Craig Vear: ESK
As pretty as a postcard, the river Esk is shown on the cover of Craig Vear's sound poem recording in all its wintry glory. Though the work as presented documents the flow of the river from its North Yorkshire National Park source to the North Sea, Vear himself recorded the material in reverse order by starting at the harbour in Whitby and gradually making his way towards the river's source where a series of Esklets merge to form the river. After compiling the recordings he would use within the piece, Vear then re-arranged them so as to suggest the movement of a river flowing to the sea.
The single-track journey begins with subdued water sounds accompanied by an abundance of nature sounds—flies buzzing, birds chirping, and cows mooing—before the river sounds move to the forefront, becoming more aggressive and volatile as they do so. The range of water sounds alone is arresting, with everything from burbling to crystalline flow captured in glorious clarity by Vear's hydrophones and air mics. He amplifies that material by augmenting it with sounds from the different sites visited along the way. Ducks seem to fly close by during one sequence whereas during others they're heard far off in the distance, and as far removed from the industrial world as this nature-intensive work might at times seem to be, traffic noise appears, too, a reminder perhaps of the industrial world's ineradicable presence within seemingly every natural environment (of course, let's not forget that the recording technology used by Vear also ties him to that industrial world). Creaks, rumbles, clatter, engine hum, and even a jarring wail emerge, too, all of which likewise remind the listener that, even though the work is faithfully presented from the river's perspective, the source recordings were captured by a human being making his painstaking way down the river by boat.
In essence, the work plays like an audio diary that's distilled a journey that conceivably might have stretched across many days, even weeks, into an incident-packed, forty-one-minute affair. Multiple episodes of contrasting character follow quickly upon one another, with bucolic and restful scenes shifting rapidly to moments of greater volume and intensity—the changes rather analogous to a ride down a rapids-filled river that alternates moments of calm with those of danger. It all adds up to a rich soundtrack of constant stimulation and rapid scene changes, and consequently the listener's attention never flags.