When the Mountain Moves and Rumbles

July 20th 2023
Eastern Switzerland
Photo: Olivia Aebli-Item
Archive of the future
Soundscape studies
Climate change
Taking turns with Earth

What effect does the sound of the mountain collapsing, its boulders coming loose and tumbling down the slope just above their village, have on the inhabitants? 

Pieces of rock and debris, sometimes smaller, sometimes larger, tumble down the slope in a great crash, never knowing when an immense quantity of rock might roll down the valley and eventually cover their village?

On May 9 of this year, the municipality of Brienz/Brinzauls (GR) decided to evacuate all its inhabitants, including the animals. The mountain was moving again more strongly and there was the real danger rocks burying the village. This was a big deal for the farmers. All animals had to be taken to a safe place. No one knew whether they would ever be able to return tho their village. From that point on the evacuated residents observed the events on the mountain from a far, spell bound.

Then on the night of June 15, between 11:00 PM and midnight, a large mass of rock slid rapidly down the mountain taking along a stream of debris with a loud roar. No one was able to see it. In defiance of technology, the mountain came down during the night and swept away all cameras and measuring devices. Did it want to be unseen? The dull but menacing thunder and rolling of the descending mass of rock could be heard far in to the valley. It narrowly missed the village, but buried the important thoroughfare.

52 days after evacuation, the residents were allowed to return to the village and their homes. Despite the fact that the mountain continues to move. It remains closely monitored; its movements are measured using highly sensitive equipment. And if on a whim the mountain moves again more vigorously, it is not out of the question that the people will have to be evacuated once again.

Brienz/Brinzauls (1242 m above sea level) is a small village of 130 inhabitants in Graubuenden. It lies below the erosion area of “Igl Rutsch” (the landslide) in the area of the Albula valley. Today the Albula flows through a narrow valley floor. This is where one of the largest landslides in all of the Alpine region is happening. Over an area of several square kilometers, where the village is located, loosened layers of rock are shifting down the mountain, towards the valley. Above the landslide mass, steep rock faces are detaching from solid ground and many section are broken off.

A rock slide near Brienz was reported as early as 1880. There have been land slides of various sized ever since. Recently it has become evident that the mountain is more active again and a larger mass of rock could roll into the valley.The fact is that the mountain is more active than ever before.