A batan’s soundscape

29 abril 2008

This article presents an introduction to the sounds of a machine of former industrial use: the batan. This will show a series of recordings made in two environments in which at the time of writing the article, there was still some such machine operational.


Project partially funded by the Ministry of Culture and Sport, Xeral Directorate of Cultural Creation and dissemination of the Xunta of Galicia.

The sound of batanes

1.General description

As wikipedia says in its spanish page devoted to the Batanes [WIKI-08], batán «… is a machine designed to transform some tissues opened in other more compact. These machines are driven by force of a stream Water that makes move a wheel, which activates the mallets that strike ater tissues until Compact them…«, «… Today, this machines are no longer used for the purpose for which they were created, and most of them were dilapidated or even completely disappeared, with very few preserved and always intended solely for museum …«,

«… Batanes are always located on the banks of rivers to harness its water power. A samll dam was built in the river in order to exploit its water power. From there water was driven by a strong pipeline with a strong pending until the wheel . When impacting water against the wheel spoons, this was beginning to turn carrying solidarity the shaft and putting into operation all batan mechanisms. By moving the wheel the shareholders decks began to hit the blankets. Another small channel was driving a little water to the cuba to keep wet blankets for much of the process and preventing them from wear by erosion …«

Regarding the composition of Batanes, says: «… This is a machine that consists almost entirely of pieces of oak. The most important parts are:

* The wheel, with a diameter of three meters and sixteen spoons scattered along the perimeter, which impacts on the water down the channel, producing the movement of the machine.

* The shaft, which turns the wheel solidarity, and that makes decks move.

* Decks, which fall to beat the blankets that are located in the cuba.

* Cuba is the place where the blankets are placed. It consists from a trunk that is dug in the center until there’s hole enought to hold the decks and the blankets …«

Say, as a curiosity, that already in the days when Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote, the sound of Batanes drew attention, and proof of this is that in one of its chapters, Don Quixote and Sancho are facing one adventure with one of this devices. See [CER-1605]


The collection of batan’s sounds is justified by the absence of current industrial production of these machines, which coupled with the presence of a few copies in Galicia, makes finding a batan in function quite complicated. Of the few that existed in operation, today we were unable to find any that continues in production, and those that were found, were restored recently, and some of them have some deficiency in its operation (1). Then, and since they are no longer useful productive, it is reasonable to assume that every soundscape created around these aircraft and its related activities, are endangered sounds, and hence, are capable of forming part of the project.

3.Recordings description

We turn to comment, then, the sounds that were found in visits to the Batanes. The first of sounds presented here were collected throughout the ethnographic museum Los Batanes del Mosquetín. This group, owned by the Provincial Council of Corunna and managed by the association Neira, is located in the municipality of Vimianzo, in the parish of Salto, on the right bank of the Rio Grande. It consists of two rectangular buildings. The further from the margins of the river, known as North Building, is where are the three Batanes that are located.

The Batanes are moved by water, and therefore, not surprisingly, we find abroad them the continuous sound of water flowing strongly. This also happens at The Batanes of Mosquetin, as we can hear in the next shoot:

One shoot taken in a place more next to the river give us an idea of the current violence that takes the river, populated with a number of low frequencies that give us idea of the voracity of the passage of the river running along the banks of Batanes.

The water rubble by the channels that bring it to the booth where the batans are, making a continuous sound as a mattress that envelops the acoustic environment. The batan’s hammers beat rhythmically as the water is pushing the wheel that moves them. They are constructed in wood and this causes dry and barely reverberated shocks, along with the vibration caused by the tremble of battan’s timber when they absorb the shock of the hub. In addition, it is heard the sound of hammers when they are picked up by the wheel to prepare them to take the next blow.

Formerly 3 batans were operating on a daily basis, but now only one remains operational, and only to be shown to visits. Its hammers hit the wedge producing a vibration that makes the whole apparatus to vibrate. The beatings are dry and low and mid-frequencies poblated.

The Batanes of Mosquetín is a complex that includes several channels built to collect water and bring it to the booths where the mills and the Batanes themselves ara located. When the water pass through these channels produce some sounds where the harmonics are highlighted by the reverberation produced by the material in which the channels are constructed: massive stone blocks. Thus, although the water flow is small, seems more abundant.

Another pipeline, which carries less water flow, allow us to hear, approximating the mic to make the shoot, the high frecuencies produced by the sharp bubbles of water, when faced against irregularities of the stone pipe through which the water flows. In substance, almost imperceptible, low-frecuencies produced by the running of the river at its main channel.

