Written by Audio

Hrafn: Conversations with Odin


What did you do as the sun set on Sunday evening?

I found myself lying under a pine tree at the edge of Kielder Forest in Northumberland, near the village of Stonehaugh, listening to a roost of ravens.

The sun went down, the wind was up, and a soft rain fell. But about 80 of us were listening to the ravens.

And they weren’t even there.

We were listening to a recording, pieced together from live recordings made in a Welsh forest by Chris Watson. Hrafn: Conversations with Odin was a sound installation in the forest itself. Above our heads, well camouflaged, were speakers creating a remarkable acoustic effect. Slowly but surely, two thousand ravens were arriving in the forest.

It was quite an hypnotic experience lasting a full forty minutes as the sun set in the cloudy sky above us.

As you might anticipate, mid-October in rural Northumberland, the weather could be mixed. But in fact, the wind and the rain added to the experience. I’ve no idea how they secured those speakers into the trees, but I know they were there hidden beyond our gaze. And I know firsthand that pine trees sway an awful lot in the wind.

The whole production was produced by Chris Watson (who’s course I attended recently) and Iain Pate. It was funded by Jerwood Open Forest, comprising of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation and the Forestry Commission.

Ravens do seem to be an interesting bird. At “Hrafn” (which is Old Norse for Raven), we were told of Hunginn and Muninn, the pair of ravens from Norse mythology who would fly across the land listening out for information that they would report back to Odin. Ravens are some of the most intelligent birds, and they have larger brains than many species, and use a broader range of calling sounds. Could their communication be deeper than that of other birds? That was a suggestion we were left with

They’re use in ancient mythologies from many places, which probably explains why authors from Edgar Allen Poe to JRR Tolkien and George RR Martin have used them in their literature.

The hope is that more ravens will repopulate our landscapes. Have a liten to “ravens” as they featured at the start of the year on Radio 4’s Tweet of the Day.

So was it all worth me leaving home at 7.45am on Sunday morning, getting the train up to Newcastle, and then going on an hour long coach trip to reach the forest, before heading back?

Certainly. Although you’ll have to take my word for it, as the day I was there was the last of the four days of the installation.

But I also now know that I need to go back to Kielder sometime – a beautiful area that I’ve never visited before.