ramsdale stones

ramsdale stones

Sunday, 21 October 2012



Review by John McEnroe in The Field Reporter

2012 has been a very succesful and prolific year for Chris Whitehead with releases like ‘Gryphaea’, South gare’, Ravenscar’ and recently
‘Ch – da ( d – 2 )’ with Darius Ciuta.

This time I will focus on ‘Ravenscar’ published by Unfathomless one of the most active and relevant labels on the musique concrete line.

In the beginning ‘Ravenscar’ presents us the sea, the roaring and loud waves of the ocean…later some ‘tactile sounds’ appear and merge with the waves sounds.

By ‘tactile sounds’ I mean sound explored on a magnifying approach where the textures, friction and the smallest movements are amplified.
I say tactile approach because this is probably done with contact microphones that capture the sound that propagates through solids through a membrane that is placed on the surface. I have the notion that the artist is particularly fond on looking for the detail in materials like wood, stone and concrete where he explores their textural and other material aspects through a micro approach. These tactile sounds are something Chris Whitehead is a master of: whether he uses only contact microphones or air microphones pointing to small events, this is a characteristic formal aspect of his work that again on ‘Ravenscar’ is greatly instrumented.

When Chris Whitehead juxtaposes the sea waves and the magnifying sounds I personally feel like we are listening simultaneously to the roaring surface of the sea and all the tiny small movement occurring underwater on the often quite ground of the sea. What a poetic, strong and beautiful analogy.

When the sea waves sounds start to fade we are left to this micro universe where wood and stones and other material ‘play’ in a very organic way: whether this is done in the style of Foley or capturing natural incidental processes, these sonorities present an enormous formal value that the listener could fully enjoy.

The sounds of water in their different manifestations are greatly instrumented by the artist along ‘Ravenscar’ where he explores their different acoustic properties from the sounds of the overwhelming sea waves to the sounds of small creeks and little dripping. Water presents always this biological implication of being the origin and sustain of life and this is something we can’t escape from. In this case water functions like a narrative linking element that connects the different fragments of the piece.

Through the beginning of the second third of the piece something dark starts to arise with a series of droning sounds and guttural birdsongs that are combined with repetitive sounds that brings the work to a very intense point that kicks out like a perception-altering drug. Here the listener is put near the boundaries of his comfort zone where enjoyment and repulsion convey; the levels of acoustic intensity here reminds me of the sound design of the Alejandro Jodorowski movies where sound is explored on its eeriest, more intense and harshest facet.

The intensity levels gradually fades through the middle of the piece until grave drones take over while he can simultaneously listen to the sounds of dripping water inside some sort of cave or a similar structure. This is like being in the outer space and the city’s sewage system at the same time. This long fragment is probably the most significative for me as this is where the cosmological aspect is better instrumented putting the listener into some kind of trip where we are confined to the depths of his persona.

After this beautiful sequence the releases enters a territory where droning sounds, tactile sounds, processed material and quotidian sounds are juxtaposed building a strong emotional atmosphere where the sound images bring to live something potentially scary and yet strongly beautiful that somehow never fully develops…later the sounds of wind emerges to clean it all out.

The wind fades to the sounds of bleeps and the droning sonorities of an airplane.

Then it all ends.

‘Ravenscar’ is a really carefully and thoughtful composed piece -yet very emotional and open- where the structure on time and depth is taken advantage of to its fullest. Here we are confronted to the cosmological and the quotidian, we are confronted to to the magnitude of the universe addressed in both its immensity and its detailed and infinite complexity.

To review ‘Ravenscar’ brings the Michael Chion idea that films are in a way sound art pieces, but on the other way around: ‘Ravenscar’ narratively and psychologically works like a film in terms of the use of the time line and images similar to sci-fi movies like Andrei Tarkowski’s Stalker or Solyaris where we go through an inner trip of obvious-cosmological character that takes place in nature zones and urban areas, places that are, after all, built on star dust.

Review by Richard Allen in A Closer Listen

The village of Ravenscar, located in North Yorkshire, is the home of many geological formations and scenic vistas. The variety of potential sounds makes it a natural choice for field recording expeditions.

