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Camino, Parte Primera. Wandering Ear, 2012.

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Camino, Parte Primera is the first part of a full length project based on recordings done along the Way of Saint James, a famous Middle Ages pilgrimage route along the northern regions of Spain. The whole route runs over 740 km and it takes approximately one month to complete it by walking. On this first installment we walked for 6 days between the traditional beginning of the pilgrimage at Roncesvalles on the Navarre Pyrenees until Logroño the capital of the La Rioja Region. This route goes across Navarre and lengths 137 km. This first walk was made during Easter time, while in many towns and villages celebrations of the Death of Christ take place every year.

The recordings and compositions were made on route trying to gather sounds and soundmarks from every step in the way. Those recordings were captured using a Zoom H2 handy recorder with a Rycote Windshield. Mixing and post-production was delivered using Logic Pro. The final mix and master was made in Valencia (Spain).

This album is dedicated to Eva and Sandra, who walked with me.

All tracks recorded by Edu Comelles on the Way of Saint James between Roncesvalles (Navarra) until Logroño (La Rioja). Edited and Mastered at Valencia. 2012.


Travel Log:

Track 01 - Roncesvalles (10MB)

Roncesvalles is an ancient Abbey built on the ledge of the Pyrenees, the Camino Francés (French Route) starts here. The recording was made on the backyard of the abbey minutes before the closing time (09:00 am) of the refugee a few pilgrims are crossing the backyard as the bells ring.

Track 02 - Bizkarreta / Gerendiain (2.2MB)

Bizkarreta is one of the first small towns found on the way down the Valley of Erro. This is the first village with a bar and some services. On Bizkarreta we can hear the church bell and the echoes produced at a Frontón, a traditional sports yard formed by three main and tall walls used to play Pelota Vasca.

Track 03 - Zubiri (9.3MB)

The Way of Saint James enters Zubiri crossing El Puente de la Rabia a middle ages bridge over Arga river. Just after the bridge the small town provides the pilgrim with shelter.

Track 04 - Valle De Erro (9.7MB)

All the way down from Roncesvalles to Pamplona the Way of Saint James goes over the Valley of Erro, a typical bocage rural landscape splattered by cattle, small fences, streams of water and small towns or Caseríos.

Track 05 - Pamplona (15.1MB)

Pamplona is the first major big city on the Way of Saint James. We arrived at Pamplona on Holy Saturday 2012. At noon on the Cathedral the Easter Mass took place. The tradition says that no bells can sing during Easter so instead they use a “carraca” a wooden rattle used to call the citizens to mass.

Here I leave a free-translation and transcription of the words by the guy in charge of the Rattle:

This is the ratchet the replacement of the bells during the celebration of the Death of Christ, ecclesiastically, along this time (Easter), bells can not be played.

The ratchet is played from Holy Thursday until Holy Saturday, then after the mass we play again the bells.

You can find Ratchets in most churches, this specifically is built to call to the mass.

Bells have to be quiet at Easter. From Holy Thursday, then on Friday there are no bells and at Saturday, we use it to call to the Mass or the offices, all with the ratchet; and then at night bells are rung again. What happens is that there is only rattles here at the cathedral that I know

Describing the machine:

There are 20 wooden hammers then, we spin the wheel and: clunck clunck clunck!!! 20 hammers at once, it just sounds like crazy!

Track 06 - Zariquiegui (8.7MB)

On Zariquiegui a kid plays with a toy car in front of the Church were sunday mass is taking place. After Zariquiegui the way up to Alto del Perdón starts, our first big leap into another valley.

Track 07 - Alto Del Perdón (9.9MB)

Alto Del Perdón is the biggest obstacle between Pamplona and Puente La Reina, a 800 m summit that on recent years have been transformed to host a battery of electric windmills. Luckily the day we went up it was extremely windy so all windmills were fully operational.

Track 08 - Puente La Reina (10.3MB)

Puente La Reina is a small town that has been historically linked to The Way of Saint James. The town has a middle ages bridge. The urban structure is tided to the Pilgrim’s Way going form west to east. At the West entrance of the city a Church stands in front of the Pilgrims Refugee.

Track 09 - Estella / Lizarra (14.1MB)

At Estella / Lizarra we found a group of street satirical theatre representing the judgement of Judas Iscariot. This performance took place on narrow street at the Old Town of Estella / Lizarra. The recording shows the discussions between the banner and the supposed attorney of Judas. The banner is reading the sentence and the attorney tries to interrupt her by pledging on the sentence call it invalid, corrupt and put-on.

