Documentary and Sensory Media Air and Fire at Scout Moor WindFarm
It is no secret that renewable energy is the future. With climate change becoming one of the biggest threats to humankind, renewable energy, specifically wind turbines have surely become a preferred icon and source of energy. The smart, green and efficient looking three-bladed turbine standing high on the hill is in stark contrast to the traditional smoke, coal and darkness of the industrial age. The promise of the turbine’s ability to create renewable energy and harness the wind to create something useful, electricity, is life-changing for our planet. Rather than damaging the earth we now have the ability to turn something as simple as wind or air into electricity. On paper this sounds like magic or it sounds too good to be true…the truth is windfarms are one of the most controversial sites to exist. This project aims to visually and sonically interpret the space of windfarms, particularly looking at the presence of air and energy present at Scout Moor Windfarm, North Manchester.
Through exploring human and landscape interactions that occur in such spaces, and how humans interact with controversial sites this project aims to further understand why so much controversy surrounds the space of windfarms, that are ultimately the future of our planet. This essay will firstly discuss the background and history of Scout Moor windfarm then introduce the protests and controversy that surrounds the area. Through looking at reasons for the protests it will connect back to human and landscape interactions, specifically changing environments (Ingold, 2000) and discuss reasons windfarms are so heavily protested against. We will then discuss more specifically methods used for each audio and visual piece and connect back to works that inspired this particular project.
Site of Scout Moor Windfarm
This project is the result of five visits to Scout Moor over the course of three months between February and April 2021. Scout Moor windfarm is a 26-turbine site and is the second largest onshore windfarm in England. Built on open moorland the site occupies the space between Edenfield, Rawtenstall and Rochdale in the South Pennines, approximately 17 miles north of the city of Manchester. The windfarm was built and owned by Peel Wind Power Ltd and creates enough energy to supply around 40, 000 homes. (Whittaker, J, n.d). On a clear day it is visible from South Manchester and from the windfarm you can clearly see Manchester city highline, the Trafford centre and even as far as Liverpool docks. Being on such a visible open moorland means the farm has been home to much controversy and protests and a protest group was formed, mostly of local residents and farmers, to resist the proposed construction. Despite objections from residents and local councils, planning permission was granted in 2005 with constructing beginning in 2007 and the windfarm was officially opened on the 25th of September 2008. (Bolton News, 2008).
From visiting the windfarm several times over the course of three months in various weather and wind conditions it was evident no matter the weather you could always hear the gentle drone of the wind turbines shifting in the wind. On clearer, sunnier days the windfarm was scattered with hillwalkers, families, dog walkers, mountain bikers and even paragliders, yet many of the local community and farmers protested against the construction and expansion of the windfarm due to environmental, health reasons and a negative visual impact on the landscape. It became apparent the local community and farmers were widely opposed to a changing environment. The Rossendale conservative MP Jake Berry started a petition ‘Not On Our Hills’, calling for moratorium on the Pennine wind farms (National Wind Watch, 2014), a local farmer, Chris Thomas, said; "We are trying to promote this area as a wonderful place for walkers, runners, cyclists and riders to come and enjoy the wonderful views and scenery that we have…I think that the fact that this going to be turned into an industrial park is not on." (BBC, 2015) and local resident John Batchelor stating the windfarm would “create an industrial landscape…an unaesthetic view which isn’t acceptable” (BBC, 2016).
The global energy transition challenges local landscape cultures, networks and landscape perceptions (Drackle & Krauss, 2011) and this statement is particularly true for people living in close proximity to wind turbines. It is apparent the space of Scout Moor is home to much debate and controversy and there is an ongoing debate with respect to the relationship between reported health effects and wind turbines, specifically in terms of audible and inaudible noise. Noise is the most frequent complaint where the noise is described as piercing and preoccupying. The rural residents around Scout Moor are dealing with the constant drone of the turbines and the subtle yet toxic effects of infrasound emitted by the turbines, noting, sleep disturbance, headache, tinnitus, ear pressure and nausea. (Jeffrey, R: 2013). One particular report from Rossendale council looking into the reasons for objecting the expansion of Scout Moor on noise and health hazards stated, “It is now becoming much better understood that wind turbines may affect health through the generation of non-audible infra-sound causing pressure waves that are detectable by some (like sea sickness) and causes a range of symptoms including psychological disturbances and sleep loss, generally categorised as wind turbine syndrome.” (Rossendale Alive Borough Council, 2015). There was also an article published on Manchester evening news in 2011 titled ‘Windfarm worries: Woman believes turbines at Scout Moor are making her ill’. Local resident Nicola Brierley has reported of sleepless nights and ear pain complaining of severe tinnitus sine the arrival of the controversial farm in September 2008. These reported health concerns, specifically tinnitus as it is a sonic illness inspired us to create an experimental piece when looking at the presence of air at Scout Moor.
