Soundscape Røst (2010-2021) is an ongoing, artistic engagement that listens to, and documents the rapidly changing soundscapes of the Røst archipelago in Nordland, Northern Norway-Sápmi. Soundscape Røst is listening to climate change and loss of biodiversity, the dramatic decline of the pelagic seabird populations, and the silencing of the bird mountains as a grim result. Soundscape Røst documents the acoustic realities of a marine land -and seascape over time and listens to nature-culture in an everlasting continuum of interdependency; the seabird breeding colonies, the marine mammals, the fisherfolk, the annual ancient “Skrei” (Atlantic Cod) spawning and the Lofoten/Fissko fisheries (Feb-April), sheep farmers and the local Røst commune and it´s infrastructure. Soundscape Røst is also listening to biologists studying the seabirds breeding on Røst as “environmental indicators” and the monitoring of the seabirds during the annual breeding season, as well as social-political developments affecting the currents and oceans surrounding the Røst archipelago.
In 2020 the Røst human community counted 498 souls. The population that now includes me since 2015, makes their living mainly from the fisheries and infrastructure needed to sustain a small community 110 kilometers into the Atlantic Ocean. Røst was to a large degree self-sufficient far into the mid 20th century.
Artists, writers, filmmakers, and photographers have always found inspiration on Røst, so I am one in a line of many including Theodor Kittelsen, Thorolf Holmboe, Carl Schøyen, Carl Dons, Per Høst, Kaare Espolin Johnson, Eva Harr, Lucian Fabro (Artscape Nordland), as well as and photographers such as Mittet, Wilse, Røstad and many, many, more. The recent book “Røst – Ytterst i Lofoten” by Einar Stamnes on Orkana Forlag, is a good source for a thorough social and nature-cultural story of Røst.
I am continuously tracing and gathering oral, written, filmed, and photographed Røst archival material. Myths, literature, and texts describing the sonic environments throughout time, as well as sonic, and visual material (film, images and paintings). Swizz scientists came to Røst as early as in the 1920s and The University of Bern led by zoologist professor Beat Tschanz (1920-2013) with colleagues and students, did ongoing behavioral and bioacoustics research on Guillemots and their chicks on the bird mountain of Vedøya and Røst from 1956 until 1981.
Seabird specialist Dr. Tycho Anker-Nilssen (NINA/Seapop) has been doing fieldwork and studies on Røst and The Nykan nature reserve since the late ’70s.
Soundscape Røst has since its birth in August 2009, become an archive of my own field recordings and interviews, including a lexicon of “archival material” I have gathered from a variety of sources and archival institutions. It has given birth to an album trilogy. The first album. “Soundscape Røst- Spaces and Species Vol I” was released in 2012 (Re-released in 2021on Gruenrekorder) and the upcoming second album “Soundscape Røst- Spaces and Species Vol II” will be released Feb 2022 on Gruenrekorder (DE) / Leynar Recordings. Soundscape Røst is also a series of concerts, spatialized multi-channel sound installations, and performances. The latest work «Vedøya – lament to the bird mountain who lost it’s voice #1», a multichannel sound and textile installation, tells the story of the bird mountain Vedøya, from its geological birth through its history as a bird sanctuary to how it lost its voices: the work speaks of the significance of the mountain for the lives of birds and people throughout the millennia. The composition process weaves together a narrative voiceover, field recordings from Vedøya between 2010-2021, newly composed music, accordion improvisations around a folk song, and archival sound. Elin Már has conducted research interviews with local people and neighbors, archaeologists, linguists, historians, botanists, and more. These interviews and research inspire the musical material and the poetic narrative. The sonic work is embraced by duojar Venke Tørmænen’s draped plant-colored textile work and played through sound engineer Paal Rasmussen’s specially built 8 channel speaker system.
The installation Soundscape Røst – The Listening Lounge (2012) was bought by the National Museum of Norway in 2020, and the 8 channel “sound-film” Røster (2012-2021) was recently bought by NNKM- Northern Norwegian Art Museum.
