Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

Posted on

Great tit and wren_edited-1I’ve just returned from ‘The Beauty of Birds’ course at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, a charity that works to save threatened species across the world from extinction.

As part of the course I’ve been bird watching/listening, taken on guided tours of the zoo and bird hides in the surrounding areas of Jersey, saw a bird ringing demonstration and learnt practical field skills in studying and monitoring birds. The staff at Durrell also kindly agreed to let me record the sound of the birds in the zoo before it opened and closed to the public. After getting up at 5.30am each day I’m tired, a little sunburnt and still counting Blackbirds…

I stayed at Durrell hostel, so I was based within the grounds where birds (and Lemurs) would wake me in the morning- that’s a dawn chorus with a difference! As part of Durrell’s training academy, I met some great people from all over the world, who had come to learn more about conservation, to apply techniques when they go back home in order to help threatened species.

Listen to ‘Dawn chorus at Durrell, 2014′ via headphones

The bird ringing demonstration showed the group how mist nets were used to capture birds, (the nets are hung like hammocks in layers, which mean the birds fall into the nets rather than get tangled in them). The trainer was able to handle birds with ease (even when using both hands to look at a Marsh Harrier through binoculars!) He showed us how to hold the birds and the process of ringing, including measuring the wing, weighing the bird and ringing the leg. If the leg already had a ring then the identification number was noted. Bird ringing takes years to perfect and this trainer had it down to a fine art, which meant he could lay a Great Tit on its back (in his hand) and get it to stay still- amazing!

As part of this course I wanted to capture sound recordings of birds, in order to visualise their song using printmaking techniques for an art exhibition. With a lot of sound recording you cannot predict what will happen, you just have to be patient and still… even if you spot a red squirrel nearby.

I went to record the Chilean Flamingos10153705_10152406787807402_9053673777237607392_n as they were making a racket. It took a while to set up my Rycote windshield with DPA 4060 microphones placed inside BUBBLEBEE windbubbles. I sat for half an hour but the Flamingos decided that they would rather put their heads under their wings. What I ended up recording was visitors discussing the Flamingos pink knees- which is a common misconception- as the ‘knees’ are actually the birds ankles!

Next I head for the caged birds and meet Homer the Wrinkled Hornbill (originally from the forests of South East Asia), who seems to enjoy the attention- but only when I’m standing, when I sit to watch him he goes quiet. He was honking and jumping across his tree branch with a pair of Barli Starlings joining in with their own song.

Listen to ‘Homer the Wrinkled Hornbill, 2014′ via headphones

10330278_10152406773492402_2773880007552144861_nThe 5.30am starts were to record sound in the hostel’s garden to capture the dawn chorus. This recording is special because it features a variety of garden birds as well as Lemurs arguing throughout. This was recorded on Sunday 4 May, which was also International Dawn Chorus day. For those interested in the technical set up (as well as the Rycote windshield), I used a stereo bar with a pair of DPA 4060 microphones which were attached to each end of the bar using the DPA 4060 rubber grips (that come with the set), super glued to a pair of bull dog clips- a genius idea from this blog.

The White-faced Whistling Duck does exactly what its name suggests. I sat in the bird hide to record the ducks and heard a flurry of excitement as the keeper came around to feed them. As part of this recording you can also hear a pair of White-naped Crane AKA Mr and Mrs Chester, who were calling in unison to fend off intruders.

The Northern Bald Ibis are great birds that might get overlooked as they aren’t typically as ‘pretty’ as other birds (they look like big carrion crows with bald heads and long curved beaks). The Ibis shared a cage with a group of Ferruginous ducks and sounded like a coughing duck with a frequent yapping call.

Listen to ‘Northern Bald Ibis, 2014′ via headphones

10296908_10152406784657402_5351932207009988691_nThe sound recordings from the Jewel of the forest and Kirindy forest aviaries at Durrell feature many different threatened species. With a whole range of birds to see and hear, I captured a variety of songs, calls, chirps, coos and even rattles, but one bird in particular wasn’t shy about defending their territory and demonstrating his vocal skills (even though it was 5pm). The Asian Fairy-bluebird (sounds pretty and delicate), nearly burst my ear drums! I had to remove my headphones as he decided to perch right in front of me with his call increasing in pitch and reaching deafening levels! Listen with caution folks!

Listen to ‘Jewel of the forest bird aviary, 2014′ via headphones (Please note this gets louder after approx 1.30 mins and might hurt your ears!)

Listen (with headphones) to all the soundtracks from my trip to Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust as part of the Beauty of Birds course in Jersey on Sound Cloud.

Birds’ nests in unusual places

Posted on

20 March 2014

A family of Mistle Thrush in a traffic light in Leicester
A family of Mistle Thrush in a traffic light in Leicester

Last November I noticed an empty nest balanced inside a traffic light in Leicester, and then another appeared on the other side of the road… then 2 weeks ago a new nest appeared on the same roundabout (in another set of traffic lights), but this time it contained Mistle Thrush chicks.

The RSPB have reported that birds often nest in garden ornaments, buckets, hanging baskets and, if you leave your washing out for long enough, in drying clothes! Blackbirds have also be found nesting on car wheels and blue tits have constructed nests in communal ashtrays.

I spoke to Adrain Lane, Senior Riverside Ranger for Leicester City Council about the unusual nesting site, and asked why this nesting pattern within traffic lights was being repeated around the same roundabout. He told me that ‘The Thrushes have been targeting these lights for a few years now. It appears to have become inbred instinct and they are also nesting earlier, probably due to the slight increase in warmth (from the light) and sheltered nature of the site.’