Transcription and translation was meant to be done, due to complicated local jokes and satirical language I have been unable to finish a proper an illustrative translation into english, sorry for the inconvenience.

Track 10 - Azqueta (8.8MB)

Entering Azqueta we found many things happening on this small town a few kilometres east from Estella / Lizarra. Church bells, some workers building a house and the fisherman’s delivery truck arriving into town.

Track 11 - Villamayor / Los Arcos (10.1MB)

After Villamayor de Monjardín 16km of bast fields await the pilgrim until reaching Los Arcos. During this part of the walk extreme winds and occasional rain made the walk a harsh effort. Just a little reminder of what awaits on the plains of Castilla.

Track 12 - Los Arcos (8.8MB)

Los Arcos is a town also pretty linked to the Way Of Saint James. Its big church is a reminder of the importance of the site. After the wind and the rain, the afternoon became quiet, since is Easter Time, and kids are on holidays, they play around the square while, again, the bells sing.

Track 13 - Torres Del Río (2.6MB)

Its early in the morning around 9:30 am or so. The small town of Torres del Rio having a really singular octagonal church is quite empty, just a little wind and the distant engine sound of a tractor ready to till the fields.

Track 14 - Logroño (15.4MB)

At Logroño entering the Neo-Classic Cathedral we found an organist rehearsing with the Church Organ. He’s just trying to get the right chords, sometimes he fails on the attempt sometimes he succeed. This is the end of Part One of this Way Of Saint James, heard and seen. Tomorrow we take the train back to Valencia.


Perhaps no other pilgrimage route stirs the restless traveller’s spirit more than El Camino de Santiago, the Way of St James. Walking for weeks, sometimes months, pilgrims historically travelled 800 kilometres from the French side of the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, a Spanish cathedral that is said to house the remains of the apostle Saint James. In an extremely sensitive release Spanish field recordist Edu Comelles has documented the first stage of this route in “Camino, parte primera”.

Listening to “Camino, parte primera’s” church bells, country streams, Gregorian chants, and robust Spanish conversations it is easy to imagine ourselves into a distant past. It is here that its success lies, the majority of sounds captured by Comelles remaining true to the medieval period in which the pilgrimage began.

Comelles desire to record the sounds along the way may have stemmed from his recent dissertation exploring walking compositions. In it he says the notion of walking is “a simple activity that in the Western Culture and through the years has been widely regarded as an act of discovery and also as an inspiring or meditational act”. By recording the soundmarks along the way Comelles allows us to partake in his discoveries, exposing us to the spirit of the surrounding countryside, its people, and the sincerity in which the walk is taken. In this context “Camino, parte primera” is a refreshing antidote to the cynicism that taints the 21st century.

“Camino, parte primera” follows a linear path, its sequence of recordings corresponding with Comelles’ own trek. Beginning in Roncesvalles we hear bells ringing from an ancient Abbey; a signal that it is closing to the public. Further along we hear feet as they grind along a gravel path whilst the sound of sheep and animal bells ring alongside.

From a cultural perspective one of the most interesting recordings is of the “carraca”, a wooden instrument with 20 hammers that is rattled during the Easter period; the regional law stating that no bells may ring during the Easter period. The religious context in which the carraca is played is cleverly emphasized by the next stage of the track where somber voices are heard singing part of the Easter mass. This recording sounds timeless, its tone resonating long after it finishes.

At times the bucolic ambience presented in Comelles’ recordings may lull us into the false belief that the walk is without any physical challenge, however a few tracks remind the listener of the harsh elements of the pilgrimage. Strong winds are regularly heard buffeting the microphone, the accompanying photos in the release revealing exposed rainy plains that offer little relief from any discomfort.

“Camino, parte primera” finishes with a recording inside the Logroño cathedral. Here an organist is overheard as he rehearses on the cathedral pipe-organ. Wrong notes are struck yet the musician’s perseverance manages to sustain a measure of stateliness throughout the piece. This track is a perfect place in which to end “Camino, parte primera”, Comelles’ notes stating, “tomorrow we take the train back to Valencia”. It is with great anticipation that we await the second part of this release.

Review by Jay-Dea Lopez