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Immersed in the Borneo Rainforest

Straight from Chris Watson's recording gear

Resonance FM is based in London, England, but streams and is often downloadable on the web. It’s among the most dependable sources for exploratory audio and, more broadly, for strong programming in general, with shows focused on economics, the graphic novel, and bicycling, among numerous subjects. Several Resonance FM series showcase experimental and adventurous sound, and key among them is Framework, which is “consecrated to field recording and its use in composition — field recording, phonography, the art of sound hunting — open your ears and listen.” As a fundraiser, Framework creates original physical recordings of rare audio, a series called Framework Seasonal, and this season’s is no exception. Released as a DVDR, the audio-only Sunrise in the Sukau Rainforest was recorded during October 2011 by Chris Watson along the river Kinabatangan in Sabah, Borneo. (The Framework site, frameworkradio.net, lists this as Kinabatangen with an “en” at the end, but most text examples seem to show it as “an.”)

To promote the release, Framework excerpted it on two broadcasts, both archived as MP3s. Neither in length or in fidelity do they do justice to the DVD recording, which is 2.5 hours of natural immersion, all light precipitation, loops of birdsong, other animals calls, and an incredible sonic sense of broad geographic distribution. The first of the MP3s collects work by other individuals, and includes Watson’s introduction to the Borneo recording, and the second of the MP3s is a full 55 minutes excerpt.

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Writes Watson, in the process of framing the recording:

The Sukau rainforest is a relatively narrow strip of primary forest either side of the banks of the river Kinabatangen in Sabah, Borneo. Access to the forest floor is very difficult as there are no trails, however at the back of the lodge where I was staying there was a narrow old and decaying boardwalk that led, snake like, through the dense undergrowth and out into what felt like another world. Each morning for over a week I left my lodge around 0400h and set off carefully along a zig zag pattern of soft and splintered planks into the velvet darkness. Either side of the red glow from my head torch fireflies and other unknown bioluminescent insects blinked and flashed their alien languages whilst dead ahead the small piercing red reflecting eyes of hunting bats streaked, missile like, directly towards me. On several mornings my GPS guided me to a favourite looping curve at the furthermost point of the 2Km trail where I could stop and fix my mikes in a tree whilst trying to bat off the myriad host of mosquitos that quickly find anything warm blooded that is stationary. I rigged and set away the recording before quietly moving off, my ears straining to hear the distant songs of gibbons, the shrieks of macaques and the low whistle of a pitta. Sunrise, such as it is 30m below the canopy, is also accompanied by the slow drip of condensation percolating down through the grey green gloom from a canopy 30m above as the forest is slowly revealed.

More on Framework at frameworkradio.net. More on Watson at chriswatson.net. The DVDR was produced by touchmusic.org.uk. (Satellite image via Google Maps.)

By Marc Weidenbaum

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