When asking about the possibility of the nest being disturbed or in danger from traffic, Adrain told me ‘Maintenance of the lights is on a contract and basically if work is done before the nest are established then thats fine, once established they are left in place unless there is a significant safety issue.’

Ive also found out via New Scientist, that birds living in urban environments also use cigarette butts to line their nests to reduce the number of parasites.

Wild birds have long protected their nests from mite invasion by importing chemical-emitting plants. Birds living in cities seem to have adapted similar behaviour, filling their nests with up to 48 cigarette butts to make use of the repellent properties of tobacco. The nicotine and other chemicals in discarded filters act as a natural pesticide that repels parasitic mites. At the same time, the cellulose butts provide useful nest insulation. Scientists in Mexico City studied nests of house sparrows and house finches that each contained, on average, about 10 used cigarette butts. Birds who stored larger numbers of butts saw their nests significantly less infested by mites.

Bradgate Park and mono printing

Posted on

19 April 2013

Goldfinch monoprint
Goldfinch monoprint

Bradgate Park is one of my favourite parks and one that I have visited since I was a kid tearing around in my bauer skates and playing hide and seek, or as we called it ‘free pod’ in the tall bracken.

The park is very popular and with previous recordings, Ive found it difficult to record just the sounds of wildlife without capturing people talking and dogs barking. This time I managed to find a spot where I was undisturbed; leant against a small wooden fence containing a young tree (probably to keep the deer away) and sat on my coat in the sun, in-between pathways and surrounded by dry bracken. I used my Marantz PMD660 with my Rode NT55 mic with interchangeable omni/cardioid capsules (I used omni), with a Telinga parabolic dish. From all the sound recordings I took, Ive selected very short sections which feature different areas of the park and different birds, although the sun was shining, it was difficult to avoid the wind completely.

Deer hair and bracken monoprint
Deer hair and bracken monoprint

This sound recording was taken at the nest of a group of Jackdaws, who had made a nest in the gap of a tree trunk at Bradgate Park. Jackdaws often pull out deer hair and add it to their nest, so I collected some hair (I didnt pull it out there was a clump on the ground!), bracken, leaves, grass and feathers to take to a monoprint workshop at Lakeside Arts centre with Leicester Print Workshop, led by artist and tutor Kate Da’Casto. I hadn’t done any monoprinting for years and wanted to use this method as its one of the most versatile, with one of results and a technique that can be used in the field.

Listen to Jackdaws, 38 secs

Listen to Carrion Crows, Blue Tits and a Goldfinch, 22 secs

This sound recording features Carrion Crows, Blue Tits and a Goldfinch at Bradgate Park. The mono print (below) has been layered with 3 colours- Yellow, Magenta and Cyan. This print was created by layering objects and stencils including bracken, leaves, feathers and a silhouette of a blue tit.

Listen to a Mistle Thrush contact/alarm call, 32 secs

This sound recording features a Mistle Thrush contact/alarm call- this was captured from a distance using the parabolic dish, the ratchet-like call gets louder as it flies above my head.

I plan to use natural objects to create monoprints as well as drawings and sound recordings to document the sound of bird vocalisation, both during and after my residency at Ricklundgården studios in Southern Lapland.

CYM colour blue tit monoprint
CYM colour blue tit monoprint

Residency to draw the sound of birds in Sweden

Posted on Updated on

One of the works in progress for a sound recording taken outside my flat, featuring a blue tit.
One of the works in progress for a sound recording taken outside my flat, featuring a blue tit.


28 February 2013

I’ve developed a proposal to work in residence at Saxnäs in Northern Sweden, after exhibiting and receiving awards for new work, ‘Pigeon Clock Graph’ and ‘Pigeon Feather Pie Chart’.

The 3-week residency will allow me to develop the visual side of my practice, to create drawings in response to bird song; inspired by Czech visual artist Olga Karlíková and her work ‘Audible landscapes’.

My studio will be based in the vast wilderness, directly above a bird migration path, where I will work with a local bird expert to identify species and develop an individual drawing/symbol, which I feel best represents a bird’s voice, based on tone, pitch, direction, speed and pattern. This will be collated into an identification register and used to create a visual composition (similar to a music score), using a variety of drawing mediums and techniques, including on-site responsive drawing and drawing whilst listening to sound recordings in the studio. I have agreed to give a talk and exhibit my new work as part of an open studio to artists and local residents at my studio in Saxnäs.

Im currently brushing up on my bird watching/listening skills using a Geoff Sample bird identification CD, but hope to purchase a birdvoice lite pen which comes with a field guide, when the pen touches the field guide it plays back the songs and calls of the various birds or information.

I’ve applied to Arts Council England for funding to support the residency, if I am successful I will be able to purchase new equipment, meet with curator Stella Couloutbanis for mentoring sessions and receive support from the Wildlife Sound Recording Society for a feature on their website and journal.

Venice Biennale- ILLUMInations

Posted on Updated on

25 Oct 2011

Wander around the maze of walk ways rather than catching a water bus

Floods in St Marks Square and the queue for St Mark's Campanile

Ive never been to Venice or the Biennale, so this seemed like the perfect trip for a break and inspiration! Arriving into Venice on Sunday just after midnight I was surprised by how quiet and calm the narrow walk ways and water ways were. The hotel we had booked was closed and the lady running it refused to come and let us in (cow), so we had to find and pay for another hotel for the night. Admittedly not the best start but the next day the sun was shining and even though the Biennale was closed today, there was still plenty for us (me and my friend Nic), to explore. We jumped on a water bus and found a cafe close to the Giardini, had coffee and fed biscuits by hand to pigeons and sparrows. Wandered through the walk ways and the market, found the Piazza San Marco and was completely stunned as we turned a corner to see the St Mark’s Basilic.  We went up the 323 ft St Mark’s Campanile and grabbed a pizza roll and some beer from the local supermarket.

