Record Mission: January 20, Mount Pirongia, and the Wickedy Waikato!

OK, Day 5 of record mission…epic coffee. I’ll hand it to the Tron, they know their coffee.

Bellies full and happy, we set off with our gear up mount Pirongia. This is where the mission gets serious. Previously we had been driving to locations and setting up our rig out of the back of the 4WD, (making sure it’s engine wasn’t ticking, of course). But now, we had our mics, stands and recorders in our backpacks as we hiked up some serious vertical tracks. OK, maybe not vertical or even actually that steep, but it was still a mission with heavy gear strapped to our backs, especially since we are generally a little unfit and had drunk a fair few wines the night before.

So along the way we stopped at a few locations and set up our gear. At the first place I thought to take out my phone and just take some notes, so I’ll include them here. Pretending that they are excerpts from my explorers journal, lets start from the top…or the bottom of the hill as it were…

First location

12.30pm, I constantly meet tourists who have seen more of the country I live in than I have., despite the fact that I may have lived there for years. What’s more is that because they come from across the globe they feel like they may never return to your country so often spend more time engaging and taking in the souls and spirit of a place.
So perhaps when people find a place they love and think they would love to live in they should consider that perhaps it’s better to love a place and take time to value it, long for it and miss it than to live there and take it for granted as we so often tend to do.
Home is where the heart is and sometimes you don’t need to be there to feel the presence of home within your memories and within your heart.
When we go recording sound, we take time to engage with places – places both beautiful and ugly – rare and commonplace. We take each location for what it is.
Right now I’m sitting in one of the more beautiful pieces of New Zealand Forest that I’ve been in for a while. Surrounded by native birds, stunning ferns, giant rimu and rata. Light rain just started sprinkling though the canopy and the birds have gone bananas. Lots of wing flaps of the Kereru and crackles of the damp forest have just lifted the ambience up a notch.
What is particularly special about this place is the fact that the rain is keeping the summer cicadas at bay.


Second location.

1.30pm, Just had a close encounter with a fantail. Sadly, we didn’t have a microphone set up close to where we are sitting. Fan tails, being the cheeky little fellas that they are, sat next to us and started his whole rant. All I had to capture his song with was the iPhone. We’ve never managed to get a nice recording of a fantail up close with a good mic. As common as it is to see them, capturing their voice is such a hard thing to do. Sometimes just getting the sound with what you have is good enough. Capturing sounds on the go is just as important as making the effort to do the good recordings with the awesome mics. Just like fishing it’s about being in the right spot at the right time and having your line in the water. When it comes to gathering sounds, the water is everywhere. Our world is alive with sounds, so it helps if your fishing line (microphone) is always with you and ready to go.
By the time we had grabbed a better mic the fantail had gone. However, we did get a nice fly passing around in front of the mic. It’s also about taking what you get. And serendipity has a way of offering you alternatives to what you were aiming for that are just as good, or occasionally even better.
As was the case the other day when we were driving to a spot of bush and Dave noticed a spider on his leg. We pulled over, to let the spider out of the car, (unfortunately it was slightly squashed at that stage), and just by the side and the road we saw a secret hidden path into the pine forest. The path was thick with scrub and the car got a jolly good scraping, but the forest we recorded there was our best so far. Oh boy the fantail has just returned. Let me see if I can adjust the mics and catch his elusive song.

Third location.

2.30pm, 3 hours hike from the main summit of mount Pirongia, looks like we won’t make it to the top as it’s now 2:15 and we have only half a bottle of water. At least we will reach the first summit though, only another hour or so to the top. Man I need to wee. Lucky I brought the toilet paper.
Pretty air. Still hardly any cicadas and I don’t think there are any non-native birds up here either.
Dave is just further down the path talking to some hikers who are telling us that there is no Kokako up here, but he’s giving us some good info on where we might have some luck. Heaps of flies just here, and less canopy since we are higher so all the trees are shorter. We’re about 40 mins drive out of Hamilton and so there is a little bit of air traffic too. But this short jaunt has gotten me thirsty for hiking higher and staying over night in a Rangers hut so we can get a real good dawn and dusk chorus as well as night time buzz.

Fourth location.

Finally at the summit. It’s 3:49pm. Lots of flies and hot. No sunscreen. So a mountain bug file I guess. Would be lovely air track at night. There is also quite a few planes so, there you go. This whole climb has been about reaching the top, as that is so often the goal in life…but it seems the journey was not only more pleasant, but most likely, more meaningful in terms of what we achieved. Is that not like most things in life. We are so fixed in getting to the end and reaching all our objectives that we so often fail to see the path we are on as being the ultimate destination. Each footstep is headed in a forward direction, but each place in which the foot lands is special, important and worthy of our attention.
These stretches of time while we are recording are filled with opportunities for reflection and contemplation of the moment. I’m constantly aware of the present and the many sounds that accompany me where ever I may be. At this present moment, I happen to be getting sunburned. So I guess it’s time to move on.


Fifth location.

4:20pm, Just back down the track a little way from summit. Tucked back under the canopy. Sounds much nicer already and a lot cooler to boot. Sparse birds and much less flies. There was one cicada, but he seems to have shut up for now (after some persuasion with a few rocks). There’s a constant rumbling of the peak hour airport noise, but I reckon we could roll that off pretty easily as it is so distant. What I like about this spot, is there’s a few really nice leaf drops happening. Not much of a breeze but the odd leaf fall is nice.
It’s a funny thing recording sound. I feel like if I wasn’t recording professionally, and just had a basic recorder like the Sony m10, catching sounds simply for my own private record, it would still be a very meaningful process.
I think if I just sat for 20 minutes at a time and listened to the sounds but wasn’t recording I wouldn’t quite get the same mental connection to the moment. I think this is the same effect that distinguishes simply sitting and having a ponder, versus sitting and writing down one’s thoughts. If you are going through a process of physically recordings thoughts, sights, or sounds, it’s like you are doing a little dance with the world around you. Taking a second to connect, to share, to exchange. Nature offers itself to you and you offer your full attention though a commitment to log that moment. Even if you never read the words again, or listen back to the sounds, or you perhaps even lose the photograph, it wouldn’t matter. Each one of these actions is actually more about the moment it was created than the end result of the work left behind. As all artists will tell you, the artwork is but a residue, a shadow of a moment shared between artist and inspiration. A moment that came and went.


Sixth location.

5:30, Halfway back to the bottom. Nice moment before the dusk chorus. Birds are more chilled, the bugs are a little slower and the people are starting to fade fast. And by people, I just mean us, and by fade i mean – growing weary. We have only seen a few people hiking all day. It’s been great to have such long stretches without disturbation. It’s getting late though and we have more friends to catch up with tonight. I’m starving. All we ate today was some eggs for breakfast and a Nut bar. The one bottle of water has saved us, but we are both very dehydrated and won’t last much longer. Oh choice, I think it’s starting to sprinkle again. Nice way to end the record day.


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