Tom Lawrence on BBC Radio 4 | 10th January 2012

NATURE: The Water Boatman’s Song

BBC Radio 4, Tue 10 Jan 11.02, rpt Thur 12 Jan 21.02

Writer Paul Evans accompanies sound recordist Tom Lawrence on a journey in sound across Pollardstown Fen to hear the extraordinary sounds of an underwater orchestra of aquatic insects. Additional sound recordings: Chris Watson, Producer Sarah Blunt.

For over a year, sound recordist Tom Lawrence has been capturing the sounds of Pollardstown Fen in Ireland. These are no ordinary sounds, but the sounds of a hidden world; an underwater world, where an orchestra of creatures create an extraordinary and vibrant music. Above the water's surface, grasshoppers and crickets stridulate; that is, they rub one part of their body across another to produce 'those fiddling tunes so evocative of summer'. Below the surface, something similar happens as water beetles, water scorpions, great diving beetles, water boatmen and lesser water boatmen and hundreds of other species produce sounds day and night at over 2Khz, reaching 99 decibels in some cases - the equivalent of sitting in the front row of an orchestra "Tapping, knocking, hammering, drumming, clicking, creaking, cracking, croaking, buzzing, fuzzing, bleeping, winding, reeling, revving, puttering, pattering, humming, pulsing, squealing, shrieking.... the insects reveal themselves". Writer and narrator Paul Evans meets Tom Lawrence and takes a journey into the Fen to hear these sounds for himself. Tom leads the way. His friend, Jim Schofield joins them, bringing with him a boat (an inflatable boat that they first have to pump up), and then the three men 'wobble' along reed-lined drains into the Fen. It's a journey of revelations; not only does Paul encounter the underwater orchestra, but also Old Ireland and with it a magical adventure; They find a snake, haul up a bag of treasure, climb the steps of a Famine Tower, experience vertigo as they stand with their heads in the clouds high above the quarried land, watch Peregrines swipe through the air like sharp knives, and learn the story of a hanged man, his lost love and a vixen who wanders amongst the reeds, her piercing cry echoing through the darkness.

"Sadly, since the making of this programme, Tom has died, but this is a very beautiful and fitting tribute to his work." (Jane Anderson, Radio Times)


"The Water Boatman’s Song" on the BBC iPlayer



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