On Tuesday we went to the Arsenal district and the Giardini and went around the WHOLE exhibition! We were exhausted but it was worth it!  Talk about art fatigue!

The three highlights for me were Mike Nelson‘s large scale installation, Impostor at the British Pavilion. He spent three months transforming the British pavilion in Venice for the biennale. The resulting installation is a delicate and melancholic meditation on identity and historical memory. More info.

Christian Boltanski‘s installation Chance at the French pavilion. This exhibition playfully explores the luck and fate of newborns, whose beginnings are subject entirely to chance. While the title translated in french has a positive connotation of luck and good fortune, the english interpretation conversely suggests hazard or risk, rendering the exhibition appropriately ambiguous. More info.  Watch a video of the installation here on designboom.

Fernando Prats‘ Sismografias project at the Chilean Pavilion. Fernando effectively stones his paintings, he lets the branches whip them or that the doves leave the marks of the flapping of their wings on them; the photographs of his work process reveal that he even licks the smoke cured surface of the paintings in order to leave enigmatic traces, or that even worms “draw” fascinating labyrinthical lines on the fertile territory of this other incarnation of painting. More info.





Tumble at the Pigeon Wing

Posted on Updated on

15 Oct 2011

Tumble, Multi-channel audio installation for racing pigeons by Matt Lewis

A great exhibition based on pigeon flight patterns by artist Matt Lewis at The Pigeon Wing, in the Guild House on Rollins Street, London. I met Matt who was kind enough to show me and fellow sound artist Esther around the exhibition and even took us onto the roof of the exhibition space to meet the pigeons responsible for creating his latest body of work.

Following his state side residency at Diapason, New York, Matt Lewis is producing a generative multi-channel audio installation for carrier pigeons. This project explores pigeon racing culture, multi-channel audio performance and notions of musical score.

Text from The Pigeon Wing Gallery: We currently have racing pigeons on The Pigeon Wing roof, Matt Lewis is training them ready for flights later this month. During the two weeks that the installation runs in the gallery space, the pigeons will be fitted with GPS tracking devices and released from various locations around city and will fly back to their loft above the gallery space. The flight routes – tracked by GPS – will form the musical structure of the piece, with the coordinates of their flight, airspeed and distance defining which audio material is triggered, all audio will be drawn from environmental recordings made from the gallery roof. The audio will be in multi-channel with 4.1 separate audio channels. Also displayed will be a visual score generated from the flight information, forming a composition of the birds’ performance in retrospect. This score will be performed by musicians on 15th Oct. In addition to the installation there will be screenings of documentaries on pigeon culture. This project was made possible with the support of Diapason Gallery, New York.

Glasgow West End Festival and BAS7

Posted on Updated on

17 – 19 June 2011

A weekend trip to Glasgow to catch up with a friend, check out the West End Festival and take another look at the British Art Show 7: In the Days of the Comet (I first saw it in Nottingham). The British Art Show is widely recognised as the most ambitious and influential exhibition of contemporary British art… so well worth a second look in my opinion, as well as the other independent art galleries/exhibitions.  The Glue factory on Garscube Industrial Estate, was transformed to host the Glasgow School of Art Degree show.  Dark corners were lit up with ‘floating’ video projections, some silent, some with sound, showing vibrant, odd contemporary dance/performance on a beach and close ups of tin foil.  A few sound pieces dotted here and there- actually in a separate room- behind a wall, on a bench (triggered by the movement of the viewer) and from a box (triggered when the lid was lifted).

Douglas Gordon 'Scratch Hither', 2002 (DVD on monitor)
Douglas Gordon ‘Scratch Hither’, 2002 (DVD on monitor)

The Common Guild was the first venue I arrived at after flying into Glasgow at 8am.  I arrived at 21 Woodlands Terrace (I found out later that this is actually Douglas Gordon’s house- one of my favourite artists!) at 9am, but the sign on the door said the gallery didn’t open until 12pm. Bugger.  But it didn’t matter because I was welcomed in (from the rain) by Kitty, a member of staff who very kindly let me dry off in the office, while looking through magazines and helping me plan my tour of Glasgow galleries over the weekend.

The exhibition was booted up (lots of monitors and projections) and I was told I could wander around with my tea- now that’s customer service and a great show it was.

“You seem the same as always, -” brings together a range of works by international and Glasgow-based artists, which share a very particular focus: that of the artist’s own hand. The exhibition includes film, video, photography, prints, drawings and objects, all of which share a refreshing sense of immediacy and directness and vary from the witty to the uncanny.

Claire Barclay, Katie Davis, Olafur Eliasson, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Douglas Gordon, Gabriel Orozco, Yvonne Rainer, Richard Serra and David Shrigley.

Olafur Eliasson 'The Moving Museum, 2009 (3 DVD projections on wooden table)
Olafur Eliasson ‘The Moving Museum, 2009 (3 DVD projections on wooden table)

BAS7 was exhibited across three venues in Glasgow, including the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Gallery of Modern Art and Tramway.  Here’s a few of my favourites…

Centre for Contemporary Arts

Christian Marclay’s The Clock, features thousands of found film fragments of clocks, watches, and characters reacting to a particular time of day. These are edited together to create a 24 hour-long, single-channel video that is synchronised with local time. As each new clip appears a new narrative is suggested, only to be swiftly overtaken by another. Watching, we inhabit two worlds; that of fiction and that of fact, as real-time seconds fly inexorably by.

Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA): Haroon Mirza, Regaining a degree of control (new work created for BAS7)
Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA): Haroon Mirza, Regaining a degree of control (new work created for BAS7)

Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)

Haroon Mirza’s complex audio-visual installations are assembled out of domestic furniture, electronic equipment and lights. Regaining a Degree of Control, a new work created for BAS7, uses previously unseen footage of Ian Curtis, frontman for the post-punk band Joy Division.

Curtis’s song ‘She’s Lost Control’ concerns a girl with epilepsy, a condition that Curtis himself suffered from and to which the strobe light in Mirza’s installation refers. Here, as in much of Mirza’s work, the central proposition is about transforming noise into sound, and making hearing and listening as important and relevant as seeing and looking. His aim is to ‘explore visual and acoustic space as one sensorial mode of perception.’

Tramway: Luke Fowler and Toshiya Tsunoda, Composition for Flutter Screen, 2008
Tramway: Luke Fowler and Toshiya Tsunoda, Composition for Flutter Screen, 2008


Luke Fowler and Toshiya Tsunoda ‘Composition for Flutter Screen’, 2008.  Installation with 16mm colour film and projector, homemade screen, timer, wire, fans, lights.

This sculptural installation features a flimsy handmade screen which is subjected to a series of interventions.  Fixed images – a moth, a meniscus, a candle flame – projected onto it are caused to move because the screen itself is in constant motion, blown about by electric fans.  From time to time, bright light and amplified sound interrupt the choreographed flow of the work, revealing the mechanisms of its illusions.

Project Pigeon workshops

Posted on Updated on

22 Feb 2011

Project Pigeon works with pigeons and people to bring about social change.  Alexandra Lockett and Ian England do lots of things with their pigeons, such as run workshops, make musical performances, curate exhibitions and design and build city centre lofts.

I got in touch with Alex and Ian to find out more and visit the loft in Digbeth, Birmingham.  The first Project Pigeon workshop was last Saturday and saw a group of us huddled together around the loft, out of the rain, drinking tea and discussing pigeons.  Pigeon history, pigeon fancying, pigeon racing… and how to cheat.

Two pigeon racers from the club Alex and Ian had recently joined were discussing the numerous methods that can be used to make pigeons fly faster (or at least appear to fly faster), including putting the clock that times the pigeon into the fringe or oven (to slow down or speed up the time) to win a race. There were many other techniques to increase speed and the overall productivity of the racing pigeons, but what struck me the most was just how competitive pigeon racing is.  Pigeon racing club members or committees can decide whether a new member can join based on their track record (for racing pigeons).  If a new member is seen to be joining all the local clubs and winning too many prizes then they can be turned down for membership or the zone for which they live can be altered so that it doesn’t include them.  This may seem unfair or even petty but this attitude is most likely due to the fact that its members are very dedicated and spend a lot of time caring for and training their pigeons.  Some club members do it to win cash prizes, others do it to be involved with the social side.

If you are curious about pigeons and want to learn more come along to the workshops at Digbeth, (run by Alex and Ian- both lovely people!) from now until April on Fridays and Saturdays.

Pigeon intelligence

Posted on Updated on

8 Feb 2011

Pigeons are intelligent. They have the ability to ‘home’ and take advantage of feeding opportunities within their environment to survive. The evidence is in the cities thriving pigeon population.

How do pigeons successfully find their way home? There are many explanations including the use of smell, memory, the sun, the roads, landmarks and the earths electromagnetic field, but there is still no hard evidence that one method is better than the other. Could it be that all the theories relating to pigeon navigation are correct, and that pigeons use a combination of (learnt) skills and instinct to guide them on their journey?

I met with lecturer and researcher Dr Mark Haselgrove from the Faculty of Science at Nottingham University, who believes that pigeons use more than one method to navigate.

My research examines the mechanisms and properties of learning in humans and non-human animals. I am particularly interested in understanding how animals attend to and represent stimuli within the world. Most of my research has employed techniques such as appetitive Pavlovian conditioning with rats, and autoshaping with pigeons.

Autoshaping (sometimes called “sign tracking”) is any of a variety of experimental procedures used to study classical conditioning in pigeons. In autoshaping, in contrast to shaping, food comes irrespective of the behavior of the pigeon. Therefore it can be seen as a method of learning, in this experiment a pigeon was placed in a box and presented with an image to respond to and receive food.

Mark Haswell and his colleagues have developed a theory that pigeons have a photographic memory, that can be used to assist with autoshaping. Mark explains that the pigeon can recall the memory of the image (visual stimuli), like a photograph and use to successfully overlay and match up both images.

Autoshaping experiments can include images, colour, words and symbols for example:

Triangle shape image= food

Circle shape image= no food

Card 1- peck

Card 2- do not peck

Pigeons are very good at distinguishing letters, shape and colour to peck at in order to receive food. However, they are not very good at realising abstract shapes, and do not respond as well to sound or smell.

The data I have been collecting from the pigeons at the canal started in Oct 2009, I intend to collect a years worth of data (on numbers and colour morph). During this time I would also like to explore learning and memory in pigeons, by using autoshaping to produce a series of experiments. There are a few ways I could do this- by changing the colour of my coats, by wearing different perfume, by using an object they can associate with being fed and not being fed and exploring the use of different tonal sounds. At the moment the pigeons at the canal associate my green coat and my iphone with being fed.

There are also imitation experiments, including Automatic imitation and Counter imitation.

Humans often engage in automatic imitation without even realising it, when the sight of a friend, relative or a colleague moving in a particular way elicits the same movement in the observer.

In an experiment, budgerigars had to peck or step upon a small button for food reward whilst watching video recordings of another budgerigar either pecking or stepping on the same button. The scientists split the birds into two groups — one in which they were rewarded for imitation, the other in which they were rewarded for counter-imitation.

