Soundscape Røst – Season 1 – 2010

During the 4th edition of the wonderful San Fransisco Soundwave Festival we (myself and NY based artist Jason Rosenberg) exhibited Soundscape Røst – Season 1 at, The Lab Gallery, San Fransisco. It was apart of the interactive exhibition “The Illuminated Forest”. For more info :

Here are a selection of photos and text documenting how far we have come with the project after breeding season 1.

Pictures from the actual installation can be found here:

Soundscape Røst –Season 1

A site specific sound and collage installation documenting and investigating the Røst Soundscape and the state of the struggling and endangered pelagic seabird population on Røst; Kittywake, Puffin, Razor Bill, Common Guillemot, Black Guillemot and more.



Elin Øyen Vister  (sound/found objects) and Jason Rosenberg  (collage/drawings/found objects)

Origami birds by Anja Strømsted Høvik

Featuring photos taken by Carsten Aniksdal, Anja Strømsted Høvik, Jason Rosenberg, Håvard Eggen and Elin Øyen Vister


Supported by the Arts Council of Norway and Komponistenes Vederlagsfond.

Thanks to Soundwave Festival, their volunteers Stephen, Alvin and staff at The Lab, San Fransisco

This art project will carry on into 2012 due to the seasonal aspects of bird colonies (April – August) and so I can carry on sound monitoring the future development of the colonies on Røst. The final exhibition will be larger and include 2-3 seabird habitats, using projections, collage, sculpture and sensor technology forall senses, hearing, smell, taste, feel, seeing.  A CD containing soundscapes and composisions with an extensive booklet is also to be apart of finalized presentation of Soundscape Røst.

Background for Soundscape Røst:


”If the seabirds no longer come to breed on Røst, we will loose a major part of our cultural identity.”


Arnfinn Ellingsen, major on Røst.

“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.” Pelagic seabirds such as Puffins Kittywake, Puffin, Razor Bill, Common Guillemot and 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 seabirdcolony 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.”

In 2009 Seapop concluded in their annual report that many of our most important seabird species are struggling with week reproduction and there are setbacks in many populations. As In 2008, the problems where worst for pelagic seabirds that collect food far out into the sea, Common Guillemot, Puffin and Kittywake. The seabirds in our project are redlisted in Norway. There has been a steady decline in the pelagic seabird populations of the coast of Northern Norway since the 50íes. The Puffin population on Røst alone has decreased with 70 % since 1979. There is just not enough food in the ocean. Why? Scientist don´t know the exact reason, but there are several theories and continuous research into the matter is being done by organizations such as NINA, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research/Seapop (, Tromsø University Museum and Norsk Polarinstitutt. There are many and variating factors to look into. Collapses of the herring and caplin stock in the 60s and 80´s due to excessive fishing, was and still is a major part of the problem. Research done so far also indicates that various climate changes affect seabirds.

Status 2010:

In August 2010 biologist Tycho Anker-Nilssen again reported that there was no surviving puffinchicks from this years breedingseason on Røst. The last successful breeding season was in 2006.The grown Puffins can 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. The Krykkje population is struggling 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 other pelagic seabirds is the current debate on searching for and opening of oilreserves in the Lofoten and Vesterålen area. A potential oil spill here would be a terrible and irreversible disaster. From the Norwegian west coast all the way up to the Barents seas is the breeding ground for many fish species, such as cod and herring, and thus home and breeding ground for many arctic seabirds and home of precious arctic ecosystems. Thus it is also vital for the local fishermen and local communties.

Pelagic Seabirds and Røst´s cultural identity

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 an important source of income due to generated tourism. People from all around the world come to experience the bird mountains on Røst. The Røst tourism reports its worries for the future of Røst tourism. In the years prior to 1960 hunting ban on Puffins, their eggs 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 forth. There is also a local dog species in The Lofoten island called the Puffin dog only found in this part of the world.

The seabirds are vital to Røst´s 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 art project seeks to shed light why we need to preserve and protect the seabirds and other endangered species and their natural habitats and belonging soundscapes.

Links:”soundscape-røst-lydmiljø-røst”/ /

Soundscape Røst – Playlist:

Put on your headphones, close your eyes, take a deep breath and dive into the sonic world of the pelagic seabirds on Røst archipelago: mainland Røst, Vedøy, Storfjellet, and Hernyken.

This 320 kbps mp3 playlist contains a series of soundscapes recorded on the Røst archipelago and Røst mainland between beginning of April and July 2010.

They have been recorded with Neumann mics and a Roland recorder, and on the three last fieldtrips using a stereopair of DPA 4060 microphones and a Sound Device 702 recorder.

