved house, away from the sea and back to the fields. The ancient apples and pears in our new garden are nearly ready and I can’t help wondering who planted the tiny orchard of 5 trees. What did the people who lived here before make? What will I make when they are ready?

The elderberries are deepest purple but I think the birds will have them before I have a chance. They were here first I suppose. I have started exploring the lanes and found a herd of deer across the road, owls at night, rabbits in the garden and pigeons with voices of every pitch. Between travels I am also sitting at my new desk with the door open to the outside, looking across towards a churchyard, playing the fiddle, and getting ready to put a new release out into the world. Hunter Huntress Hawker is out on 20.10.17 with Brawl.  


Hunter Huntress Hawker, is released on 20 October. Listen and pre-order here.

Laura Cannell on Caught by the River / on Twitter