B.F. Skinner was a American behaviorist, author, inventor, social philosopher and poet.  Skinner invented the operant conditioning chamber, (seen above) innovated his own philosophy of science called Radical behaviorism and founded his own school of experimental research psychology—the experimental analysis of behavior.

B.F. Skinner trains two pigeons to perform a chain of behaviours for the classroom demonstration.  As a result, pigeons engage in a competition, the so-called ‘Pigeon Ping Pong’ (narrated by B.F. Skinner).

I’m a pigeon fancier

Posted on Updated on

4 Dec 2010

I’m a pigeon fancier in the making, that doesn’t mean I fancy pigeons in some perverted way, it just means that I appreciate and admire them. I like to watch them walk and fly and listen to them coo. As Gary Marsh, a pigeon fancier that owns a pet shop a stones throw away from my house would say ‘They chill you out’.

Gary Marsh with his flock of pigeons
Gary Marsh with his flock of pigeons

Pigeons are really intelligent. There’s a reason the pigeon population continues to grow and this is because of the increasing amount of feeding opportunities available in the city and because pigeons have great memory and eye sight. If a food stand, restaurant or individual regularly discards food or directly feeds them, they will remember and come back again and again. Perched on the roof tops they can spot a feeding opportunity and because they are social creatures, they share this news with each other, that’s why pigeons usually come in flocks.






Gary has offered me some space to keep my own pigeons
Gary has offered me some space to keep my own pigeons

So what has this got to do with art?

At the moment I’m not quite sure but I’m having fun.

Pigeons (especially the feral ones) are easy to spot, unlike other rarer birds on a bird watchers list, pigeon numbers are in abundance.

I’m collecting data every Wednesday morning on pigeon numbers and colour morphs and sharing this with a composer to experiment with producing a musical composition and also with a science lab in New York to support their ongoing research into why pigeons exist in so many colours.

Im attending National Pigeon Association shows in the East Midlands to pick the brains of the most committed pigeon fanciers I can find. I’ve been very lucky to discover that I don’t have to travel to see fancy pigeons, as Gary Marsh who owns a pet shop has a shed full of the things!

I’m off to France for an artist residency at CAMAC, an art, science and technology organisation in April 2011 and intend to use all the data and information gathered this year and leading up to April to support with the production of new work.

At the moment I feel that I want to deepen my knowledge of pigeon fancying and possibly go as far as keeping my own pigeons so that I can develop a relationship with them, to gather sound and video recordings to support the creation of an audio tour or installation. I would also like to explore the possibility of attaching messages, CCTV cameras and GPS tracking devices to pigeons, to build up a visual of where they choose to fly and try to understand how they navigate on long journeys.

More images for Project Pigeonwatch

Residents share stories for sound walk

Posted on Updated on

24 July 2010

Last weekend was spent camping (in the rain) at Barn Farm camping site in Birchover, Derbyshire.

My friend (and very good photographer) Michelle came along to document interviews with residents of Wirksworth.  The content of the interviews was based on residents experience of living in the town and their historic knowledge of the area.  These stories will be embedded into the sound walk ‘Don’t Shoot the Messenger’ for Wirksworth Festival in September.

For further information and to listen to the sound walk please go to

Pigeon perceptions

Posted on Updated on

30 June 2010

So its the final day of the WEA Bird watching course in Nottingham and I want to know the groups viewpoint on feral and wood pigeons.  For starters feral pigeons aren’t even on the twitchers list of species as they don’t count, because they are not considered a pure breed and are a domesticated species.

The group are in agreement that the constant monotonous coo of the wood pigeon drives them potty!

Christine, works in the Lace Market in Nottingham and regularly hears the coo of a group of feral pigeons mating and nesting in the roof of the building opposite.  When she was in the middle of her theses a wood pigeon sat on the roof of her house cooing constantly, it drove her crackers… so her husband got a broom with a tea towel on the end to try to scare it off… but it just flew back and carried on cooing!

Janet is annoyed that pigeons eat expensive bird feed and scare off other smaller birds and has noticed that roosting spikes have been added to Cotgrave shopping precinct to keep pigeons away, due to the damage they cause to buildings.  Janet felt so strongly about pigeons as a nuisance that she said: If I ever see pigeon on the menu I always order it, in the hope that its the annoying pigeon from my garden!

Jenny used to rear wood pigeons for the RSPB, and has said that they aren’t as aggressive as some birds. Jenny doesn’t really mind pigeons, even though she does get a lot of them in her garden.  I think its funny when they do their courting dances and puff out their chests.

And the good bits… pigeons tend to hoover up unwanted food and they are quite pretty.

Thanks to Christine Southerland, Jean Cook and Janet Fernley.

Big Tidy Up for birds in Leicester canal

Posted on Updated on

22 May 2010

Big Tidy Up volunteers
Big Tidy Up volunteers, Photograph by Alex Hannam Leicester Mercury

As a sound artist creating site specific walks and installations, I am inspired by my surroundings and have recently discovered a passion for wild life, in particular birds, identifying and learning birdsongs. The canal is home to a range of birds; Coots, Mute Swans, Moorhens, Canadian geese, Herons, Mallards and Wood Pigeons.

I wanted to find out how I could help to clean the canal and whose responsibility it was to keep it clean.

It turns out that the Leicester City Council have a department that is responsible for clearing the canal of rubbish at certain times of the year. My query was passed onto the Riverside Rangers and a date was set to clean the canal.