1. Common Eider in Kårøysundet early April morning:

I`m being taken into Kårøysundet by Finn Olav Olsen of Kårøysundet family, and he´s stopping the little boat so we can drift pass a hundred eiders or so as they have gathered in the morning.. This is just before breeding and egglaying. Couples are finding their nestspots and getting ready to breed. One can also hear various seagulls and the neverending busy kittywakes in the background.

2.Kårøysundet Kittwake colony april vs july:

Photo: Carsten Aniksdal

The first recording was done an early April morning, while the kittywake colony prepared for breeding. Recording number two is done on the roof of the main house at Kårøya in July when the few chicks that have survived are getting ready to leave the nest. Still some chicks are small. An neverending fight for survival is going on. Living close to humans mean protection from predators.The kittywakes become an organic mass when they take off from the ceiling simultaneously as a threat occurs. A predator or anything else that they find suspicious can cause this wonderful coherent movement.

Photo: Carsten Aniksdal

3. Kårøysundet Kittwake colony, inside a nest, mono July 2010

Photo: Anja Høvik Strømsted

Oustide the bathroom window at Kårøysundet rorbucamping a kittywake couple has had a quite succesful breeding season and their chick has grown quite big and are almost ready to leave the nest. The kittywake is at one point pulling the little DPA microphone I have slipped down towards the nest. Some very touching sounds here!

4.Kittywake colony on Vedøy April vs. May:

Vedøy is the only birdislands the public and tourists have acess to during the breeding season. The Vedøy Kittywake population has experienced a steady and dramatic decline and is nothing compared to it´s size just 20 years ago. The soundscape of Vedøy kittywake colony used to be overwhelming.Soundlevels where so high that one could not hold a conversation in front of the main cliff. When I arrived in April 2010, there was a loud cacaphony of the kittywakes from the cliffs. The air was at times white with kittywakes. When I returned in May they where already much fewer, and in June they where scarcely there. Many give up breeding and others abandon Vedøy in favour of the safer Kårøy-sundet where they  find protection from predators in the human presence.

5. Eagles, ravens and winter wren on top of Vedøy, April 2010:

Photo: Elin Øyen Vister

This recording was done in April when I first climb up the steep, still partly snowcovered rocky hills to the top of Vedøya. Here masses of young eagles, crows, ravens and gulls come to feed off the kittywake colony. Just before easter, early April, they where particularly many as the kittwakes had just arrived. At the most I counted 20 sea eagles. People have reported up to 40 at a time. The eagles, great black backed gull, ravens, crows and herring gull are the main predators. They eat eggs, chicks and some grown kittywakes. Walking below the birdcliffs I found many dead birds and bloodstained feathers scattered around. However the decline in the Vedøy population of Kittywake is mainly to do with the lack of food in the ocean. The eagles and the gulls have an easier job when the kittywakes are fewer. Vedøy also used to be home to 4-5000 guillemots and razorbills. Now most of these couples the have left Vedøy as they are struggeling and the eagles becomean additional threath. They are however thriving on the much smaller islands around Vedøy.

Photo: Carsten Aniksdal

Hiding amongst the coves and crevices on the smaller islands amongst kittwakes. Kittywakes colony on mainland Kårøy is growing, but they just had another catastrophic breeding season.

6.Kittywake colony inside Vedøya cave:

Photo: Elin Øyen Vister

There is a 60 meter deep cave on Vedøy. It houses many kittywakes. They find shelter here and are somewhat better protected from the eagles. I recorded asoundscape just outside and inside the cave to capture the unique soundquality of the room of the cave.

7.Puffincolony Storfjellet April:

Photo: Elin Øyen Vister

A wonderful crevice between rocks about 50-100 metres up from the shore, became the perfect place to hide microphones in the rough and windy May weather. When I came back to the site in July i was met with a very sad but expected site, a dead Puffin-chick just outside the nest entrance. It must have just died. Puffin parents carry chick out of the neste if it´s dead. This was to be symbolic of the 2010 breeding season. None or dead chicks.

Photo: Anja Høvik Strømsted

8.Puffincolony Storfjellet July Part 1:

This recording is made in the second week of Jyly. I was listening about for Puffin chatter and finally found a god spot to leave my microphones overnight. It was less windy just here than everywhere else, but some wind is almost always present on Røst and has to be recognized as a main ingredient in the soundscape.

