snowflakes & pancakes


doel“Do you have a reservation?”

Quoi? Ehm no, we didn’t. He pulled down the corners of his mouth, but showed us a table when we announced we just wanted to have a drink. Something hot for me, underdressed as always, and a Belgian beer for Anna. Its taste led to a lecture on high versus low fermentation by the waiter, who had turned unhurriedly friendly as soon as we’d settled down comfortably in restaurant De Molen, in the shadow of the nuclear power plant in Doel, Oost Vlaanderen.
another house in doelAnna had invited me to come along as part of her Urbex Night Photography project. With her camper van she travels to remote locations all over Europe, to take photos in deserted buildings at night. She adds to this particular kind of urban exploration by asking artists from other disciplines to create a work of their own, using the environment.
My original idea was to bring some drums and other sound makers and film and record them in different spaces, so I could make a film of a few minutes in which the varying accoustics shape a piece of music. But when I realised most spaces in Doel are abandoned houses with similar acoustics, I discarded the idea of bringing stuff and decided to use sounds I hoped to find there.
Before fleeing into the restaurant, we’d been walking through the village, looking for good spots. Found a house with promising spaces for photography and a lot of things that could make sound: bits of metal, cans, and best of all, an enormous fuel tank with a beautiful low boom in the garden. Cracked eaves provided the groove for my piece, polyrhythmic water drops that I amplified by placing plastic jerrycans under the drip. A great collection of sounds and images, to be captured when it was light again the next day.

That night, as well as the next, Anna shot some great – and somewhat sinister – images. I had fun running around with various coloured torches and admired her ability to see exactly what filter was needed, where the light should come from, how to pick the perfect camera angle.

Funny how a personal relationship grows with the places you work at. Could be a theatre location, a venue somewhere, or apparently an almost abandoned village; they all start feeling like home when you spend time there, doing your work. Unfortunately, the next day our home had noisy neighbours – I think the complete urbex community was out taking pictures that Sunday, along with a crew of kids revving their newly tuned engines and speeding through the windy streets. Hoping for more silence on Monday, we retreated to our restaurant for pancakes and hot chocolate.

frozen sounds
We came back on Monday and recorded the street in image and sound. I planned this shot, in which we see & hear the empty street with a creaking board hanging off a roof waving in the wind, as the backdrop for the rest of my track. The whirling snow flakes and the howl of the wind added frozen drama. Whilst silently wishing the remaining loudmouthed urbex-photographers to the chuds, we shot a good five minutes – waiting for the impressive church bells at noon, to end the film with. Sadly, their sound was mostly blown away by the vicious north-east wind that was numbing our hands, but that’d be fixed with an overdub.
Next: our garden. The gardeners just outside (what exactly is the park department doing in an empty village?) didn’t seem to care about us entering places with “no trespassing” signs.
Like everything else that day, the water in the eaves had frozen. Not to be discouraged easily, we heated a bottle of water in our mobile home. Then, just as the camera and sound recorder were ready and I reached up to melt the ice, the gardener’s coffee break was over and they fired up their chainsaws.

We went and had more pancakes. To be continued when it’s warm. What’s that book again, in which in spring all the sounds people tried to play in winter, finally come out of the trumpet?