Alex: Apart from the obvious reminders of Örö’s history as an island in military use, on our walks and climbs we found a lot of less obvious and explainable remnants of former activity on the island. Rusted steel structures that looked like they were once cranes in (now) odd places, Russian text scratched into the rocks, metal rings drilled into the coast at places where nothing else is visible anymore. Speculating what the function of these places and items was and why they were there was very interesting.
Alex: Near the coastline of the island not a single tree is growing straight. The wind pushes into the first trees of the forest, bending most inward from the coast. Due to storms some trees aren’t just bent over, but have grown into weird shapes, broken, twisted and continued growing in weird angles. The unpredictable shapes add to the dynamic feel of the island.
Marloes: For some reason I imagined Örö to be a very silent place, with no traffic on the island and barely any permanent inhabitants. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
We used to live in an apartment in Helsinki relatively close to a highway crossing. Whenever we slept with the window open we’d hear a faint but audible highway hiss. It never really bothered us, it was just there all the time. It was quite a windy the day we arrived on Örö. After we checked the house and unpacked some of our things, we sat down on the stairs in front of the door, listening. A very similar hiss to the one we would hear at home was audible on this island without traffic, only this time it was produced by the sea.
Marloes: we’d been told that adders are quite common on Örö. I had never seen one in my life, so when we encountered a snake pretty much on our doorstep, I had to check what kind of snake we were dealing with. It very obviously was an adder that we were sharing our yard with. After this first encounter we saw many more. We speculated that the adder often sunbathing near our front door was always the same one. I almost stepped on a snake during a walk. I almost drove into one while cycling, twice! Alex even had one on his foot during a walk at night, luckily he was wearing rubber boots. We got very used to looking out for snakes while walking and often mistook dark coloured twigs spotted from the corners of our eyes for snakes, something that even continues now we’re back in the city.
Marloes: Dotted all over Örö are smaller and larger bunker complexes. We have probably peeked into all of them. When we entered one on the east-side of the island, we saw a sleeping swallow on a ledge next to a nest. We decided to leave the bunker so we wouldn’t wake it up. We passed by the same bunker a few days later during one of our many walks. The sleeping swallow wasn’t there during the day, but in the nest we saw tiny beaks, softly squeaking to be fed.
Marloes: We initially planned to make videos of short performances in nature, but with the amount of snakes, insects and other wildlife around, we decided to restrict our performance and composition practice to inside the residency house.
Marloes: Before going to Örö I had built a portable, battery powered synthesizer. It wasn’t completely finished when we arrived. I still had to do most of the programming, as I wanted to add elements from the island into its sound.
* (find the spider)
Alex: After a few days, we started playing around with the radar tower close to the residency house. I wanted to work with the constant movement on the island, the radar tower, the birds, the ants, and the crickets. I made a controllable program that uses the difference between frames to generate mesh shapes during our residency. We used the program to create some videos for Marloes’ sounds.
Alex: After experimenting with the Ants and Crickets video, I tried to shoot some video of the swallows that built their nests in the roof of the barracks next to the residency house. Every once in a while they were zipping in and out in beautiful circular patterns. Marloes made a composition to the visuals, which was also an interesting experiment as usually we fit the visuals to the sound.
Travel Synth modules (from left to right):
1. audio output | 5V power input | key switch
2. 4 channel passive mixer with mute buttons
3. ADSR synth with MIDI input: with sine wave | saw wave | noisy cricket layer | glitch mode
4. sample player with 10 samples recorded on Örö
5. contact mic module
6. synth with MIDI input: with sine wave | radar tower wavetable | glitchy envelope controls
Marloes: I can spend hours on rocky beaches, picking up stones, holding on to them for a while, discarding some along the way and keeping others. On Örö my obsession with rocks might have gotten slightly out of hand (as Alex can testify). Every evening we would go on a sunset walk. Late summer sunsets can be amazingly colourful and we surely had our share of those. The best place to watch the sunset was a rocky beach on the west side of the island, not far from the residency house. I have to admit that I might have spent more time looking down, trying to find a perfect rock of a specific colour or shape to add to my ever growing collection, than up towards the horizon. Most of these carefully selected rocks were given back to the shore, this picture shows a selection of those.
Marloes: Our food order for the week would arrive by ferry every Thursday. I don’t think I have ever planned my dinners, lunch, breakfast and snacks so far ahead. It took some getting used to, but this limitation in supplies did make us very creative. I started baking bread and oatmeal cookies. At times we had rather strange combinations of ingredients for dinner, but somehow everything turned out surprisingly tasty. We picked berries. I have secretly been eying the sea-kale that was growing on the beach, but didn’t dare to touch these highly protected and rare plants. My favourite wild ingredient that grew all over the island was wild thyme. We used it in everything: tea, sweet cookies and savoury dinners. I considered buying a thyme plant back home, but haven’t, as it is just not the same.
Cracks in rocks, they’re brittle
Pants in socks, against
Insects that may bite you
The sea is rough
Twigs like snakes, they’re hiding
Rubber boots protect us
Walking through the tall grass
Keep your eyes peeled
Marloes: There’s a radar tower not far from the residency house. A rotating dish on a high metal structure, still in use by the Finnish military. The rotation is the cause of a constant mechanical hum, which is audible in every recording I made on that side of the island. While messing around with the EQ of a recording made there, I noticed that I could almost completely eliminate the presence of the mechanical hum with just three narrow bands: 160 Hz, 340 Hz and 680 Hz. This composition is based on that find:
Marloes: Short walks, long walks, evening walks, shoreline walks, forest walks, crispy rocks under the soles of our boots. Wherever we would go bird calls accompanied us.
This particular recording was made next to the residency house, where a large group of swallows nested under a gutter.
Marloes: I wanted to make a composition for the snake on our doorstep. Something slightly uncomfortable and disturbing, so he/she/it would maybe go sunbathing elsewhere. My starting point was the hearing range of adders, which appears to be most sensitive between 80-600 Hz, with some research claiming sensitivity up to 1000 Hz. The first iteration of my composition using only this frequency range was not suitable for humans, who would also have to hear it, since we shared living space on the island. I decided to deviate from my initial concept and added some higher pitched layers.
Marloes: During the late afternoon the ever present seashore hiss was joined by a more exotic sounding chorus: Örö seems to have a large population of very noisy crickets.
I composed a short track with a recording of these crickets, some sound from my self-built synth and processed vocals.