The initial idea to clean the canal was inspired during a regular journey through the Rally Park, to the train station. Walking past the canal (Evans Weir) that runs along the Rally Park in Leicester, It’s hard to not notice the large pockets of rubbish accumulating at the edge of the canal and in particular trapped within the basin. It is obvious that the canal has been neglected and used as a dumping ground for litter and unwanted objects for years. Not only is the canal at some points unsightly but the smell in the summer is over powering.

As part of this clean up I registered the event under The Big Tidy Up website, in the hope that this activity would raise awareness of the importance of our green spaces and wild life, but to also make the public aware that there are ways in which they can help out.

The Big Tidy Up team initially planned to clean the canal from Abbey Park to the Rally Park, but because the water was so full of rubbish, we decided to do a more through job within the Abbey park area.  The team worked for 4 hours to collect 30 bags of rubbish and a list of objects that were too large to put into bags, including: 1 shopping trolley, 1 car bumper, several large pieces of plywood, 3 wooden pallets, 1 road sign, 1 callagas bottle, 1 pram, 1 children’s electric powered bike and 6 car tyres!

The Big Tidy up team featured in the Leicester Mercury (Tuesday 25 May p12) and I had an interview with BBC Radio Leicester.

For more photographs from the Big Tidy Up canal clean up please go to the official Big Tidy Up website.

River Sounding

Posted on Updated on

1st May 2010

Bill Fontana, one of the world’s leading sound artists, will be show casing River Sounding, a walk- through sound and video installation at Somerset House from 15 April- 31 May 2010.

Somerset House was built with direct access onto the Thames – the home of Admiral Nelson’s Navy Office with boats entering through the building’s great arch on the river.

Bill Fontana has collected hundreds of hours of audio and video from above and below the suface of the Thames, from Richmond to remote locations in the Estuary, to reveal the hidden stories and sound-worlds of the river.

Taking the lift to the bottom floor and walking out into the lightwells and Dead House- spaces far below the courtyard, usually closed to the public. The weather is awful and its raining heavily. We run to get inside a sheltered space, ending up in a dingy tunnel saturated by a green light. The space is dark and feels claustrophobic with pigeons quietly walking and cooing above our heads along dusty pipes, one swoops down and flies towards a projection of pedestrians and cars sweeping across a busy Tower Bridge.

Moving deeper into the tunnel and past the projection, the whole thing is atmospheric and even a bit unnerving.  Immersed in a space resonating the sound of water flowing, with distant ships’ horns, bells and the rumble of engines- blasted from loud, impressive, giant speakers.  The internal sound of the river itself has been captured by hydrophones suspended beneath its surface.

But as it is, we might think of the Thames as a river of ghosts. Of the victims of its worst disaster, when the Princess Alice sunk in 1878 drowning 600, or of the 58 residents of Canvey Island claimed by its waters in the 1953 flood, or of the 17th-century gentleman usher whose tomb we encounter in a passageway buried beneath Somerset House’s courtyard. But also the ghosts of abandoned warehouses, relics of obsolete industries, that line the river’s banks, or of the once mighty, now emasculated, tributaries – the Fleet, the Westbourne, the Tyburn – now reduced to trickling pathetically out of their outlets in the embankment walls. Martin Cullingford is editor of Gramophone online

Research into Ornithology

Posted on Updated on

14  April 2010

The areas of ornithology (a branch of zoology that concerns the study of birds), that I find fascinating is bird intelligence; in particular, instinct and learning. I hope to use these areas of interest as a catalyst to experiment and inspire new soundscapes and initiatives.

Research areas:

Don’t shoot the messenger: To compare and contrast the cultural and historical references of the pigeon, in particular their use as a messenger during World War II, with today’s role as a nuisance looking for feeding opportunities within the city.

Bird Brain: To observe the behaviour of birds within rural areas and the city to develop an understanding of the complex nature of bird calls, including how calls are learnt, committed to memory, adapted and invented.

To investigate how bird calls (including non- locatable alarm calls) can be used to establish an early warning system and protect families, other bird colonies and mammals.

Marcus Coates, Psychopomp

Posted on Updated on

2 April 2010

Marcus Coate’s first retrospective in this country at Milton Keynes Gallery from 15 January to 4 April 2010.

This is the first time that I have encountered Coates’ work and was encouraged to do so because of my interest in nature, (in particular birds) and the relationship with the urban environment… this interest has many levels, from bird calls and behaviour, migration, migration barriers and tagging to nesting and roosting in abandoned buildings and bird control and architecture.

Like other visitors watching  ‘Journey to the Other World’, I was transfixed on Coates shaman ritual performance, watching him achieve a trance like state and take part in a one way conversation (mimicking the language of animals through grunts, moans, chirps, etc) with animals and birds from the spirit world.

The ritual took place in a flat in Liverpool, with a group of around 10 people sat in front of Coates.  The group had concerns about the area they lived in, including the future of the site and the community and were worried that the network would seese to exist.  Coates’ role was to provide guidance to the group’s questions via communication with the animal spirit world.

The journey that Coate’s describes is one that explores his and the audiences imagination- detailing his exit from the building via the lift and down into the lower world.  He describes encounters and conversations with animals and birds and (just like a dream) strange symbolic occurances that relate directly to the groups concern… Coate’s uses this premonition to enlighten the group and share his interpretation (of the sparrow hawks bird wing stretched out with feathers moving independently and then shrinking) when he is unable to get a clear answer from any animal or bird spirits.