Although the album is presented as a single 43-minute piece, it is presented in five distinct sections. The first, and most powerful, is “Wind”, which stretches eleven minutes into the piece and hearkens back to the work of Chris Watson.This section alone – meticulously mastered with an ear to stereo effects – justifies the purchase. Sharp sounds press against dull resonances to create a three-dimensional effect. Sheets of rain battle with the waves as sullen seabirds seek shelter.

The second section begins to creep in halfway through “Wind”, but becomes much more noticeable as the wind retreats. ”Alum” is the sound of jostled rocks, whose chemicals were processed in early industry. The restrained nature of this section makes one wonder why it didn’t launch the album; it’s smart to start with a compelling section, but it’s hard to descend from excitement to introspection, which is why schoolchildren don’t begin the day with recess. But then a weird, unidentified noise enters the mix, sounding like a cross between a synthesizer, a bird and a mechanical device. This otherworldly tone provides a sense of mystery, but deserves the context of exposition.

The wind returns, subdued, in “Tunnel”, which grows more active as drips and echoes increase. Whitehead calls this section “a monument to the ghosts of steam”. A dog barks and pants; human footsteps fall; the timbre turns hollow and desolate. As we leave the tunnel, we hear birdsong once again, which arrives like a blessing, an escape from the claustrophobia. ”Grass”, by far the warmest section, incorporates the sounds of insects and farm animals. These bucolic reminders are joined by the sounds of rushing water and nearby traffic, which gather like members of an orchestra waiting for the final push. These sounds continue into the album’s shortest segment, “Radar”, which introduces tantalizing electronic pings and airplane motors, turning the album toward the scored. Turns out the radar station has been abandoned for years, and is now used by sheep retreating from the winds. In light of this fact, “Wind” might have made a stunning conclusion, but it’s the only change that might have been made to this evocative album.

Chris Whitehead has done a splendid job gathering these sounds to create a geographical postcard. With any luck, it will be sold in Ravenscar shoppes for years to come.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

CH-DA (D-2)

Been busy lately making a new hour long piece of work with Lithuanian sound artist Darius Ciuta. It's to be released soon on the Impulsive Habitat label as a free download. As well as the audio there will be a series of 60 photos, each one with an item of text.

The text may or may not offer a degree of explanation.

Eyes peeled.

Impulsive Habitat

Saturday, 8 September 2012


The Unfathomless label is set to unleash Ravenscar into the world very soon. The gorgeous artwork, including this design for the CD itself, is entirely made up of photographs taken at the site by Chris Corner and reworked by Daniel Crokaert.

Scroll further down this blog to read more about Ravenscar.

Price for Europe: 14 euros
Ravenscar at Unfathomless
Pre-order here chalkdc@unfathomless.net


Lots of new work coming out soon...

I have a track on this compilation CD from Russian label Observatoire. It features loads of great artists and the overall idea is to be lo-fi and localized. The ceremony of the Horngarth, or Penny Hedge, is a unique annual event tied inextricably to Whitby's distant past, so I chose this as a starting point.

The piece includes field recordings made with both a digital stereo recorder and a dictaphone, plus a few other instruments including a piano (kind of).

It costs 14 if you live in Europe.

Full track listing...
RICHARD GARET ‘R.O.U / Tristán Narvaja - Villa Biarritz’
CHRIS WHITEHEAD ‘Eve of Ascension’
RADIOSON ‘Life of Neron’
GREGORY BÜTTNER‘Tonarm, p.s. Papier’
BEN OWEN ‘20100507-05’
FRANCISCO MEIRINO ’What Remains of All That Misery?’
DASEIN ‘Gardarica’

Paypal orders: sintemental@hotmail.com
The Penny Hedge ceremony: Out on Ye!
Label: Obs

Sunday, 8 July 2012


Today the Esk at Whitby was full of rainwater coming down from the moors. With the tide out it rushed through this channel opposite Spital Bridge, narrowed on each side by artificial banks held together with wire netting.

I recorded the water in various ways using hydrophones in the water and under seaweed on the rocks, as well as with conventional microphones. I didn't move much though due to the extremely slippery surface and the rather cold and fierce looking water.

