In the last 8 months (mid-2008) I’ve made a number of recordings of old, and as far as I can tell, abandoned telegraph lines. My friend Toomas has a step-grandfather who was a telephone repairman during the Soviet times and kindly let me borrow his old pole climbing “shoes” (which are metal claws hammered out from discarded WWII gun barrels that you strap to your boots). On a good day, with the right wind velocities and direction, the wires “sing”, creating aeolian harp and other effects that clearly resonates down through the dried wooden body of the pole. The sound quality is obviously different depending on if you attach contact mics to the pole or directly to the wires. With a good dry pole that picks up the resonant drones it’s even possible to record the sound acoustically. Then there’s the next step with climbing up the poles and attaching contact mics directly to the wires. This gives a louder, more pure tonal sound (but requires getting up the already shaky poles.
What can be seen and heard here is a clear reminder of the amazing work of Alan Lamb. Alan Lamb has been working with recording telegraph wires since the mid-1970s when he set up an experimental lab on a piece of land he bought in the outback of Western Australia (thanks to Camilla and Eamon for relaying stories). His research continues to today at the WIRED Lab which has some thorough documentation and recordings of aeolian wires (and more). I first heard Alan’s work on Primal Image released in 1995 on the Dorobo label, a landmark CD which continues to inspire to this day.
Fortunately there is an abundance of locations to choose from around South Estonia and I try to make regular visits to the sites depending on the weather conditions. From experience I can say that all poles and wires have their unique qualities making the recording process a constant field for exploration. The recordings are below are direct except for some minor equalization and level adjustment.
harmonic remains at Ruusa – contact mics on wires (4:28):
harmonic remains at Luhamaa contact mics on pole (4:47):
UPDATE: As of 2013 many of the wires and poles have been cleared, especially along the railroad tracks which have been upgraded. As I can attest, many of the poles were in poor condition and lines were not in use. There are very few left now and I was lucky to record the ones when I did. Recordings and video footage of the telegraph lines were featured in my film “Sound Aspects of Material Elements“.