ramsdale stones

ramsdale stones

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.