Noise and how noise travels through the air is specific to a particular cultural place and space and humans are embedded through sound as a phenomenon. Through looking into Scout Moor windfarm, it was clear noise can be used as a way to engage with surrounding environments. The drone of the turbines very much reflects how people choose to engage or not engage with this controversial site. After multiple trips to Scout Moor, it became evident the site is tangled with the presence of air and wind, whether it be the turbines spinning high on the moorland, the grass shifting and blowing in all directions or the multiple sounds of wind and air hitting off different surfaces and turbine blades. Tim Ingold (2007) in the article ‘Earth, sky, wind, and weather’ states, “To feel the wind, then, is to experience this commingling. While we did not touch it, we touched in it. A moment’s reflection reveals that what goes for tactile perception goes for visual and auditory perception as well.” (2007: 29). The wind and air are not something that you can physically touch, see or even hear but yet it is ever present and always around us. We understood fairly quickly in order to represent the space of Scout Moor accurately documenting the air and wind that represent and make up the sonic environment was of high importance. Michael Gallagher (2015) highlights the importance of field-recordings, how they generate a deeper awareness and knowledge of the world and how they can be performative. Through creating particular sound recordings at Scout Moor, we recorded in a soundscape style mixed with a soundwalk aiming to document the soundings of the windfarm and convey a sense of how the space feels and sounds. The soundscape was created on a Zoom H6 with a shotgun and stereo microphone. The field-recordings can be understood as contributing to the production of space and we hoped by creating a soundscape it would allow us to understand people’s sensory experiences of their physical environments (Ingold, 2000), and to invite the audience to imagine themselves at Scout Moor. We wanted to represent the space as we, the researchers, understood and imagined it but also how local residents understood experienced and imagined it (Pink, 2009). We were particularly interested in reported infrasound or inaudible noise reported by local residents who perhaps choose to engage with the space of Scout Moor or who actively choose not to engage but have no choice but to experience the sound of the air and wind. Drawing on inspiration from the article in the Manchester evening times (2011) we chose to look at tinnitus as a sonic illness. Using sound samples of tinnitus mixed with field-recordings of the turbines we created an experimental piece to produce further understandings of experience and knowledge to how certain local residents acknowledge the windfarm and how the turbines emit sound and interchange with the wind.
The sounds used were also mixed with images to further evoke the space of Scout Moor. Drawing on the article ‘The Sociological Image’ (Wolff, 2008) where images are understood to create further detail for observation and activate meanings unavailable to the written world, we wanted to create the presence of air and movement. Through using multiple exposure on the camera settings, shown in the first image in figure 1, we aimed to represent the movement of the blades of the turbines and reinforce the presence of air and wind at Scout Moor. For the tinnitus section, we wanted to create a disorientating and uncomfortable soundscape as to bring about an understanding of how certain local residents engage with the site and their feelings towards the windfarm. We wanted to make sure the images we used also echoed these feelings, which is why we choose to use a black and white image with layers of the turbines to echo the ringing and tinnitus. Local resident Nicola Brieley (Manchester Evening News, 2011) reported, "It sounds like a vibration and it is like a helicopter noise or a refrigeration unit”, we wanted the images to resonate with the vibrations and give a disorientating effect.
Through understanding the site of Scout Moor and windfarms more generally, it is evident one of the main reasons people protest against the construction is due to environmental reasons and changing environments. It is thought that reported health effects are likely attributed to a number of environmental stressors and it appears annoyance and health affects reported by residents towards turbines are linked to the change in environment and not a turbine specific variable like audible noise or infrasound. Wind turbines are highly visible objects and the response to wind turbine noise is thought to be possibly influenced by visual factors and windfarms being seen as an eye-sore on landscape. (Knopper and Ollson, 2011).
