Production: Iceland Part 2

You never know from hour to hour or day to day just what weather is coming, so you have to grab every opportunity available and be ready when it happens.

If you read Part 1 of the Icelandic production documentation, you’ll know weather watching goes with the territory here…or anywhere really when you’re planning to do outdoor film or sound recording. I have the Norweigan weather app, Yr, and the Icelandic weather website loaded on my phone for viewing and comparison several times a day.

By the end of the third week in September, we had a break in the weather, allowing me to get the drone out over several days. I managed to get about an hour of footage all up across two sites, not including a session on the Höfði (the Cape) helping document the work of another artist. With winds at 3.5km/hour, the Mavic Pro is easy enough to fly in the way I’ve been practising. However, as soon as it bumps up to 7-10km/h, things get trickier with hovers and landings. Professional drone operators will probably scoff at this, but I’m not trying to fly my drone in a conventional way, which is partly why I ended up buying my own. It was just too hard to explain to a drone operator that I wanted to mimic the movement of a bird – with tumbles and swoops, and rough landings, rather than just produce professional drone footage.

Icelandic horses grazing on seaweed by Kim V. Goldsmith

During that week of wet weather, by day three I simply suited up in my waterproof outer layers and took my hardy Olympus Tough Tracker to the swollen stream on the moor to get footage of the rushing water and rain across the bay from perches on fence posts and the stones beside the stream. I’ve practised some ‘swooping’ moves with the handheld cameras to mimic the landing movements of the birds – no doubt a strange sight to have observed from a distance. One of the things I’ve noticed watching the “bæjar hrafnar” (municipal ravens, or raven pair who have made the town their home) is their flights are not always smooth and they land roughly and awkwardly at times. Their airborne manoeuvres sometimes include tumbles, sudden drops and rapid changes of direction. This was something I hadn’t noticed so much in the flight patterns of Australian Ravens. Perhaps our air currents aren’t so turbulent? So, I’ve had to try and replicate these movements of Corvus corax (European or Common Raven) in the air and on the ground with the cameras I’ve got.

Filming in the rain, Skagastrond Iceland

As October established itself, along with later sunrises and earlier sunsets heralding the coming of dark winter days, two more raven pairs joined the bæjar hrafnar. It wasn’t an incident-free gathering, with the original pair fighting off one of the newcomers in a violent tumble of feathers over the bay outside the studio late one morning. Over the next couple of days though, another pair had joined the group and the single victim’s mate had made an appearance. Now, the six of them track from the Höfði to somewhere south of the moor where the horses graze and back again each day. Occasionally, one or two will come to rest on the roof of a building in town – one morning just after sunrise two of them perched on the spire of the church outside my bedroom window. As I learned in an interview with long-time Skagaströnd local, Sigrún Lárusdóttir, that doesn’t bode well for someone.

My chat with Sigrún covers much raven territory, including the English explanation of a folktale she told me in Icelandic for the project, through to her feelings about the future of ravens in Iceland, where they’re still persecuted. The collection of this local information on the birds has been an important component of my project here and in Australia.

I record the sound for my videos separately, using a variety of microphones to capture both atmospheric and macro sound. My time at the Nes Artist Residency has given me the luxury to play more with sound generation and mixing. While it’s something I’ve been doing for some years now, here, I’ve been able to experiment with some techniques that require a bit more time to get the desired results, things such as data bending, inverting, tone and noise generation. One of the interesting techniques has been taking the low-frequency hum from some recordings and using it on its own as the bed track to build up a sound mix. I’ll talk more about that in my next post on post-production.

Kim V. Goldsmith recording atmospheric sound by a stream

One of the things I have been neglecting to do over the past few weeks is to gather enough VR footage. It’s not so much a case of neglect really, but more a case of how to remove me from the video when there are so few places to hide in the Icelandic landscape that still allow you to be within Wi-Fi range of the camera. I decided to dedicate an afternoon to it in the past week – a warm, almost windless, sunny afternoon. Knowing the mares and foals on the moor were gathered along the stream grazing and watering, I put the camera on a selfie stick on the edge of the stream bank. The moor is threaded with deep pads (pathways created by the horses), weaving between the tussocks, up to half a metre deep in places. I found one deep enough (and not too muddy) within close enough Wi-Fi range, and lay down in it. Having hit record, I settled in for what is usually at least five minutes of waiting soundlessly. A minute or so in, I could hear something over the top of me, breathing heavily. One of the mares had come close to see what I was up to. Startling her so she’d move away, I lowered my head again and kept the camera recording. To my delight, the Garmin Virb 360 captured her foal suckling before the mare moved down to the stream past the camera to drink at the river, while her foal followed and then moved away with her.

Curious Icelandic horse filmed by Kim V. Goldsmith

My second site that afternoon was the edge of the black pebbly beach on the moor, where the seaweed washes up on the tide. On one of my earlier successful drone flights, I’d captured the horses on the beach eating and rolling in the seaweed. There was a small, grass-covered mound on the moor edge near the beach, that if I curled myself into a small enough ball, I could use it to hide behind. So, I did – only to be found curled up in a ball on the edge of the beach by a fellow artist returning from a walk further up the moor. He looked puzzled. I then had to explain that he’s actually now in my 360 footage. At both sites, I used the 360 sound recorder – the Zoom H2n with inbuild XY and MS mics to record atmospheric sound from both sites. This will be used as a bed track to layer macro sounds with. I’m keen to get out with the contact mic and hydrophones in the next week or so to see what more I do with them that pushes their limits a bit more.

At some point soon I’ve got to decide that I’ve got enough footage and sound recordings and get on with post-production. I’ve come to accept that unlike the territory I covered in Australia, my range has been limited here…but so is the range of the ravens I’ve been observing. My ‘home’ region in Australia is also three times the size of the whole of Iceland, so with that in mind, I’m happy I’ve come to know the territory of Skagaströnd’s bæjar hrafnar well. I have everything crossed that the weather might behave itself for just one day so I can go further afield before it’s time to go.

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