As for future projects, I'm honoured to be making a piece with Darius Ciuta for release on Impulsive Habitat in the winter. The recordings have been completed and Darius is currently mixing them in Lithuania. Can't wait to hear the results of his expertise.

Also I'm hoping to work on some recordings inspired by the places explored by Richard Locker in his Liminal Whitby blog. Obviously we're still in the very early planning stages, but as well as the sound element we're hoping to include photos and text to build up a real sense of the mystery that these transient places on the periphery of our towns exhibit.

Sunday, 24 June 2012


This pond at South Gare looks pretty lifeless. At one end an old bath lies in the water together with other items of detritus. A gentle breeze ruffles the grey, polluted looking water and there seem to be no plants growing beneath the surface, just a clump of sorry looking rushes over by the left bank. Over to the right the steelworks prepare for the refiring of the Redcar blast furnace

Not expecting much, I stood looking into the water wondering whether to record anything at all, when a pair of mating frogs swam into the shallow water by the shore, stopped for a moment and then returned back into the middle of the pond.

Spurred on by the obvious presence of life in the water, I gently placed two JRF hydrophones beneath the surface. This recording was used as part of the composition South Gare released on Linear Obsessional, but this is what it sounded like without any mastering, enhancing or boosting of any kind.

Alive with sound!

Thursday, 10 May 2012


Ammonites (Chris Corner and Chris Whitehead) played live at Woodend for Scarborough Digital on March 17th. This is what it sounded like, with the traditional introduction of us driving to the venue in the pouring rain.

The video is by Chris Corner. Many thanks to Chris Firth and Rich Locker for their support throughout.

Saturday, 21 April 2012


A review of my CD Gryphaea by John McEnroe from the much respected Field Reporter site. Many thanks John.

The Jurassic ammonite Dactyloceras commune from the Upper Lias, Whitby
(Obs 2012)

“Gryphaea” is the newest release by english sound artist Chris Whitehead responsible for the work “Estuary” that on this journal Hiroki Sasajima highlighted as one of the remarkably interesting works of 2011.

“Gryphaea is a genus of extinct oysters, marine bivalve mollusks in the family Gryphaeidae”
- Wikipedia

“Gryphaea is based on the geological features of England’s North Yorkshire coastline. The cliffs around Whitby are rich in marine fossils, and during Jurassic times this area was on the fringes of the shallow, warm Tethys Ocean, which covered most of Europe”
-Liner notes

When a sound artist picks up a particular subject in this case of geographical nature, he could envision two approaches: the more phonographic based and the more musique concrete based. On both scenarios the individual sensible experience of the artist, and the geographical phenomena in the artist’s consciousness are the motor behind the work, but the method, articulation and instrumentation on both scenarios are very different.

Based on what I can hear in “Gryphaea” it was constructed in three stances: the recording of the sounds, the processing/montage of those sounds and a third stance can be assumed when sine waves appear. The sonorities of ”Gryphaea” have this artificial / natural qualities that help establishing a more subjective and interpretation-based approach where textures and in general the tactile experience seem to be the formal core of the compositional work. The textures in ”Gryphaea” are crisp, grainy , sometimes harsh and percussive, and even subtle through the final piece “Peak fault”.

In contrast with the textural layer of sound that goes through the entire release, Chris Whitehead uses other elements like untreated field recordings, processed field recordings and sine waves that work in a background level giving to this work some very effective and beautiful sense of depth.

Overall this is a very interesting approach when it comes to site recording when we consider that the artist was working in a place where the past and the future coexist in a topographic sense, where you can feel the lapse of time literally imprinted in the layered depth of the ground. In this sense this work is very successful establishing a feedback between concept and instrumentation that efficiently works on the ever-fundamental poetical level.

Aside from all the sense that this work makes articulating concept and form, ”Gryphaea” is a release of strong beauty where the careful and meticulous work of the artist pays off revealing to the listener a very strong tactile and immersive experience.

-John McEnroe

Dactyloceras commune: Polished cross section showing the chambers within the shell


Many thanks to Jay-Dea Lopez for this fine review of South Gare which appeared in The Field Reporter as item number 104.