About Røst – from Seapop.no
Røst municipality (67° 30’ N 12° 00’ E) is a small collection of islands, more than 100 km west of Bodø and the Norwegian /Sámi mainland. With its extreme location, Røst is the southwesternmost part of Lofoten and Vestfjorden /Vestasjieggi, Norway-Sápmi´s largest archipelago and fjord area. The distinctive topography at Røst offers everything from open landscape to steep bird cliffs and covers a land area of 10.4 km2. The largest of the islands is the flat Røstlandet in the northeast, where the residents of the municipality live (515 inhabitants in 2018). There we also find the airport and Røstlandet Nature Reserve (established in 1997) with rich wetland areas. To the southeast lies the Røstøyan conservation area where the high bird islands lie in a row; Vedøy, Storfjellet, Ellefsnyken, Trenyken and Hernyken, with Skomvær lighthouse as the outermost point. The Nykan Nature Reserve (established in 2002) includes Ellefsnyken, Trenyken and Hernyken. Røst is surrounded by open sea, and the archipelago lies on a shallow plateau with hundreds of islets and skerries. The tidal range is 2-3 meters, creating strong tidal currents and difficult waters for boat travelers.
In addition to being in the center of the world-famous Lofoten/Lofuohta fishery of spawning cod in late winter, Røst is best known for its large population of breeding Atlantic puffins Fratercula arctica. At the end of the 1970s, Røst not only had Norway’s largest seabird colony, but also the world’s largest puffin colony with nearly 1.5 million breeding pairs. Unfortunately, the population has since declined dramatically because of food shortages and failed chick production. However, at Røst you can also find other breeding seabird species, including northern fulmar Fulmarus glacialis, storm petrel Hydrobates pelagicus, Leach’s storm petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa, European shag Phalacrocorax Aristotelis, common eider Somateria mollissima, black-legged kittiwake Rissa tridactyla, common guillemot Uria aalge, razorbill Alca torda, and black guillemot Cepphus grylle. Even today these populations are small compared to the puffin population, and many have declined.
There is no other site in Norway-Sápmi, north of the Polar Circle, where so many bird species have been registered as at Røst. The overall species list counts close to 300 species. Much of the reason for this lies in the extreme location and varied landscape. Seabirds come in close and the wetlands attract many wildfowl and waders. During autumn migration, Lofoten / Lofhuotaacts a funnel that runs out in Røst. Due to the overall lack of shrubs and trees, the small areas of vegetation in people’s gardens act as magnets for many passerines. There they are easy to spot, and more and more amateur ornithologists visit Røst in September-October to look for rarities.
Røst is first and foremost a fishing community, but during the seabird breeding season, fishing activity is low. The tourists visiting Røst during the summer are primarily interested in close encounters with the birdlife, but the rich stocks of cod, saithe, and halibut also attract many sport fishers. There are daily boat trips along the bird cliffs and, if the weather allows it, a tour around Skomvær lighthouse is offered.
NINA Norwegian Institute for Nature Research – Seapop fieldwork
With its large bird cliffs and unique location, Røst is a natural choice as a key site. Research on seabirds has been carried out here since the 1950s, and at Røst we find the longest monitoring series on seabirds in Norway-Sápmi.
Research on seabirds at Røst started at the end of the 1950s, and it has been continued through a number of projects. This long period of research makes the knowledge of the seabird populations here much greater than from other places along the Norwegian coast. This applies especially to the puffin population, which has been the focus of the most comprehensive studies at Røst. Today the monitoring includes around 20 seabird species, of which 10 are key species in SEAPOP. The work is led by NINA and is based at the institute’s field station at Hernyken (67°26’ N 11°52’ E).
The first field station at Hernyken consisted of a 7 m2 primitive cabin with dirt floor. It was built in the 1930s from an old wooden boat, which had been pulled ashore and turned upside down. When Svein Myrberget from “Statens Viltundersøkelser” from Ås started his research on puffins at Hernyken in 1964, he built a 10 m2 annex. This cabin served as a kitchen, bedroom, living room and working area for the field workers for 45 years. It was not until 2009 that it was replaced by a modern, fully insulated cabin. The institute also has a building on Vedøya at its disposal, a two-story log cabin that was moved there from Røstlandet at the end of the 1950s. It was used by Swiss professor Beat Tschanz and his students that conducted behavioral research on seabirds for 25 years.
Fieldwork usually starts with counts of the puffin population at Hernyken in the beginning of May. From early June, the field station is manned continuously for about two months until it closes at the beginning of August. For safety reasons, there are always two persons in the field and in the most demanding periods, there are usually 3-4 persons.
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