A 350-mile car journey and 7 hours later I arrive at Cove Park in the West coast of Scotland to begin a week-long artist residency.
The residency is an opportunity to experiment with printmaking inspired by the landscape and wildlife of Cove. I’ve taken EVERYTHING with me, including a printing press loaned from Attenborough Arts Centre and a selection of camera traps, a thermal camera, a pair of binoculars and a bat detector from Brackenhurst’s Nottingham Trent University.
After a week of exploring the area around Cove and Loch Lomond, I come away with a collection of monotype prints that explore the immediate landscape from the window of the studio and surrounding areas. A selection of images capturing roe deer at night and visuals that demonstrate the body heat of sheep, crows and even trees.
For this residency, I found that I was mostly influenced by the composition and colour of the surrounding landscape of the loch, harbor and Scottish borders (despite the heavy rain and wind!) and this can be seen in the collection of abstract monotype prints using drawing, painting, stencils, natural objects and layering colour.
During my time at Cove Park I also visited researcher Jana Jeglinski from the University of Glasgow to learn more about her studies into Northern Gannet population dynamics, and which colonies are the most attractive to teenage birds.
We plan to work together so that I can visualise this information, including the GPS tracking data in a creative way to share her research with a non-academic audience.
I plan on using the work created at Cove Park as a starting point for the artist residency as part of the AA2A programme at De Montfort University where I will explore printmaking and digital software to visualise sound, in particular wildlife and electroacoustic music between October – April 2018.
When I was asked to produce a performance with musicians in response to an exhibition about Leicester’s industry, it was an easy choice. Peter Wyeth of course. I’d seen him perform years ago and was blown away with his loop pedal skills a long time before we even met properly, and he’d recently taken a field recording of mine and ‘Wyethed’ it with his wonderful, delicate loops, guitar riffs and vocals. We were both in agreement that the performance needed something else special and were both big fans of drumming girl duo Rattle– who turned out to be available (after their tour of Barcelona!) and the perfect choice for the show on Thursday 27 July at Attenborough Arts Centre.
The Workforce Symphony, a soundtrack I produced for the Leicester: Memories of Industry exhibition at AAC was split up into single sound files, including sounds of machinery, people working in factories and interviews with retired industrialists, and then shared with Peter and Rattle to re-hash and interpret for the performance.
After several meetings and lots of emails sharing ideas and music samples, we got together at lunchtime on the day of the performance to set the stage and rehearse. With the support of g8 artists (who exhibited new work as part of the LMOI exhibition) we decided on the seating arrangements, staging, artwork and collections. We knew we wanted the space to be intimate so that the audience could see as much as possible, especially the artwork on the screens and on stage and Peter working on the floor with Rattle, using all sorts of gadgets, sculptures and objects as unconventional instruments.
The performance had a changing tempo, which matched the idea of factory life and working long hours by mimicking the rhythmic sounds of machinery using a variety of percussive instruments, guitar (with violin bow), drums, field recordings, loop pedal and a pair of iron cobbler’s shoes and hammer. Peter’s melancholic vocals accompanied the sounds to describe a routine walk through the city of Leicester on his way to work, describing the buildings, shops and factories that he once saw, which have now gone.
All of this was part improvised-part rehearsed to create a collaborative response full of touching harmonies and melodies combined with lots of booming drums to produce crescendos of thunderous experimental but playful music. It was the first time Peter and Rattle had performed it as a special one-off performance and I’m proud to have been a part of it. Thanks to everyone that made it happen and came to see the show.
Working in collaboration with g8 artists to respond to the theme of Leicester’s industry, both past and present. The new commissioned artworks have been made in response to collections of historic objects and museum artefacts as part of a group exhibition in the new galleries, at Attenborough Arts Centre, 9 June – 20 August 2017.
I have been invited to produce a soundtrack which reflects Leicester’s social and industrial legacy. To capture the memories of retired industrialists and the legacy it has left behind, including community and volunteer groups from Abbey Pumping Station, Leicestershire Industrial History Society and Men in Sheds at Age UK Leicestershire and Rutland.
The exhibition will also examine the links between industry and parks to highlight ‘Leicester EXPO 72’, a major celebration of industry and science held at Abbey Park in 1972, to draw connections between the development of city parks and the industries that funded them.
With this in mind I have met with and interviewed retired industrialists, captured field recordings at Abbey Park and Billy Bates fair to reflect the history of Leicester’s urban green spaces and recorded sound from the factory at Cooke Optics Limited, a Leicester-based company who have been producing lenses for the film industry since 1894.
The new soundscape The Workforce Symphony has been produced using a mixture of field recordings, interviews and oral history archives to produce a narrative that explores the rhythmic sounds created by industrial machinery, the patterns of voices recounting stories and the natural environment. The composition is layered with sound recordings gathered from factories, workshops, vintage industrial machinery, parks, wildlife and interviews with retired industrialists and manipulated to mimic the sounds of industry or stretched, repeated and reversed to produce new and unexpected audio samples.