9. Puffincolony Storfjellet July Part 2:

Photo: Elin Øyen Vister

After spending an evening of scouting locations on Storfjellet in  July, I finally found a good spot to plant my DPA microphones inside a puffins nest. I placed the microphones there,stretched the cables away and hid the recorder inside a special Jerven Fjellduken bag (a hunters shelterbag) to keep it warm and safe from rain. Puffins build caves in the soft grassed ground with their tough beacs or stay in crevices between rocks all the way from the top of the bird mountains down to the seashore. They arrive in big numbers in April and leave in July or August depending on breeding sucess. Some days are better for recording sound as when they occasionally swarm in massive numbers. Other times there are hardly any bird at the colonies. The weather conditions are often difficult with alot of wind present. Storfjellet is far out there in the Atlantic ocean. Once you are on top of Storfjellet or Vedøy you can see the world in all directions and feel the roundness of the earth.

Photo: Anja Høvik Strømsted

The first recording was done in May just before the Puffin starts to lay eggs. The second and third recordingds where done at night (they are night active due to all the light caused by the midnight sun) in July. There was a great swarmin activity that week. However no alive chicks to bee seen. Only a few dead ones and a dead one outside the nest of the first recording site. A soundscape without chicks chattering in other words.

10. Black guillemot nest underneath a rock, Hernyken nature reserve, July.

Photo: Anja Høvik Strømsted

On the day of our (me and photographer/author Anja Høvik Strømsted) special visit to Hernyken nature reserve, marine biologist Tycho Anker-Nilssen pointed out the many black guillemot nests they where monitoring. Tycho suggested I put the mics underneath rock # 2, where tehere just had been hatched some Black Guillemot chicks.How exciting! We patiently had to sit and wait for mrs and mr nest nr. 2 to arrive at nestspot to feed their chicks. What you can on this recording is a pair of parents feeding chicks and the squeaks of the chicks as they eat the small fish they have been brought . The feeding parent was in and out of nest in 3 seconds.

11. Black guillemot colony on rocks, storfjellet.

Photo: Carsten Aniksdal

Recorded at Storfjellet one july afternoon. Black Guillemot are also on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They nests in crevices of rocks by the shores. At this time there were about 50 about, and 5-10 in the spot i left the recorder. It takes them awhile to return to nesting site after my interference. They are easily recognised by their high frequency sounding. Description of sound:High-pitched, thin twitters and piping calls. Alarm call is a loud, wavering whistle.

12.Storfjellet and it´s seagulls breeding in July + searching for Razor Bills and Common Murre.

I was trying to sound document a few pairs of Razor Bills and Guillemots left at Stofjellet, but they where completely outsounded by a variaty of gulls breeding in the steep partly grass covered rock hills of Storfjellet. However the sound of the mountain and the reverb caused by being so close to the wall it´s wonderful. The various seagull populations are also struggling on Røst. Towards the end (at 10.29 onwards) you can hear a Common Murre sounding.

Common Murre makes gutteral “urr” or “arr” at colony and in air/flight.

13. Soundscape Vedøy April – searching for Razor Bills and Commom Murre.

They are flying across my head but have become so few that´s all the sound I can catch without climbing down a hill and disturbing the few pairs left on Vedøy. However they can be heard screaming horsely above me on these recordings. Sounds: Arrr.Urrr.Rrrrr. Hoarse sounds.Easy to spot once you know what it sounds like.

14. Interview with one of the Olsen family members. Finn Olav Olsen:

Photo: Anja Høvik Strømsted

The wonderful Olsen family have run Kårøya rorbucamping since they took over  in the mid 60-ies. Kårøya has been a place for visitors to rest for centuries.There´s a more than a hundred year old guestbook witnessing this. The export of dry fish/dried cod have been going on since the beginning of mankind on Røst, and today the yearly export rate is 1,1 million Norwegian kroners per inhabitant. Two of the main dryfish companies are Greger AS and Røst Sjømat. There is also big business in codliver oil here.

This project could not have been realised without help from several people and special thanks goes out to: marine biologist Dr.Tycho Anker-Nilssen (NINA), Røsts major Arnfinn Ellingsen, the Olsen-family at Kårøya Rorbucamping, Finn Olav Olsen, Steinar Greger/Greger family, Røst Bryggehotell, collaborators Anja Høvik Strømsted, Carsten Aniksdal and Jason Rosenberg. Thanks to NOTAM and Cato Langnes for renting me equipment, Håvard at Hønsehuset in Bodø for lending me equipment for my first fieldtrip, and thanks for advice and support from Jana Winderen, Siri Austeen, Soundwave Festival + my family and Kristin Næss.

Soundscape Røst is supported by Artscouncil Of Norway, Komponistenes Vederlagsfond, Statens Kunstnerstipend and Nordland Fylkeskommune.

Copyright Elin Øyen Vister 2010.