Wednesday 27 May 2009

Trip to the Fen - at last!

On Wednesday 20 May we finally made it out to the Great Fen to do some recording. The weather this time was fantastic - the storm cloud (which Mike C claimed was coming over from somewhere around Bedford) stayed away, and we had beautiful sunshine all evening.

We set off in three groups to record sounds, some of us recording general atmospheric sounds with a stereo mic, and others using a directional mic to pick up individual birds. Highlights included a reed warbler and a flock of geese passing overhead - and Julian pretending to be an owl... Our group had slight navigational problems (where on earth was that hide?!) but still managed to catch lots of birdsong, wind through the reeds - and Julian pretending to be a cuckoo.

We've now got plenty of material for our Soundscape - really looking forward to hearing how it all comes together! Should be able to get some pictures up here soon as well.

Thursday 7 May 2009

The Great Fen Concert

Really enjoyed the concert last night - it was great to hear John Woolrich's new piece, Whitel's Ey, as well as all the other nature-inspired music. Whitel's Ey portrayed quite a dark and stormy fen - just what we hope it won't be when we visit next Wednesday!

If you haven't returned your forms yet, make sure that you get them back as soon as possible, so that we can book transport and get planning!

Friday 1 May 2009

Wrong email addresses!

I've sent you all an email about the project, but a few have bounced back. It's just possible I might have misread your handwriting... ;-) If you haven't had a message from, please email us to let us know the correct address.

Thank you! Have a lovely (and hopefully sunny) bank holiday weekend.

A concert and a walk in the fens

Two exciting opportunities for Soundscape project participants:

Wednesday 6 May The Great Fen Concert
Come to Peterborough Cathedral for an evening of music inspired by the natural world. Last year, composer John Woolrich took a walk in Woodwalton Fen, and the sights and sounds there provided the inspiration for his new piece, Whittel's Ey, which will have its first performance at this concert. Project participants can get in for free - call 01480 388057 to book your tickets, or email

Wednesday 13 May A walk in the fens (with some very big microphones...)
Now that you've learned to use the microphones, we're off to the fens to record some natural sounds for our Soundscape. We will be meeting by the Queen's Park Pavilion in Yaxley at 5pm, where a coach will take us over to the Great Fen area. At this time of day, there should be lots of bird activity, and we'll be there to record it all. We will be returning to Queen's Park Pavilion for 8pm (note later time!), hopefully armed with lots of sounds to inspire our own Great Fen composition.

We will be emailing you a letter for your parents / guardians to sign to give permission for you to come on this trip. There is only a limited number of places available, so make sure you book yours quickly!

Photo (c) Karl Heidel 2009

Project underway!

The Soundscape project got off to a great start on Wednesday. With the weather smiling on us, we set off with microphones and recording equipment to capture the sounds of Yaxley. I'll be posting some of those sounds here soon, but for the meantime, here's a quick taster of what we heard:

- the traffic zooming by on Daimler Avenue (with apologies to anyone driving past who might have mistaken the boom microphones for speed guns!)
- our hands sweeping through the wheat
- our feet walking over grass, concrete, gravel and metal
- a distant argument!
- the sizzle of a barbeque
- a squeaky gate
- and a few birds singing in the dusk.

Back on the Jam Van, we used Amadeus to start to process these sounds, chopping out the most interesting bits and editing them. These will be the starting points for the Soundscape we're going to be writing over the next few weeks.

If you weren't able to come on Wednesday, you can still take part in the project. If you met us at Sawtry and gave us your email address, we'll be emailing you soon with details of forthcoming opportunities; if you haven't met us yet, drop us a line at and we'll see if we can fit you in!

Hope everyone enjoyed the session, and see you again soon!

Tuesday 28 April 2009


Are you interested in music technology or sound recording?

If so, come along to the multimedia JAM VAN to learn about a brilliant new project for young people aged 12 to 16 that's starting in Yaxley.

Information session: Wednesday 29 April, 5 - 7pm outside the Queen's Park Pavilion in Yaxley. IT'S FREE!

What's the project about?
This project is about using music technology to record, edit, sequence and compose sounds and music. We want to create a "Soundscape" - a piece of music which includes natural sounds, instruments and computer-generated sounds. Exactly what this sounds like is up to you! At the end of the project, we're planning to take the Soundscape on a tour of local venues - a bit like an art exhibition, but one that you listen to instead of looking at.

