The Listening to Birds Blog

Song Thrush by Nigel Pye //myweb.tiscali.co.uk/njpphotography/

Composing with birds

I’m slowly working my way through the 600 or so emails and contributions I’ve had in the past week, so apologies again if I’ve not replied to you yet. Be patient, particularly if you had a specific enquiry!

One of the contributions that I particularly enjoyed came from Neil Horne in Sydney, Australia. He’s an artist who works with computers and he’s designed some interactive java software that enables different bird sounds to be combined into a composition. You can use the ‘Sky Music’ programme here. Neil makes some interesting observations about the different responses to the programme:

Our approach is from the perspective of the aesthetics of bird calls… Birders hear birds differently. When the composing software was trialled by birders, they were reluctant to combine sounds and rhythms, but were more interested in identifying birds. They could only hear it as a quiz. Computer specialists on the other hand with a music background were happy to compose. Where we recorded the black cockatoos, there were people sitting at picnic tables talking who did not hear the amazing performance, or behaved as if they didn’t.

Although I’m a birder myself, I didn’t see it so much as a quiz because I’m unfamiliar with the sounds of eastern Australian birds. Instead I was able to play around with the sounds and rhythms. It’s quite a different way to think about and to hear the vocalisations of birds. It helped me to understand what Juana Molina means by the different loops of sound made by duetting birds combining in different ways despite repetition. Have a go at playing two different recordings together and see how the sound changes as it goes on. Thanks to Neil for letting me know about his work.

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