My recollections of that night reach back a number of years now. I had left the apartment one warm evening to go for a casual walk and eventually found myself coming to a standstill on an oriental-looking wooden bridge, where to my right tall reeds could be seen jutting up from their dark brown frame of a lagoon. I remember thinking that this setting appeared to me to function as a point of eruption from which sounds from frogs and insects could intersect with the distant white noise of the surf. The sea breeze in turn sent momentary pathways through the tall stems so as to produce a shifting audible wave of the said emissions. The final outcome of this entire peripheral shoreline din was a wash of rhythm that seemingly relayed the crashing of waves further inland.
It was holiday season in a coastal resort by the name of Ramsgate, located on the east coast of South Africa and two hours south of Durban by car. All was quiet that night, as nobody had ventured outdoors into a somewhat lonesome pulsating darkness. It was as though the place that provided a holiday idyll to so many families by day, had been depopulated overnight. Still standing on the crossing, I could see on my left a colonial style eating-house where waffles were usually on offer in wondrous variety. Thereafter, I found myself before the veranda of another restaurant, located right beside the beach. The establishment had long since served its last seafood dish for the day and had obviously forgotten to switch off its outside speakers. Stunned at the intriguing strangeness awaiting my appearance, I immediately sought to untangle my mischievous microphone cable in an attempt to capture the unexpected event before me. I inadvertently turned round to further secure the memory of a view I could only vaguely make out in the fresh night air - of the pale sand strip and white parallel lines of the waves apparently hovering above it. My recording and I were still soaking up the surroundings when I later took that pathway past a clapping ventilator as I searched for a better spot to behold yet more coastal dreaminess.
This same beach has since vanished. Towards the end of 2007, I read with shock how enormous freak waves had pounded it, sweeping this narrow landscape to another underwater one in the process. Were these the “rogue waves” that are sometimes mentioned in the news, in an almost sensationalist fashion? I scoured the Internet searching for images of exactly that site where my recording took place. I wondered if the water was now lapping close to the restaurant veranda. Other than texts, there were no recent photographs were to be found.
I appreciate the fact that the audio recording I made is brief and faint. All we have left of that site is a story that consists of various components, even encompassing rumours. Such as one that pertains to a stretch of shoreline near to the departed seaside just described. A prominent family had gained an astonishing degree of wealth through their long-standing involvement with mining in the country, to be precise, through the many decades of systematically removing vast quantities of earth. Beige, neatly formed hills signalled the possibility that gaping holes could be found in the ground next to them.
This family specially bought sand elsewhere and had it delivered in order that their private beach could be returned to its pre-disaster status. Their neighbour, a church minister was caught trying to take a great deal of their sand for himself. The incident was reported in the papers since he is relatively well known. What is unclear is if it is simply a rumour, fact, or a mixture thereof. We imagine his cavernous coastline to be still situated in the awkward present. The regained landmass he so desired seemed a perfect miniature-sized model of those mounds his neighbours had been instrumental in producing on a large panoramic scale.
The question that resulted and that in turn persisted in my mind was: if I had recorded my site as well as its narration that would never be heard again in a changed landscape, was I in fact creating a fictionalised account of something that might have been? And what of that site that is no more and the transformation that had occurred - should mapmakers be fumbling to keep up? And do the sounds I caught suffice for some form of orientation?
I like the idea that the random TV or radio narrative I recorded forms a part of all the accounts of the area; that its obtuseness provides further the potential to attach itself firmly to the surrounding countryside and its tales. Yet it still accomplished this in a far more oblique and pleasing level than what we might typically expect from the relentless hum of more conventional broadcasts spanning the world.