Listen to Nature - Sweden's idyllic soundscapes
I have never done a field recording expedition before. Although I have been recording and capturing natural sounds from the places I visit, I have never travelled to a place purely to listen to its beautiful soundscape and try and capture it through recording. Part of the reason for doing this trip was to learn how to do drop rig recordings - something that I haven't had the chance to really get into in my career doing Sound Design. I mean, it is literally just leaving your microphones out, recording through the night and picking them up the next morning. Not much to it, you just need to have batteries that can last throughout the night, depending on if you want to record the dusk and/or dawn chorus of a place. So in April 2023, I joined a group of recording enthusiasts 100km east of Stockholm to experience the sound of Swedish spring on a very tranquil farm surrounded by forests. Nature's Eden was the name of the place and was run by a Dutch man called John and his wife Mendy. We stayed in a big house - in total we were 7 including the organisers - which was the perfect size to get to know everyone personally. The group consisted of Malin (a sound design friend from Malmö), Pierre-Marie (a freelance sound designer from France). Colin (a producer at Meta also from France), Michael (a retired hobby Ornithologist from the UK), Stefan (an ecologist from the UK and our expedition leader), Kari (a yoga instructor from the UK and also our cook for the week) and myself. We all had different backgrounds and interests but we shared our love for nature recording and that created strong bonds from the start. Although I have worked in a lot of different roles in the sound field I felt humbled by the knowledge everyone brought and was eager to learn as much as possible.
On the first day we started out by getting an overview of the area, so we drove out to a frozen lake in a Landrover Defender, all of us packed in one car. There were a couple of specific birds that were on the agenda for this trip - birds that were harder to find and capture than the more common birds in the area. These birds were the capercaillie, the Black grouse and the Black-throated loon. Over the next days we drove to spots were these birds were going to call and we left our gear out hoping to capture their sound in our absence. My main rig for the drop rigs was a Zoom F3 with 2x Clippy EM172 mics in a dry bag with a powerbank.
On day 2 we set out to a swamp to record the black grouse. We had to walk in Wellington boots over a boardwalk and set up our microphones over the wet bog. I was nervous because it was said to rain and I wasn't sure how the microphones would fair in the humidity. I recorded some squelching with my wellingtons there, a little bit of fun random recordings in between the long drop rig recordings that I enjoyed doing. That evening we got served water that was drained from a Birch tree - it tasted really good and was said to have healing/cleansing effects! Day 3:
On day 3 we picked up our microphones from the grouse spot and luckily all our microphones were still intact and in place. We carried on to go on a relaxed little forest walk around a small lake, just soaking in some sunshine without any recording in mind. After a little lunch break we went to the Capercaillie spot. We had to keep quiet during our walk toward the drop location so as not to alarm any birds in the area.
The Capercaillie is a truly remarkable bird and it has some of the weirdest sounds that I have ever heard an animal make. We hadn't heard it at that point except for some recordings from a previous year's trip, so we were excited to capture the sounds ourselves. Day 3 ended and we were all pretty knackered from the walks and fresh forest air.
For Day 4 we wanted to experience the dawn chorus in person, so we got up at 3:30 and drove out to a protected forest and did a circular route on which we heard and saw pigmy owls, goshawk's, treecreepers, woodpeckers and some creaking trees! I only took photos and enjoyed listening while the rest had their microphones on standby. We were all pretty tired after getting back from the morning walk, so we took a longer break at the house which I used to explore the nearby barn for some props and fun foley recordings. I recorded some footsteps, found an anvil and a bell, tried out Malin's mkh 8040s and felt like on a playground, scouring through the barn for interesting sounds. In the evening we went back to the frozen lake, that was no longer frozen, with the hope of capturing the black throated loon calling. I used Stefan's dummy head and clippy setup with my D-100 as a second drop rig. Unfortunately when I rolled up the dry bag of the recorder, I yanked out the jack halfway so my recording that night was only in Mono. A lesson learnt about leaving enough slack in the drybag, especially when you are using plug-in power - XLRs generally dont get yanked out.
On Day 5 we all went for a drive to explore the surroundings some more, went to view a local church and set up a rig in another swamp quite close to a road as well as put out another rig near the same lake but at a different side. The loon only called once the previous night so we wanted to try another recording. I used the opportunity to take a quick dip in the lake :) We also left another rig at the Capercaillie site because the birds we recorded on day 3 were quite far away, we moved our microphones to a place we suspected would be closer and hoped that we would have better luck this night.
Day 6 started with us picking up all our drop rigs, after which we went to a cute cafe in the local town Skultuna, where we sat in the sun eating some Swedish delicacies and taking a break back in civilization. Some of the group used the opportunity to buy some gifts and postcards in the craft stores nearby.
In the evening when we got back, we left some rigs around the farm, mainly around the lake that we were quite close to. It was getting warmer and we were hoping that the dawn chorus would sound especially beautiful that night.
On the last day before our departure, Malin, Pierre-Marie and I set out to do another recording session of the barn and surroundings. We pushed open some squeaky doors, recorded some wood chopping with natural slapback from the forest line and also recorded some ancient rusty farm equipment.
Ontop of this we partook in a gong therapy session that was hosted by the farm owner Mendy in her workshop. Naturally we brought our mics and recorded it because she had a wonderful collection of singing bowls and drums.
Even though the day was already quite eventful, we decided to rent an electric boat and venture down the river with the hope of finding some beavers after dark. The evening was perfect and we had a magnificent sunset, with perfectly still water. Unfortunately we got stuck in the flooded banks of the river in the dark so we had to abort the beaver search - but we still had a fantastic time on the water!
Departure day was sad because I really felt relaxed and at ease after spending a week in nature. I had grown fond of the group in the little time we had and somehow some part of me didnt want the trip to end. But I also looked forward to edit all the photos and recordings and share them with the world.
Finally, Malin and I embarked on our trip home, dropping off Pierre-Marie at the train station in Västerås and heading home back to Malmö where we arrived around 8-9hours later. I was glad to be back, sleeping in my own bed again but Nature's Eden left a taste in my mouth to go back and explore more of Sweden's beautiful nature. ---