Fifty years ago the Aral Sea in Central Asia was the planet’s fourth largest lake. In the decades since it has virtually disappeared; a victim of the disastrous cotton irrigation schemes that extract most of the water from its feeder rivers. However today Kazakhstan is making a surprisingly successful attempt to restore the small part of the North Aral within it’s territory. Water levels have risen, native fish species have spectacularly increased, wildlife is returning and, although there is a long way to go, improvement to the environment are obvious. The fishing industry is employing local people once more, bringing work into an impoverished and depopulated region.
Since May 2013 I have made two trips to the Aral to make field recordings, take photographs and talk to people there. It is an extraordinary region, a huge body of water in a vast open, mostly flat, landscape. There are no trees for thousands of kilometres, a strong wind usually blows. The weather is extreme, +50 in summer, -20 in winter. Many herds of animals are left to roam freely. Horses are rounded up using ancient Soviet Ural motobikes. What little sound there is just dissipates into the atmosphere. It is a very difficult, but fascinating, place to try to record. During this Points of Listening (February 11) I will tell stories, play recordings, show images from the trips and ask if listening to such places can really make a contribution to our understanding and appreciation of the circumstances there.
Peter Cusack 2015