According to the wikipedia [WIKI-08]: «An example of batan-museum in the province of Coruna, is in the parish of Mezonzo in the municipality of Vilasantar. It’s belived that it was built by the monks who lived in the Mezonzo’s convent, today the parish church, dating from the twelfth century. If this is true, this Batan would be one of the oldest in Galicia and Spain. The batan was in operation until 1954, when it was abandoned until its restoration in 2001. At present time, it can be accessed by the public. While in assets, batán worked from February to June. During the summer days it remained closed because the river did not have enough water for its activation and in winter it could not be used because it was very difficult drying blankets«

It seems that the Mezonzo’s monks were the ones that built the batán. The last bataneiro, Pepe do Batan, explains how this is what is belived by the villagers.

Sloth, lazy, and wanting to prove that his body will not start so easily, batán boots and began its rhythmic beating. In the boot woods squeak, producing high frecuencies that seem to mean that wood will yield to the power of the forces, but finally gets underway, with dry blows that Rumbles throughout its mechanism … Background water from the river, always sounding, as if nothing happened.

The batán strikes rhythmically, following the rithm of the running water. You can hear the decks beating, the woods vibrating with every beat, and the going up of the the decks when they prepare for the next blow. On the background, the highs from the water rhythmically interrupted by the passing of the wheel’s blades, can also be heard.

Another take of the Batán operating from a more rear position allows us to hear the noise of the whole machinery moving, leaving the sound of mallets dimmed, as one more of those produced by the batán.

Pepe do Batán, explained in this shoot, with its peculiar retranca and mastery, tricks to start the machinery of the batán. His voice is indistinguishable from the rhythmic beat of the apparatus, and from the continuous and permanent flow of water falling.

Another take of the Batan riding, where there is perfectly clear in the foreground the chirping of wood pieces that make up the batán, which as they go rhythmically to the beat of the hammers, provide the high frecuencies counterpoint to those lows created by the beatings of the Batan’s Hammers. In the distance, the white noise of continuous running water, omnipresent.

Pepe do Batan tells how, when he was a child, there were times, when returning with his father from the feira of Boimorto, if the time was propitious, that they listened from Boimorto the batán working … There were times: Batán be ing listened 8 km away. Today it is almost unthinkable: a sound that is heard at that distance, given the modern noise. in the background, water and the batán unperturbed to the words of Pepe. Note the phenomenon that occurs in the middle of recording, where batán changes, by itself, its beating speed.

Stopping the Batán looks very much like locking a door that has its hinges badly greased. In this shot we can hear the batan’s parts chirping as the only sound that remains when the batán stops beating. Then, such a high chirping sound becomes more and more low-frecuencies poblated and then dissapear in our memories… and all of that in just 1 second. Gone. That’s the magic of sound.

In the background, as always, the water flowing in the river.

Mooring the Batan. After stoping the batán, machinery should be moored, for preventing it from accidentally start. The batán seems not to want leave moored, and squeaks as complaining becourse he wants to move freely. Small squeaking filled with deep melancholic old wood, which seemed almost tears of memories of other times when batan was working on a daily basis …

Pepe do Batán, the last bataneiro who worked with Sta. Maria Mezonzo’s Batan, explains what the batan was used for, and how the batan work-related stuff was organized.

4.Liñas de traballo futuras

Although the sounds produced by the Batanes have certain common characteristics, each presents particularities, both, for the environment in which they are built, and for the building as a craft that make them unique pieces. This, coupled with the low number of them that existed in his day (was something much more unique than, for example, mills), converts the sounds of batanes in an interesting field of study, in order to be able to try to create a catalogue of sound batans, including as many recordings of Batanes as they can be located and operated.


For the drafting of this article, we visited the Mosquetín of Batanes, located in the municipality of Vimianzo, and batán Sta. Maria Mezonzo, located in the municipality of Vilasantar. In the first case, the association Neira, through his agent present at the premises of Mosquetín, was the one who gave us the guidance and assistance necessary to make the recordings. In the case of batán Sta. Maria, was the batan operator himself, responsible for the care of the batán at the time of writing this article, who helped us, explained and guided to carry out the recordings. To all of them our thanks. These recordings were made in February 2008.


[CER-1605]CERVANTES, Miguel de, «The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha«, Chapter XX, 1605.
[LEMA-07]LEMA SUÁREZ, X. Ma e MOUZO LAVANDEIRA, R., «O conxunto etnográfico dos batáns e muíños do Mosquetín, na Terra de Soneira. Outros batáns, folóns ou pisóns de España e Portugal«, Seminario de Estudos Comarcais da Costa da Morte, Vimianzo, 2007
[WIKI-08]WIKIPEDIA COWRITERS, «Batán«, Wikipedia, La enciclopedia libre, march the 7th, 2008, 00:05 UTC, http://es.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Bat%C3%A1n&oldid=15649944 [Accessed on march 2008]


(1) In the case of «Los Batanes del Mosquetin», close to the Batanes was installed a fish farm in the area, taking advantage of existing pipelines and infrastructure for Batanes, so that now, part of the riverbed was diverted to the fish farm, which makes channels of Batanes not carry enough water to move its wheels. Only days of heavy rain may you see the Batanes of Mosquetín working.