Listen again to The Field Recording Show episode 3, featuring interviews with Chris Watson and Polly Stanton, and a new short piece entitled ‘Dunes’, based on recordings from Eureka Valley.
The Eureka Dunes in California are one of about 40 sites around the world where the sand dunes ‘sing’ or produce a resonating tone, given the right conditions. When I recorded this in June 2019, the sound occurred a number of times, each time following a similar pattern of events. The wind picked up, blowing across the face of the dune and whipping grains of sand into motion. This movement of the sand grains is what causes the resonating sound to build, but while the wind was still buffeting my ears and the microphones, it was almost inaudible. As the wind eased, a tone, around F (peaking at 87Hz and 174Hz), emerged clearly in the soundscape. I heard it first through the hydrophones buried in the sand, but as the air became still, I was able to hear it without mediation, taking my headphones off and listening as the tone continued. After the wind stopped, the singing didn’t die away, but instead built to a crescendo during which I could clearly hear the tone, and also feel the vibration through my body as I sat on the surface of the 700ft sand dune. Positioned around half way up I could see for many miles down Eureka Valley – a view that takes in the two mountain ranges that enclose the valley, stamped with the marks of the processes that produced the forms currently visible, including the particular structure of the Eureka Dunes that produces this incredible sound. As the resonance finally stalled, with a slight rise in pitch as it did so, I was left in near silence with this image extending out into the distance. Moments later, the wind rose – again disturbing the surface of the dunes into rolling clouds of sand particles, and the process began once more.
Dunes is a short, ‘first impression’ piece, made shortly after recording this environment, and drawing upon the experience described above. The sound the listener is left with toward the end is the recording of the singing dunes as it emerged, crescendoed and stalled.