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Project details

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 gathered

The 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.



During the summer of 2021, Mhairi Hall and field recordist David de la Haye were commissioned by the Scottish Freshwater Group alongside Newcastle University to explore and record underwater soundscapes sourced from the Cairngorms, Mhairi’s native homeland. As part of the delivery of their findings, they composed a piece of music inspired by and using these unique freshwater sounds, called ‘The Boatmen of Garten’ (link attached to end of form). This project is hereby know as the pilot.

This initial project came about through both Mhairi and David''''s interest in recording environmental sounds and field recording. They had been in touch, sharing audio and advice for many months. However, Mhairi had never recorded sound underwater. This project was not only environmentally fascinating, but it also offered an introductory learning opportunity for her.

Freshwater habitats remain largely undocumented throughout the UK, and have never been recorded in this area. This initial creative project was largely exploratory and, incredibly, within one day they uncovered truly fascinating, inspirational and varied soundscapes. During this brief time they visited five lochs each offering a different selection of unique sounds, an audiological glimpse into a hidden world. Some of these sounds are identifiable through David''''s ongoing research alongside an international team of freshwater researchers, but many remain unknown.

Mhairi used these sounds as inspiration, giving a new perspective of her familiar homeland, to create the bones of a new composition. After she had taken the musical composition as far as she could, she passed it back to David who then, using his sound engineering experience applied some interesting effects such as filtering the piano sound through the water recording. ''''The Boatmen of Garten'''' became a joint creation, and both felt this experience could and should be expanded into a larger project. Their pilot was a real success on many levels and the feedback they received was incredible. Listeners were able to tune into and empathise with an otherwise unknown world.


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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