(Linear Obsessional 2012)

Chris Whitehead’s latest release South Gare is an examination of the sonic space that exists between the industrial and natural worlds. The title South Gare refers to a north-eastern coastal area in England. Here a gare, breakwater, presides over an area of reclaimed land on the River Tees. This is an area under pressure, where the creatures residing in the sand dunes and mud flats are forced to coexist with the factories nearby. Whitehead describes the division within the landscape as a place where the “skyline is dominated by industry … yet the Gare is popular with birdwatchers and walkers”. It is within this bleak space that Whitehead explores the sonic overlap of the two zones. Listening to the tone of South Gare we are privy to a sense of unease that exists there; the threat of industrial expansion being ever-present.

South Gare is divided into three sections: Dunes, Skeletons, Tides. In each track we hear the juxtaposition, or collision, of natural and industrial sounds. It is to Whitehead’s credit that the sounds never overwhelm each other.

Dunes quickly establishes the overall mood of the release. Listening to the initial sound of wind passing through dune grass we become aware that it also relays sounds from the neighbouring factories. As the track progresses the sounds of coastal birds and waves intermingle with the signals of trucks and other activities from the industrial zone.


In Skeleton Whitehead proceeds to interact with the detritus around him. Following in the tradition of Westerkamp he strikes certain objects, experimenting with their pitch and resonance. The resulting sounds lack reverberation, as if they were played in an area with a limited, or stagnant, atmosphere. The lack of other distinct sounds during this piece accentuates the desolation of the area.

The 'instrument' used to record Skeleton

Tides is perhaps the most processed of the three tracks*. It is also the track where Whitehead’s environmental concerns become more apparent. Sea-side sounds normally associated with tranquillity, such as the lapping of waves and the call of sea-gulls, are layered with a low steady rumble emanating from the factories. As the track progresses this rumble increases in volume, threatening the natural elements in the field recordings. With the amplification of this industrial drone Whitehead brings us towards his sonic interpretation of an environmental tipping point.

Tides: Paddy's Hole

Through the combination of both modified and unmodified field recordings from this region Whitehead has created an unsettling examination of the era in which we live. In South Gare Whitehead utilises sounds from a localised region to illustrate the environmental challenges we now face globally. South Gare‘s collection of sounds, it’s interpretation of the soundscape, and its post-apocalyptic tone resonates with the audience long after it finishes, making it an extremely worthwhile listening experience.

-Jay-Dea Lopez

*Interestingly there is no sound processing at all in South Gare apart from some pitch shifting of a drone in the track Tides in order to make a kind of three note tune. The rest is layering and EQ.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012


I'm very pleased to say that South Gare is now available from the  Linear Obsessional website for free download.

The track titles are:
Dunes (12.30)
Skeleton (7.28)
Tides (12.45)

Click here to download or listen to South Gare

The release includes a PDF of photographs and words.
Please listen to the other artists on this excellent label presided over by Richard Sanderson.
I'm very proud to be involved.

Sunday, 4 March 2012


I'm busy at the moment working on something for the excellent (and relatively new)

They've released ten varied recordings so far, of which my favourites are Corks by Clive Pearman and Richard Sanderson, and the intriguingly titled A Wee Dug Stole A Haddy Bone - Pibroch Viola Improvisations by Ivor Kallin.

South Gare is at the southern side of the entrance to the River Tees and is a man made area of reclaimed land constructed largely out of blast furnace slag and concrete.

The skyline is dominated by industry, notably the huge Redcar Steelworks, yet the Gare is popular with birdwatchers and walkers. It is an interface where two worlds meet and overlap. There are many layers of resonance.

A fascinating place from which to glean sonic raw material.

Saturday, 18 February 2012


I've got a new CD out very soon on the Obs label, thanks to the sterling work of Denis Shapovalov.
Entitled Gryphaea, it's largely concerned with the Jurassic geology of the North Yorkshire coastline.

This release will be limited to 300 copies.
The packaging will be a jewel case with a glossy booklet including drawings, photos and text.
Thanks go to Chris Corner for mastering Gryphaea, and Clicker Robinson for allowing me to record the process of jet jewellery being made in his workshop.

Thursday, 5 January 2012


Skye and Glencoe 2011.

This is a real-time movie, not a still photograph. It's just very slo-fi.