Listen to The Workforce Symphony, 2017 below:
The exhibition is supported by Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester and Leicestershire & Museum Services, Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund and Leicester City Council.
With thanks to Abbey Pumping Station, Leicestershire Industrial History Society, Men in Sheds at Age UK Leicestershire and Rutland, Cooke Optics Limited, Abbey Park and the East Midlands Oral History Archive, University of Leicester.
The Red Species List was a collaboration between musicians Rishii Chowdhury (Tabla), Waqas Choudhary (Bansuri-Flute) and Eleanor Graff- Baker (Violin) and artist Lucy Stevens, to produce a concert in response to ecologically and politically aware artists Lucy + Jorge Orta, who exhibited a body of work at Attenborough Arts Centre (AAC).
The new work commissioned by AAC highlights birds of highest conservation concern on The Red List, due to a rapid decline in numbers in the UK.
The concert features songs of endangered birds as inspiration, using Indian classical, traditional and folk music and field recordings to create an hour-long composition and printmaking, drawing and video to visualise birdsong. The concert was supported by Geoff Sample and The Wildlife Sound Recording Society. Photography by David Wilson Clarke.
Read a short Arts Professional feature related to the concert which shares tips for using art to communicate environmental issues in ‘How to … protect nature through performance’.
Rehearsals for The Red Species List are well underway at Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester, where sound and visual artist Lucy Stevens and musicians, Rishii Chowdhury (tabla), Waqas Choudhary (bansri – Indian flute) and Eleanor Graff-Baker (violin) are working together on a new commission to create a musical and visual experience, inspired by the songs of endangered birds.
This concert is a commission to respond to the current exhibition by Lucy + Jorge Orta at Attenborough Arts Centre. The work of this internationally acclaimed duo questions the social and ecological sustainability of our planet. With Symphony for Absent Wildlife, being of particular influence on this new work due to its comment on endangered species. The audience enter a darkened room, where they encounter an orchestra of woodland ‘Spirits’, wearing costumes made out of reclaimed Red Cross felt blankets. They perform a concert on wooden bird whistles. The masked figures recall the spirits of the once abundant wildlife across the Albertan plains: bison, moose, wapiti, wolves, grizzly bears, and eagles. There is also species from other places, highlighting the global importance of this issue.
This concert concentrates on declining birds in the UK and was given its title, after the traffic light system: Green, Amber, Red list- to indicate a level of conservation concern, according to population and breeding status, with Red as the highest conservation priority. The latest assessment by WWT and Birds of Conservation Concern 4 shows that 67 species are now of ‘highest conservation concern’ and have been placed on the assessment’s Red List, which accounts for more than one-quarter of the UK species. In December 2015 the Curlew and Puffin were added to the Red list because of pollution and declining food sources.
Stevens’ art practice examines the acoustic ecology of the natural environment using field recording, digital illustration, drawing and printmaking as a tool to better understand the diversity of bird species and the wider issues of biodiversity. The work explores the relationship between humanity and nature; including the desire to communicate, interpret and understand bird behaviour through visualising birdsong.
For this project she has created three video works which showcase a variety of methods for visualising birdsong using printmaking and drawing, including a video showing her drawing the sounds of birdsong in time to the soundtrack, and creating over 200 mono prints and selecting 18 to represent the songs of endangered birds.
The soundtrack composed by Stevens features the songs of 25 birds, gathered using a combination of her own field recordings and those from Sound recordist Geoff Sample and Alan Burbidge and Paul Pratley from The Wildlife Sound Recording Society. The soundtrack has been created using only the sounds of birdsong, including the harmonies and the drones, which have been stretched eight thousand times or more to create a completely different sound, some haunting and some mimicking the human voice.
The musicians will respond to the soundtrack of birdsong using a combination of structured verses and improvisation, using a mix of Western classical and traditional with Indian classical and folk music styles. The importance of reconnecting the music with nature is highlighted through the sensitive approach taken by this unique trio, when responding and mimicking the songs using the pitch of the bird’s voice as a key note, to produce an evocative and energetic performance.
Come early and visit the Lucy + Jorge Orta exhibition on until 7.30pm.
Tickets for The Red Species List on Friday 22 April, 8pm can be purchased at Attenborough Arts Centre, University of Leicester, Lancaster Road, Leicester LE1 7HA or at the website here: bit.ly/1PZq4Ss for £8 (full) / £7 (concession) / £5 (student) or at the Box office: 0116 252 2455.
This winter Im working on a new project, The Red Species List, a new commission for Attenborough Arts Centre, in response to the Lucy + Jorge Orta exhibition. The project will be a collaboration with musicians using live music, field recordings and animation to visualise the voices of UK birds currently on the Red Species list and endanger of becoming extinct.
As part of this project I have started to visualise some of the birds voices, including the Cuckoo. The two monoprints are currently on display as part of the International Postcard Show 2016 until 13 February, at the Surface Gallery in Nottingham. All postcards are available to buy for £15 and have been created by artists from all over the world. If you visit the gallery there’s a chance to vote for your favourite submission too!
This 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.
The 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.
The 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.
Drawing 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.