About Soundscape Røst

Kittiwakes and Guillemots in Gjellfruvær, Røst, June 2010. Photo: Carsten Aniksdal

Soundscape Røst is an ongoing sound art project, that investigates and documents the changing soundscapes of the Røst archipelago in Nordland, northern Norway, and it´s struggling and endangered pelagic seabird populations, as well as the living coastal culture here.

It tries to unveil the sound history by looking into archive material, interviewing elders and collecting literature describing the sound environments of the many islands and islets of Røst. It also looks into the early bio acoustic experiments with Guillemots done by Swiss scientist from Bern university in the 50-ies and the 60-ies.

Soundscape Røst has since it´s beginning in 2009 become an archive of field recordings and interviews. It has given bith to a record release, “Soundscape Røst- Spaces And Species Vol I” as well as the interactive sound sculpture “Play Kittiwake”, currently touring as part of the Horizonic exhibition (www.horizonic.net) and her Nordic Sound Art graduate work from April 2012, “Soundscape Røst-The Listening Lounge”. Elin Øyen Vister is currently composing a sound work for eight speakers in collaboration with BEK and Trond Lossius in Bergen, Norway, to be premiered at her first solo exhibition taking place at Tromsø Kunstforening, opening on October the 19th 2012.

Soundscape Røst is funded by  the Norwegian Arts Council, City Council of Nordland and Komponistenes Vederlagsfond.


“The United Nations declared 2010 To Be the International Year of Biodiversity. The world is invited two take action in 2010 two safe guard the variety of Life on earth: biodiversity.” http://www.cbd.int/2010/welcome/)

Lundene i Johannesura, Hernyken, Røst 2011. Foto: Elin Øyen Vister

Pelagicseabirds such as Kittywake, Puffin, Razor Bill, Common Guillemot, Tystie (Black Guillemot), feed primarily by diving in the water. They spend most of the year out at sea but return to mainland to breed in birdcliffs between March and August. The Røst archipelago of the Northern coast of Norway holds the most numerous seabird colony in Europe. The Puffin is according to Norwegian polar-biologist Tycho Anker Nilsen:

“The most numerous seabird breeding in mainland Norway with ca 1,7 million pairs spread in 35-40 colonies along the coast…The vaste majority of these birds breed in Northern Norway west of the North Cape, with the largest number in the Røst Archipelago, at the tip of the Lofoten Islands.”

Puffins swarming, Storfjellet, Røst, July 2010. Foto: Anja Høvik Strømsted

There has been a steady decline in the pelagic seabird populations of the coast of Northern Norway since the 70íes. Most, but not all populations are struggling. There is not enough food in the ocean. Why ? Scientist don´t know the exact reason yet, but there are several theories and research into the matter is being done by amongst others Nina, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research: Seapop (www.seapop.no)

Collapses of the herring and caplin stock in the 60s and 80´s, due to excessive fishing is a major part of the problem. Research done so far also indicates that climate changes affects seabirds. The seabirds in question are redlisted in Norway, and in August 2009 biologist Tycho Anker-Nilssen reported that there was no surviving chicks from breeding seasons of 2009 Puffins on Røst. The last successful breeding season was in 2006. The grown Puffins could barely sustain their own lives and were leaving their nests and seeking food closer to main land, into the fjords and towards the city of Bodø. This has never happened before. The Kittiwake population was also struggeling heavily and this trend is seen across most colonies in Norway and in many other colonies of seabirds around the world.

Another major threat to the future of the Puffin and arctic seabirds is the search for oilreserves along the Norwegian Coast and the Barents Sea. Potential oilspills in these areas would be a terrible and irreversible disaster. It is home and also breeding ground for many fish species, such as cod and herring, and thus home and breeding ground for pelagic seabirds and home of precious oceanic ecosystems. The health of the fishstocks are also vital for the local fishermen and their communties.

The arrival (March) and departure (August) of the pelagic seabirds have defined the life on the archipelago of Røst for centuries. Today their exsistence on Røst is still a major source of income due to generated tourism. In the years leading up to the 1960´s Puffin, and eggs of  the other seabirds, was a crucial part of human diet together with cod, herring, and other fish species, – cooked , dried, salted and so on. There´s even a Puffin dog only found in this part of the world. The seabirds are vital to Røsts identity. And the magical variation of sound of the Pelagic seabirds and it´s natural soundscape are rapidly changing due to environmental changes, and this artproject seeks to shed light on how and why we need to preserve and protect the seabirds and other endangered species and their natural habitats and soundscapes.

The birdmoutains of The Røst Archipelago: Hernyken, Trenyken, Ellevsnyken, Storfjellet, Vedøy. Foto: Håvard Ellingsen