For­get hockey, Saturna pub tun­ing into marsh sounds marathon

Times Colonist - - Front Page - ADRIAN CHAM­BER­LAIN Nudge, Nudge acham­ber­lain@times­

At the Saturna Light­house Pub, week­ends are typ­i­cally filled with the sound of clink­ing beer glasses and hockey games on five TV screens.

But this Sat­ur­day, on Earth Day, it’ll be dif­fer­ent. All day and night, the Saturna Is­land bar will be suf­fused with the dul­cet tones of croak­ing frogs, buzzing bees, hoot­ing owls and quack­ing ducks. The pub is tun­ing into a marathon ra­dio broad­cast of a 24-hour record­ing that cap­tures the nat­u­ral sounds of a marsh on the is­land.

Crys­tal, a server at the Light­house Pub, said the bar is “very ex­cited for the event.”

This de­spite the fact that there are sev­eral NHL play­off games slated for Sat­ur­day, in­clud­ing Ed­mon­ton vs. San Jose and Mon­treal vs. New York.

“If some­one re­ally wants to see hockey, we can put them in our TV room, which is kind of sep­a­rate from ev­ery­thing else,” she said.

The Light­house Pub is par­tic­i­pat­ing in some­thing called the Wet­land Project. The brain­child of Mark Tim­mings, a Saturna Is­land graphic de­signer and artist, the Wet­land Project field record­ing will be broad­cast in its en­tirety on Van­cou­ver Co-op Ra­dio (100.5 FM) to cel­e­brate Earth Day.

Tim­mings be­lieves it will be the long­est con­tin­u­ous ra­dio broad­cast in Cana­dian his­tory.

Hav­ing ac­cess to such a record­ing is good news — es­pe­cially if you love Pa­cific Cho­rus Frogs. Th­ese are the frogs that live in the marsh across from Tim­mings’ home, where the record­ing was made. The frog-bee-owl-duck sym­phony will also be broad­cast world­wide Sat­ur­day via wet­land­pro­ (If you click on it today, you can hear a sam­ple.)

The com­puter broad­cast will be ac­com­pa­nied by “colour vi­su­al­iza­tions” trig­gered by the na­ture sounds. This will no doubt be wel­comed by those who fondly re­mem­ber 1960s-era Grate­ful Dead concerts and/or en­joy soon-to-be-le­gal her­bal prod­ucts.

In fact, the Saturna marsh sound­track will air on ra­dio and web for more than 24 hours. The fun starts at 4 a.m. Sat­ur­day and con­tin­ues to 7 a.m. Sun­day, with three hours of re­peat an­i­mal sounds at the end.

At the risk of rain­ing on Tim­mings’ (and the Light­house Pub’s) pa­rade, I asked who would pos­si­bly sit through 24 (or 27) hours of frog and bee sounds. With the in­fi­nite pa­tience of some­one try­ing to ex­plain Wag­ne­r­ian opera to a Justin Bieber fan, he said it doesn’t work like that. You’re sup­posed to have the na­ture sounds on in the back­ground, while you go about the day’s ac­tiv­i­ties.

Tim­mings has al­ready tried it. He played the record­ing over 24 hours in his own home. Over­all, it had a calm­ing ef­fect — al­though he was star­tled to hear a wood­pecker that had ven­tured close to the mi­cro­phones.

“It felt like this wood­pecker was in my kitchen, peck­ing away in the cup­boards, try­ing to scrounge up some food while I was pre­par­ing some din­ner.”

I asked Tim­mings what kind of meal he was pre­par­ing at the time of the wood­pecker crescendo.

“It could have been spaghetti. I don’t know,” he said.

Light is a key fac­tor in trig­ger­ing an­i­mal sounds. For in­stance, the first hint of dawn light prompts birds such as robins to sing. Things slow down in the heat of mid­day. At dusk, the frogs (the Pa­cific Cho­rus Frogs, the ones you typ­i­cally hear in Hol­ly­wood movies) re­ally crank it up.

“The night-time is pretty much about this in­tense cho­rus of frogs,” Tim­mings said. “It sounds like there’s mil­lions of them.” The field record­ing was made a year ago on Earth Day. Tim­mings en­listed the help of Eric La­mon­tagne, a Vic­to­ria record­ing en­gi­neer who has worked in the movie in­dus­try. La­mon­tagne ar­rived with $50,000 worth of gear, in­clud­ing 10 mi­cro­phones.

Five mi­cro­phones were set up on a steplad­der in the marsh, which isn’t deep. The other five were placed on a fallen log in the mid­dle of the marsh. There was no elec­tric­ity, so they im­pro­vised with car bat­ter­ies.

It worked out pretty well. There was a tech­ni­cal mal­func­tion with the steplad­der mi­cro­phones, pos­si­bly due to hu­mid­ity. How­ever, the team got a de­cent sur­round­sound record­ing with the log mics.

No edit­ing was done to pretty up the record­ings. You can oc­ca­sion­ally hear au­to­mo­biles or planes pass­ing. This just re­minds us of hu­mankind’s in­flu­ence on na­ture, Tim­mings said.

I asked why one couldn’t just visit the lo­cal marsh or for­est to fill one’s boots with na­ture sounds.

Tim­mings made it clear that such a philis­tinic point of view misses the point.

“[With this record­ing] you’re not go­ing into na­ture. Na­ture is com­ing into your home, into your con­do­minium, wher­ever you live. You’re com­par­ing your daily ac­tiv­i­ties to their daily ac­tiv­i­ties,” he said.

He plans to spend most of Earth Day lis­ten­ing to his na­ture record­ing in the Light­house Pub. Need­less to say, Tim­mings will not be in the hockey/TV room. He’ll ar­rive at noon and de­part around 10:30 p.m., which is clos­ing time.

Tim­mings added: “I have to be care­ful not to start on the beer too early.”


Saturna Is­land graphic artist Mark Tim­mings de­ployed 10 mi­cro­phones for the Wet­land Project that col­lected a sym­phony of sounds from a marsh on the is­land. The field record­ing will be broad­cast in its en­tirety on Van­cou­ver Co-op Ra­dio to cel­e­brate Earth Day on Sat­ur­day and world­wide via wet­land­pro­


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