May 31st – The Phantom Festival

Sound travels in strange ways through the lands to the west of Buentoille; the valleys and hills and forests twist it and turn it and carry it far away from its source. This is what Quercus Millstone found out for herself when she took the dog out to relieve itself before bed on this day in 1982. There was a low thumping sound, like faraway music, as she watched the sun setting between the two tree-lined hills in the distance. ‘Kids,’ she thought, and went back inside.

The next year the same thing happened, and then the same the next. On the fourth time it was the week after Millstone’s dog had died, and she was mainly standing outside out of habit. ‘There’s that sound again,’ she said, to a dog that wasn’t there. ‘Let’s go see who it is.’ It was sunset, so there was only a few minutes of light left, but she knew the lands all about well and brought a torch.

She tried to aim straight for the music, and tried to make out what it was as she did so. It was the same music each time, she was sure of it, although she supposed all music sounds pretty similar that far off when all you can hear is the bass. A couple of times, when she snaked around the corner of a valley or rocky outcrop, she lost the musical trail, but she soon caught up with it again. The music started to get a little clearer, a little louder, and then she lost it; no matter which way she went she couldn’t catch the trail again. She was tired and suddenly uninterested, so went home.

The same thing happened again the next year, and then the next, and the next. On the Eighth year she happened to have a friend around, sampling the country air, and they both set out together. Eventually they got to the same place. ‘Have you looked in the papers to see if there’s a festival being put on in the woods out there?’ asked her friend. Of course she had. ‘Okay, well…’ her friend chose her next words carefully, she knew how Quercus didn’t like to rely on others, ‘You should see if there’s an acoustician or something who’d be interested in finding it – it’s quite the mystery!’

The next year, responding to adverts Millstone had placed in the papers, an acoustician and a topographer arrived at her house at around lunchtime. They brought a number of maps, made various mathematical calculations, ate the home made pea fritters that Millstone served, asked her questions about the lay of the land, told her to point where the sounds were most audible. After dinner they all set out together, the acoustician carrying some complex recording apparatus, the topographer with one eye on his maps, making marks here and there. ‘Watch out with the slope here,’ Millstone would say, ‘the ground is very slippery.’

Fast forward twenty six years, and folk are still trying to work out where the noise is coming from. Three years ago the song changed, which seems strange, but essential location didn’t seem to change. They’ve tried making complex simulations of the local area, sending out large groups of people across the countryside, putting adverts in the papers asking the music-makers to reveal themselves, but nothing seems to work, not entirely at least. They seem to have tracked the sound very close, much farther than Millstone ever got alone, so that you can hear the music clearly (it is some kind of funk), but as soon as you pass into gulley from which the sound appears to emanate, it disappears.

The main theories about where the sound comes from suggest that there is either some kind of underground cave system with hidden openings where sound escapes, or that the sound is actually very far away indeed, a directional cone of sound from a complex speaker system bounced off various hills, with the valleys acting as amplifiers. ‘Just because it sounds as if it is just around the corner doesn’t mean that it is. We are going to have to build some much larger simulations of the surrounding area; it’s going to take some time.’ said Guilliame Termid, Head of Acoustic Sciences at de Geers, last year. It seems that, at least for a couple more years, this particular mystery will not be solved.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Historical Depictions of Mythical and Magical Trees: A Day-long Exhibition

  • The Festival of Untimely Woolen Hats

  • The Festival of the Eighth Troubadour

  • Curtain Removal Day