Who can take part?
We are looking for a group of around 12 young people to take part in this project. You don't need any experience in music or music technology to take part. You do need to be aged 12-16, and to be able to get to Yaxley on Wednesday evenings. You will also have the opportunity to go on some trips during school holidays and at weekends.

What will I be doing?
You will learn how to use professional-standard equipment to record sounds around you. These huge microphones can pick up sounds 100 metres away and more. You will then find out how to edit and sequence these sounds using computer programmes like Audacity, Logic and Amadeus. It's amazing what you can do with sounds: can you guess what sounds this drum beat is made up of? (Answer* at the bottom of this post!) You will also get to work with professional musicians to write music to include in the Soundscape.

What's in it for me?
This is a brilliant project for anyone interested in finding out more about sound recording and editing - whether you're interested in it as a job or just for fun! It's also great for anyone who enjoys writing music and using music technology. What's more, by doing this project you can also get an Arts Award.

When does the project take place?
There will be sessions on Wednesday evenings during the summer term 2009. After the launch on Wednesday 29 April, the first session will be on Wednesday 13 May. The reason we haven't got a session on Wednesday 6 May is because there's a big concert on at Peterborough Cathedral, and there are free tickets for people taking part in the project.

We will also be going to the Great Fen during May half term to record the sounds there, and we will have other project days at weekends and during the summer holidays - watch this space for dates and times.

I can't come to all the sessions - can I still take part?
Because we can only accommodate a small group of participants, we would like you to commit to as many of the sessions as possible. That way, you'll get much more out of it too! However, if there are one or two dates you can't make, that's not a problem - just let the project organisers know.

Who's running the project?
This project is organised by Huntingdonshire District Council, Britten Sinfonia and Cambridgeshire Young Lives. The project leader is Mike Challis.

How much does it cost?
Absolutely nothing! The project is funded by Youth Music, so it's completely free for you.

I'm interested - how do I sign up?
The easiest way is to come along to the launch session on Wednesday 29 April and put your name down for the project. If you can't make it, just send an email to giving your name, age, which school you go to, and a sentence about why you'd like to take part. We'll get back to you and let you know if there is still space.

*Answer to drum beat question: the sounds in question are:

- a skate hitting a metal panel on the Yaxley skate park
- some geese honking
- a pool cue hitting the floor
- a bird tweeting

How many did you get?

Monday 27 April 2009

Ramsey Spinning Infants get back to nature!

Britten Sinfonia and its Creative Learning programme are delighted to be involved in The Great Fen project which aims to create a 3,700 hectare wetland between Woodwalton and Holme Fen. With this in mind, our project, called Fen Soundscapes, encourages young people to explore composition based on the natural world and the landscape of the Great Fen area.

We recently accompanied children from Ramsey Spinning Infants School on a visit to the Ramsey Heights Countryside Classroom where Year 2 classes had the fantastic opportunity to spend the day with professional composers Jane Wells and Mike Challis and Britten Sinfonia musicians, recording the sounds they could hear around them in the Fen. This was an interactive day where the children were asked to be as quiet as possible (no mean feat!) and encouraged to listen out for sounds including birds, leaves crunching, reeds rustling and any other wildlife. They even got to make their own sounds using what was around them and particularly enjoyed squelching in the mud! You can listen to some of the sounds they recorded here.

The children have since returned to school to work with Jane and Britten Sinfonia musicians in a series of workshops where they compose their own music. This will ultimately form part of a Soundscape exhibition to be launched later in the year. The children will also have the opportunity to meet composer John Woolrich who has been commissioned by the Great Fen Project and Britten Sinfonia to compose a new piece of music inspired by the landscape, history and wildlife of the Great Fen Project. This will be premiered at the Great Fen Concerts on 6 and 7 May in the majestic settings of Peterborough Cathedral and King’s College Chapel in Cambridge.

The Fen Soundscapes project is a partnership between Huntingdonshire District Council, Cambridgeshire Young Lives and Britten Sinfonia. It is funded by Youth Music.

Photo © Karl Heidel