Sound fishing


Chalk rivers are recognised internationally as important for wildlife conservation, owing to the distinctive communities of animals and plants that inhabit them. At the same time, they provide many benefits to people, including provision of water and highly valued places for recreation. However, surprisingly little is known about the sounds made by organisms living in freshwater ecosystems such as these. The project was inspired by River Listening, an international initiative developed by Australian sound artist Dr. Leah Barclay to explore new methods for acoustically monitoring rivers using hydrophonic recording. The approach is increasingly being used to measure aquatic biodiversity, providing a novel indicator of ecosystem condition. However, Sound fishing represents the first attempt to document the soundscapes of chalk rivers in the UK, and focuses on the River Allen and River Stour in Dorset. The project was implemented by suspending a pair of hydrophones from two fishing rods, which were positioned by fishing for sounds within the river. The recordings have revealed a surprisingly rich soundscape, mostly produced by aquatic invertebrates such as caddis fly larvae and different species of water beetle, which produce a wide variety of clicks, pops and churring sounds. It is also possible to hear the unearthly noises made by water plants as they photosynthesize.

A collection of these recordings has been made available by DIVA contemporary on Bandcamp, and some additional recordings were made in celebration of World Rivers Day in 2020.

A livestream event was held as part of the BEAF festival in 2021, broadcasting the sound of the River Allen, available here via DIVA contemporary.

A live performance featuring sounds of the River Allen was given as part of the Wimborne Green Festival in 2021, available here via DIVA contemporary.

The support of the British Ecological Society for this project is gratefully acknowledged. Thanks also to David Rogers for producing the logo, and for many other contributions to the project.