Still taken from Journey to the lower world
Still taken from Journey to the lower world, 2004

Dawn Chorus is an eerily beautiful multi screened video installation, showing footage of 19 singers tweeting and chirping like birds.  All participants were shot in their ‘natural habitats’, including a car park, osteopathic clinic and in a bath tub.  The video footage has been sped up so the singers erratic movements mimic that of a birds and their ‘singing’ perfectly matches that of a selection of birds (so much so, that some visitors expected the installation to include real birds).  Dawn Chorus was a completely immersive experience, I stood in the middle, trying to figure out which singer was making which bird noise, occasionally moving closer to one singer, waiting for them to join in with the dawn chorus, the quality and realistic soundscape was mesmerising and to a point sublime.  I think this may have been the longest I have stayed at an exhibition.  Dawn Chorus was produced with Picture This, The Wellcome Trust and Geoff Sample (bird song expert and sound wildlife recordist).

Dawn Chorus, 2007

To watch a clip of Dawn Chorus please click here.

It has been suggested that after this show, he should at least be nominated for the Turner Prize… I whole- heartedly agree.

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot

Posted on Updated on

19 March 2010

Curve art is a series of site- specific commissions created for The Curve (based in the Barbican Gallery) by contemporary artists.  The latest commission for The Curve is by French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, a trained musician and composer, creating works by drawing on the rhythms of daily life to produce sound in unexpected ways.

His first solo exhibition in the UK, takes the form of a walk-though aviary for a flock of 40 zebra finches, furnished with bass guitars and Gibson Les Paul electric guitars as perches, and cymbals as feeders containing water and seeds.  As the birds go about their routine activities, plucking strings and pecking cymbals, perching on or feeding from the various pieces of equipment, they create a random and captivating live soundscape.  The sounds are amplified to resonate throughout the gallery.

Carefully pulling back the metal chain curtain draped across the entrance, I wander into a dark passage way of flickering video imagery featuring close-ups of hands playing electric guitars. Rather than hearing the sound of the guitars playing I hear a humming drone produced by the amplification of the video signal.

As I walk into the light and into the main installation space, I expect to be confronted with a noisy composition of birds and people talking and moving around the space, instead I can only hear the occasional squeak from finches bouncing from one instrument to the next.  The installation was at full capacity, so had around 25 visitors, silently stood in small groups, huddled around instruments, patiently watching with expectant smiles to see how the birds would interact with the instruments.

Moving slowly around the small islands of sand sprouting cymbals and guitars to follow birds and find new ones, my movements within the space were affecting the movements of the birds, thus contributing to the live soundscape. I sat with other visitors around the edge of the installation and waited for birds to perch on an instrument close to me, observing the reactions of new visitors and listening to excited whispers as one bird startles another and they both move along the fretboard creating a random chance composition. The immersive live experience was both surreal and uplifting.

The artist Celeste Boursier-Mougenot said this: “My actions aim at giving structure to flows of activity whose input I do not determine, but whose resulting form is my objective.”  And the wonderful thing about this “resulting form” is that no visit is ever the same.  Because people are walking around all the time, the birds react; they move away from you, pick up a twig and start bashing it on the “A” string.

Lucy Jones, Culture blogs editor for the telegraph described the installation as ‘an oubliette of magic and fantasy in the concrete jungle of the Barbican… the best gig/art experience OF MY LIFE.’

Check out Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s installation at the Barbican Gallery on until 23 May 2010.

For further information and to watch a video of the installation please click here.

The Poetics of Space Festival, Amsterdam

Posted on Updated on

1 March 2010

The Poetics of Space Festival, 25- 28 February – Spatial explorations into art, science, music and technology

Sonic Acts The Poetics of Space is entirely dedicated to the exploration of space in performative and audiovisual art, film, music and architecture. It examines the importance of physical space in times of far-reaching technological developments, and the physical and psychological impact of spatial designs.

The programme comprises four densely filled days and nights and will provide an extensive overview of recent works and experiments – spatial audio compositions, audiovisual installations and performances – and includes relevant historical examples and utopian ideals and dreams from the twentieth century. For further information please click on the link

During the three and a half days in Amsterdam for the Poetics of Space Festival, the main events that really stuck in my mind was the live multi- channel electroacoustic concert by Haswell & Hecker, entitled “UPIC Diffusion Session #22″ and Duncan Speakman’s sound walk ‘as if it were the last time’.

The first night of live performances and film screenings took place at Paradiso, a rock music venue and cultural centre. The five hour event “Deep Spaces”, included Haswell & Hecker’s “UPIC Diffusion Session #22” for surround sound and laser lights, which utilized Iannis Xenakis’ graphic input computer music system, UPIC.

Paradiso was completely rammed full of visitors, a surprising and refreshing change to the small gatherings produced by audio visual events in the East Midlands.  We took our seats on the balcony, it didn’t seem like the ideal position to appreciate the concert, but as the performance developed from minimal subtlety, we were completely transfixed. With stunning laser lighting, bathing us in a vibrant and intense light, accompanied by piercing, throbbing tones, this truly was a superb immersive experience, that left us with our ears ringing and our eyes aching.

Below is a section of a review written by Trace Reddell, University of Denver for Leonardo reviews online, for the Poetics of Space festival.  The section below was written in relation to her experience of Haswell & Hecker’s concert.

The performance still powerfully evoked strange spaces that struck me as “retro-futuristic”:  wire-frame crafts emitting search beams and warning claxons as it scanned the world it discovered or invaded, dive-bombing aircraft suffering from engine-failure followed by an aggressive battery of laser cannon fire directed into the theater, the directionality then reversed so that the viewer seemed drawn forward into a domain of old-school, wormhole visual effects.

Official Haswell & Hecker blog:

View photos and video from “UPIC Diffusion Session #22”:

View video from “UPIC Diffusion Session #22”:

Haswell and Hecker's concert at Paradiso
Haswell and Hecker's stunning “UPIC Diffusion Session #22” at Paradiso, Amsterdam

Duncan Speakman’s sound walk; ‘as if it were the last time’ was a wonderful immersive group experience, ‘a chance to savour the world you live in, and to see it with fresh eyes.’

