Visualising birdsong residency

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Experimental drawing to visualise birdsong using paint and coloured inkThis self-directed one-week residency at Fermynwoods Contemporary Art Sudborough Green Lodge was a chance to experiment with drawing, using different mediums to visualise birdsong. A technique I’ve practised for just over a year to produce a register of birdsong, mono prints, graphic illustrations and installations. The register features over 50 hand drawn symbols (for 25 species), which I feel best represent the vocalisation of each species call or song based on the tone, pitch, duration, timbre and rhythm. With around 25 more species still to be added! Listening, recording and visualising birdsong are all tools I use to identify birds in the field.

The sound recordings of birdsong that I would like to develop into drawings are compositions gathered from Jersey, Sweden and Swithland Wood in Leicestershire, ranging from 2 – 6 minutes in duration. For these three compositions I have isolated the sound of individual species to visualise through sonogram software, and created a transcription of the whole composition using a combination of hand drawn symbols, similar to a music score.
Triptych of experimental drawings using a range of mediaThe sound recordings gathered at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey, were particularly interesting as they feature endangered species. The composition includes Hammerkop, Red Fody and White-faced whistling duck and species that could be heard outside of the Kirindy Forest enclosure, the Blackbird, Chaffinch and Herring Gull. Therefore the drawings created whilst in residence were all based on the vocalisations of these birds.
Hammerkop at Durrell Wildlife Conservation TrustThe residency offered the time and space to focus on visualising the Kirindy Forest composition, using the transcription of the sound recording as a starting point. To experiment with mark making using a range of mediums including ink, chalk, paint, watercolour, mono print, pen, pencil and oil pastel.
The techniques I felt produced the most successful compositions included paint to create inkblot images and using fine liner and felt tip layered with ink and watercolour to create small detailed studies. Perspex and card with paint to create big expressive gestural marks and combining mono print (in black) with coloured inks.

View of artwork on walls at Sudborough Green Lodge, NorthamptonDrawing is a method to document my experiences of listening to birds, to demonstrate the complexities in their vocalisations, expressing rhythm and timbre using hand-made marks. It is a direct development taken from listening, recording, editing, identifying and transcribing bird sound. The work isn’t a scientifically correct representation of a sonogram, but rather a method of automatism and interpretation of the wide range of marks produced by this tool. The Sound Approach to birding, a book used to identify birds states ‘Bird sound has structure but you can only see it in a sonogram.’

Transcribing bird sound could be seen as a method for generating another language, but one that has many accents and the freedom to develop with new ‘words’ being added and adjusted, similar to the work of Olga Karlikova.

Below is a series of experimental works from the residency to visualise birdsong from the sound recording gathered from Kirindy Forest at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. Click on the images below to enlarge them and view as part of a gallery slideshow.


Even though this residency was focused on the visual side of birdsong, I couldn’t resist recording the dawn chorus in the wood near the lodge where I was staying. Recording sound for me is an opportunity to get outside; to discover new locations and listen to wildlife – it gives me a thrill each time. With this recording the sounds from the traffic can’t be escaped but overall it was a quiet chorus, which meant identifying individual bird species was a bit more straightforward. Despite this there were a few scraps between two Wrens and a group of Wood Pigeons and I was pleased to capture the sound of the Tawny Owl.

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