Underwater Cairngorms

An Càrn Gorm is the Gaelic name for Cairngorm mountain. From the summit, spectacular views of the valleys in Badenoch and Strathspey reveal many bodies of water; lochs and rivers…Underwater Cairngorms explores the aquatic sounds of these ancient freshwater sites.

What We Do

Underwater Cairngorms is funded by Creative Scotland and supported by Buglife, Nature Scot and the Cairngorms National Park Authority. Underwater Cairngorms is a unique partnership fusing the arts and environmental sciences, following on from their pilot project in 2021. It will pioneer gathering acoustic data from Badenoch and Strathspey. It is an innovative project which will engage the public with the surrounding environment through new music whilst generating novel acoustic research based on site-specific recordings.Over a calendar year Underwater Cairngorms Mhairi and David will research the seasonal effects on the underwater soundscapes in five specific locations. They spend one week a season gathering sounds below the water and the environmental sounds above in the chosen locations. This will paint a complete acoustic audio picture. They will establish a digital sound library for these locations, thus creating a baseline for ongoing and future studies.Mhairi and David will use the site specific sounds to compose an experimental musical suite of newly commissioned pieces that will reflect and be inspired by the waterscapes, blending the audio gatheredThe new music and sound library will form the content for Phase 2 of this project; the ‘Cairngorm Sound Trail’. Five sound installations will be situated at the freshwater locations within the Badenoch and Strathspey area. These installations will enable everyone to experience and enjoy the newly composed music, and the underwater field recordings sourced from the chosen locations offering visitors a unique, creative and artistic experience that exposes the wonder and ecological diversity of these special surroundings.

The Team

Mhairi Hall

Mhairi Hall has been a professional musician for over twenty years. Classically trained on the piano, she crossed genres at a young age and found her love in Gaelic and Scottish music. She has performed extensively throughout Europe, Canada, North America touring with a variety of artists and recording on over fifty albums. She famously took a grand piano to the top of Cairngorm mountain to launch her first album Cairngorm! Mhairi’s recent career has progressed into the recording studio for composition and music production. Airs her latest release saw her collaborate with Scottish landscape artist Beth Roberston Fiddes, and for this she received the Ignition Award for Innovation in Music from Hands up for Trad. Experimenting with natural sounds both from the piano and the environment is at the heart of Mhairi’s music. Her current project Underwater Cairngorms will span a calendar year researching the aquatic sounds of her homeland with sound recordist David de la Haye.

David De La Haye

David de la Haye is a pioneering sound recordist, contemporary composer, and music technician. Recent achievements include winning a Sound Of The Year Award, and nominations for an Ivor Novello Composer Award (Jazz Ensemble category) and Times Higher Education Outstanding Technician of the Year. Specialising in the exploration of underwater soundscapes he has completed notable commissions for Sound and Music, British Ecological Society, BBC Radio, and COP26 at Glasgow Science Centre.David's field recording work on the acclaimed documentary ‘Iorram (Boat Song)’ is probably the first Gaelic credit for underwater sound recordist - Clàradh fuaim fon uisge! It used a unique collection of underwater seal vocalisations recorded while aboard the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s research vessel in 2019. These were later added to the British Library and featured by Countryfile Magazine.Currently a PhD researcher at Newcastle University, where he was once a member of the award-winning technical team, he continues to develop an eclectic collaborative portfolio which includes international tours, artist residencies, educational workshops, and public installation.@DJCdelaHaye

The Locations

Loch Garten and Loch Mallachie; We sampled this loch during the pilot, and discovered a variety of sounds. This area is very popular for tourists, bird watchers and locals alike.River Feshie; in the vicinity of the Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail. A new sound installation here will compliment and support the decay of the current art trail. Mhairi has spent many years walking round this Sculpture Trail, and watched it decay as the artist intended.Loch Morlich; one of the most famous lochs in Scotland, and a very popular tourist destination all year round. This loch is important because of it’s popularity for water sports, swimmers, walkers, skiers. We aim to educate and provide awareness to the visitors who enjoy this spot, encouraging ecological sensitivity alongside the recreational activities. There is adequate car parking for full accessibility. They explored this loch with a kayak during their initial research, and found some interesting, unidentifiable, very deep sounds that warrant further research.Lochan Uaine; an interesting and unique biodiversity to be explored. This loch is popular due to its striking green colour. Some people swim in it, most enjoy the walk to it and around Glenmore. It sits in a peaceful valley where historically it used to be full of illicit whiskey stills.An Lochan Uath; a peaceful area with a selection of smaller, sheltered lochans. It has a walking routes, an incredible viewpoint, and accessible bird hides. It is lesser known that the other lochs but again is promoted within the CNPA as a visitor attraction for the stunning views, and being fairly remote.Creatively combining experimental music, environmental sound and acoustic ecology is at the heart of Underwater Cairngorm. It has been successfully piloted through ‘The Boatmen of Garten’ which has uncovered a unique opportunity. Underwater Cairngorm will transform these places through the imagination in a uniquely creative way. It will also present real and very important scientific data that can be used to help preserve, raise awareness and further knowledge of this area in Scotland which aren’t just tourist attractions but also habitats to many species. Underwater Cairngorm will put Scotland on the worldwide map for creatively gathering and presenting these unique sounds that belong to our waterscapes and ecologies.Underwater Cairngorms seeks to document the environmental challenges of these freshwater locations and deliver them in a creative, musical way that is accessible to the general public. The catalogue of sounds will be used as a baseline for future research, not only on the season effects but also the environmental changes that are happening in our world. The information gathered will contribute to bio acoustic research that is being carried out in other parts of the UK and world. This will add Scotland to the worldwide findings and Underwater Cairngorms has scope to lead the way with this creatively, and could present the opportunity to be rolled out across other areas in Scotland.

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