Four Walks Around A Year: Autumn
A little while ago I reviewed the second, summer instalment in Sebastiane Hegarty’s year-long series of seasonal field recordings from Hampshire’s Winnall Moors; now, as the days begin to shorten, Gruenrekorder have released the autumn episode. Although the first thing heard is the familiar chirruping of birds, “Autumn” is dominated by the sounds of human activity: digging, scraping, rumbling, whirring, walking, and chatting amiably. This is not an arbitrary choice by the artist: according to the footnotes, autumn is the time of year when the conservation team from Hampshire Wildlife Trust, Hegarty’s collaborators on the project, can get the most work done without the risk of interfering with the breeding seasons of the Moors’ inhabitants, and before the harsher winter weather puts all plans on hold. So we hear monitoring traps being laid, a riverbed being reformed to encourage trout, emergency repairs to a river hatch, and the closing of paths for the winter with wire fences.
The result is a 25-minute piece that eschews the enforced solitude of many a field recording that seeks to be out ‘among nature’ — a wealth of human interaction that sometimes proves a little too much for the man holding the microphone. At a bonfire party, he is heard retreating to a distance before the countdown to the lighting of the fireworks can begin. The following crackles and bangs seem minuscule in the huge silence of the moors, like auditory stars against the night blackness.
I like how Hegarty is content to be guided by the routines of others, rather than setting out to be the brave discoverer of the moors’ hidden essence. Perhaps this gives a truer impression of the experience of the moors that is available to us than approaches that edit out any evidence of human activity. “Autumn” retains the made-for-radio feel and quiet poeticism of the series as a whole, and has me looking forward as much to hearing the final winter instalment when the season changes once more, as to getting out amongst the trees, waters, wildlife, and fellow human explorers for myself.