From personal experiences of being at the windfarm we witnessed mountain bikers, hikers, families out for walks, paragliders and locals flying model planes. When speaking to two local gentlemen about the windfarm they agreed it was an ideal place for outdoor sports and said, “I don’t think there’s any real downsides to them…there’s nothing ever going to be built up here, it’s good to see the land being used for a good cause”. Drawing on discussions from the book ‘An Anthropology of the landscape’ (Tilley & Cameron-Daum, 2017) we can understand the way different individuals and groups engage with environments. The landscape is contested however, depending on particular groups and people it is viewed in fundamentally different ways and can be understood in relation to those who use the landscape for work, farmers for example, and those who use it in their leisure time. By connecting notions of landscape to Ingold’s 1993 essay ‘The temporality of landscape’ (2000), we begin to understand that landscape develops through processes of temporality, expressed as ‘taskscape’ by Ingold. The taskscape is understood as the multitude of practises that people carry out in the temporal process of inhabiting their environment and the landscape emerges both socially and ecologically through ongoing activities that shape the land. For Ingold, the taskscape emphasises that landscape is not visual scenery or a backdrop to social life, but is a temporal phenomenon entangled with the dwelling of its inhabitants. (Ingold, 2000). Through these discussions of taskscape and perceptions of environment we can begin to understand why windfarms as such contested sites and reasons for protests against them are more so about changing environments and perceptions on landscape than anything else.
Through understanding individual and group perspectives on the windfarm, it was evident the majority of local residents opposed the windfarm due to visual impact it has on the landscape, commonly referred to as an eye sore. The space of Scout Moor is fundamentally a place of renewable green energy, and the job of the turbines is to harness wind energy and turn it into electricity. Whether you like the look of wind turbines or not I think the use of renewable, safe, environmentally friendly electricity is something the majority of people strive to use and would agree is the future of our planet.
John Pinder, owner of Granellis ice-cream Scout Moor, when asked about his thoughts on the windfarm said, “If it was a work of art, it would be all over the place and everybody would love it, in 50 years from now they will probably have protection orders up on them ‘you can’t take our windmills down…” In order to further highlight the space of Scout Moor as a place of renewable energy we decided to create a visual and sonic piece to make the invisible visible and try to visually and sonically represent the presence of energy at the windfarm. By bringing a different perspective and visually and sonically representing what is usually unseen we hope to change perceptions of the landscape and highlight the importance of renewable energy for the future.
In ‘The Sociological Image’ Wolff (2008) suggests images are understood to be themselves active in the social process, exposing what is hidden, proposing what is new and changing minds. By layering the turbines on top of each other and splitting them into three colours we hoped to create experimental images and try to visually represent the wind energy and electricity being produced. We decided to split the turbine into three colours, to represent the different aspects of electricity: hot, cold and ground. We also drew inspiration from the article ‘Thermal Vision’ by Nicole Starosielski (2019) who describes thermal vision as the way of seeing invisible thermal emission and exchanges, where thermal vision extends beyond the infrared camera to a broader set of practises of heat and cultural landscapes. While we have not used thermal vision or infrared cameras in this project the principle of seeing the invisible and reinforcing cultural landscapes Starosielski talks about inspired this project. Furthermore, through trying to sonically represent the sound of energy and electricity being created in the space of Scout Moor it became clear the space was in a way a huge musical composition and we decided to create our own musical soundscape to highlight the space and use of energy. While looking into different works and how to represent something that is usually not heard we came across the works of Sonic Rewild by Harry Ovington. This is an artistic research project that aims to create and promote a greater sense of connection between audiences and their surrounding environments and Harry uses composition and data sonification as tools to achieve this. Inspired by the works of sonic rewild we mixed isolated sounds of the drone of the wind turbines to reinforce the energy generation at work and mixed it with sounds of the instrument the didgeridoo. We choose this particular instrument as it is fundamentally a wind powered instrument similar to how the turbines work and generate sound. The erratic nature of the didgeridoo represented the flux of energy generation in the wind turbines and produced an experimental piece of work to represent the space of Scout moor in a visually and sonically different way.
This project ultimately highlights the place of Scout Moor windfarm and changing perceptions of the landscape. Through exploring how humans interact with the space of the windfarm, whether through protests or outdoor leisure sports, this project aimed to combine both audio and visual means to represent the windfarm in an alternative way and show interactions between people and wind-turbines based on understanding through ethnographic research.
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