Me and my friend Owen left the conference early to get to the secret location before 6pm, we could see other people following and a large group started to form, looking at the clock in the street, we waited for 6pm and then simultaneously pressed play on our mp3 players to listen to the same soundscape.

We stood together in the rain, listening to the narrator, telling us a story and giving us instructions… we looked up at the roof tops, imagined ourselves running across them, stood close to shop windows to look at our reflection in the glass, walked arm in arm, looked at the sky (which made passers by look up too). At one point I was told to separate from Owen and hid around a corner and then had to run back to him and then give him a big hug and dance together- we were in hysterics at the end, both feeling exhausted after such a melody of emotions. This truly was a special and touching experience, one that was delivered individually via stereo headphones, but experienced collectively in a public space. As the write up for the piece suggests, you will ‘find yourself immersed in the cinema of everyday life.’

as if it were the last time
Duncan Speakman's sound walk- as if it were the last time

“Capricious and profound, the experience definitely captures what it is to escape from the world for a little bit…then to return and find that you see things differently.”–The Londonist

Download the sound walk from here:

View a video of the sound walk and participant reactions. Scroll down the page to find the video.

As part of the festival a selection of inspiring and informative conferences were delivered by a selection of key note speakers, many of them practitioners exhibiting and performing as part of the festival.

For more information please click on the links.

Friday 26 February

Saturday 27 February

Sunday 28 February


Posted on Updated on

6 February 2010

Psychogeography is the study of the effects of geographical settings, consciously managed or not, acting directly on the mood and behaviour of the individual.  Psychogeography research is carried through non- scientific methods such as derive, aimless drifting through the city, trying to record the emotions given by a particular place; and mental mapping, the production of mood- based maps.

“The sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters; the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres; the path of least resistance which is automatically followed in aimless strolls (and which has no relation to the physical contour of the ground); the appealing or repelling character of certain places – all this seems to be neglected.” Guy Debord, ‘ Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography

Commuting to Nottingham from Leicester has given me the opportunity to develop a greater understanding of my surroundings, to look at my walk to work as an adventure. Navigating through the city, exploring different routes, finding short cuts, finding dead ends and occasionally getting lost. Unfortunately I wasn’t organised enough to make a record of every journey I made to work and at the time I wasn’t thinking about it as an activity that could be used to produce a piece of artwork.

During my walks to work I did recognise other commuters and residents taking their dogs out for a early morning walk, I didn’t really get to know any of them too well, nothing more than a polite hello or nod of the head. From time to time I did follow a few people for part of my walk and tried to walk in time with their footsteps. Following people made me feel safe particularly when I was walking home at the end of work with no one else around. I would watch how they manoeuvred past cyclists coming towards them, avoided puddles and bird poo on the pavement. I would walk behind, concentrating on the sound of their footsteps, their breathing, their music. When the weather turned icy, I would let other commuters lead the way so I could follow their path, concentrating on re-tracing their footsteps, hoping I wouldn’t slip on the ice.


Posted on Updated on

6 February 2010

For a while now, I have been thinking about what I will do when my job comes to comes to an end on March 31st. For a split second I panicked and thought about re-applying for my job or securing another job to start on 1st April. Like many practitioners, I work full time (in the creative sector) and try to squeeze my practice around work, so being made redundant was probably the perfect opportunity for me to focus on what I really want to do… I don’t have a clear idea what this is yet but I have lots of little ideas that are slowly coming together to form what I hope will be a year long research and development project.

I’ve started to think about how the change of routine and structure that my current job brings, will effect my usual working week. Im going to miss walking through the park, past the canal and over the bridge to Leicester train station. Arriving into Nottingham, looking to my right, over the bridge and seeing ‘D’ happily sat feeding the birds or taking a swig from a Fosters can. Walking quickly, almost jogging across the city, listening to a song I’ve heard over and over through my itouch, trying to beat the traffic lights, so I can make my way to the office without stopping. Racing through the Broadmarsh Centre and being hit by the smell of a horrendous burger and hot dog vendor, a man selling pots of sweetcorn and the sickly sweet smell of gigantic brightly coloured confectionary, guaranteed to make your eyes water and raise your blood sugar level to an alarming rate. I will even miss grabbing my lunch from Boots and being greeted by the lady with the red hair and cheery eyes, and talking to her about the day so far, weekend plans and that my hair has changed colour (again) for the amount of time it takes for her to put my lunch through the till.

There are many things that I will miss, but nothing can beat the feeling that I have now- a mixture of excitement for all the possibilities that will come with having time to investigate areas of my practice that I have only briefly examined so far… and the fear of not doing anything constructive with my time, the fear of having too much time and too many things to think about and being indecisive.

East Midlands trains, Leicester to Nottingham, about £140 per month

Research and recordings for Humberstone Gate Soundscape

Posted on Updated on

September- October 2009

The final soundscape was composed using binaural audio recordings taken from a bench opposite the Independent Art Centre.  Recordings were also taken in the shops next to the Independent Art Centre, including the taxi rank and my journey to and from Humberstone Gate via bus and taxi.  The building that now hosts the IAC used to be a Walkabout club, therefore recordings from the Walkabout based on Granby Street were added in to reflect past events and previous usage of the building.  Observations of the environment, its inhabitants, passersby were noted (whilst sat on a bench opposite the IAC) and the opinions of local businesses and discussions surrounding the opening of the IAC collated, some of which were added to the final soundscape.

lucy recording in walkabout
Recording at Walkabout bar, Granby Street, Leicester