Taking a cue from the genesis of Mobile Dawn I have centered this new composition on an LP by Victor C. Lewis entitled 'A Tapestry of British Bird Song' (1964; EMI-CLP 1723). Lewis was one of those pioneering recordists who went to great lengths to obtain and share his birdsong recordings and A Tapestry is credited with being the first long-playing (LP) record to be released in the UK that focused solely on the sounds of birds (see http://sonicfield.org/96).
The album is well-presented with a composite image of the stained glass Gilbert White Memorial Window at St. Mary's church, Selborne, Hants. In addition to the useful information on the back of the cover, it also comes with an expansive inner leaflet, containing an introduction by the natural history broadcaster Jeffrey Boswall and extensive notes on each band of the record, with references and further reading by Victor Lewis himself. It is obviously a labour of love.
The recording itself is unusual in that within each track or 'band' (each side contains seven bands) there is a spoken guide by Lewis, indicating his intention to contextualise and educate, as well as to present the beauty of these avian songs and calls.
My piece turns Lewis'
tapestry into an embroidery by incorporating his voice (and the voices of other pioneers) into the fabric of the birdsong represented.
Here is an RMusic excerpt of the piece
About This Work
To structure this piece I created 8 categories of sound (illustrated below) - 7 of birds on the LP: Winchat, Dartford Warbler, Linnet, and Nightingale,
Grasshopper Warbler, Nightjar, Tawny Owl;
1 of Humans
Victor C. Lewis but with samples from Beatrice Harrison and Ludwig Koch.
This group of 8 was further divided into a 'day' set comprising
Winchat, Dartford Warbler, Linnet, Nightingale + Human
and a 'night' set of
Grasshopper Warbler, Nightjar, Tawny Owl + Human. Nightingales appear in each set as they sing both day and night; Humans are included as a kind of 'meta presence' of voice and presenter.
excerpt above, you can hear the 'day' set. The bird recordings of each species have been made into short samples or 'Sons'; sometimes these Sons are played in their entirety, sometimes they are further sampled by the software into smaller pieces. The piece migrates between various 'Nets' (rules or algorithms) that determine which groupings are played, and how (volume, pan).
The intention for this piece is for it to be played in an appropriate environment such as a gallery, museum or library etc.
while the audience are looking and exploring. Consequently the piece sounds sporadically, in imitation of birdsong (more so than in the excerpt here). Although it has a humorous aspect, the aim behind this work is a serious one, which is to present a composition experienced rather than directly listened to, a meditation on birdsong recording in a time of appreciation and anxiety regarding the natural world.
My starting point for this composition was to quickly select just two of the recorded sections (side 2, Bands 4 and 7) and to begin to work with these, taking fragments from the whole, seeking to integrate both bird and human sounds, including the trace of the sound of the record scratches.
As my intentions for this work became clearer to me through working with these materials, I decided, in places, to augment the recordings of 'A Tapestry' with those of other, related recordings, one by Lewis himself: 'Bird Sounds In Close-Up' (1969) plus 'Songs of British Birds No. 2' by Ludwig Koch (1958). In addition to using some of the spoken sections by Lewis on 'A Tapestry' I have also taken small fragments of an interview with Koch and the brief utterences of Bea Harrison in her rare appearance in a British film 'The Demi-Paradise' (1943). This approach also helped me decide the title of the piece: 'An Embroidery of British Bird Song'. However, I must emphasise it is 'A Tapestry' and Lewis's contribution that remain as the heart of this work, the text and visuals of the album providing inspiration in tandem with the sounds.
I chose the sections of 'A Tapestry' quickly, on the broad and fairly arbitrary basis that Band 4 of the disc represented 'day' (afternoon) recordings - and also included the Dartford Warbler (Dartford being the place of my birth) and Band 7 crossed over into 'night' (evening) and contained Night Jars, a bird I had witnessed with friends in the New Forest when I was in my twenties and doing lots of recordings with Southampton bands.
This decision gave me two collections of sounds:
'Day Group', featuring the Whinchat, the Dartford Warbler, the Linnet and the Human (Lewis, Koch, Harrison)
'Night Group' including the Nightingale, the Grasshopper Warbler, the Nightjar and the Tawny Owl. As some of these feature only fleetingly it was at this point I decided to include a small amount of other, extra recordings.
In common with all PMusic pieces AEOBBS is an indeterminate, computer-based piece that is built from two aspects - a collection of 'sculpted' sound recordings or 'Sons' and a set of performance/processing rules called 'Nets'. A Net is perhaps comparible with a small section or movement within music—although due to the use of chance (via random number generation) it does not have a fixed identity. It is within the Nets that I have taken and deveoped the title and theme of the Egenis event: 'collider - exploring hybridity' in the integration (and collision) of avian, scratch and human sounds. This piece is not about birdsong, it is about the representation of birdsong.
In the installation at RAMM on November 7th 2012, the composition drew on the 'Day' set of Sons and the Nets gave sporadic bursts of sound with occasional clustering. The intention was for the piece generally to play quite quietly, mingling with the environment with just the rare intrusion of calls, songs, repeats... just as birds sometime suddenly capture the attention.
My aim is to continue to develop this composition for performance elsewhere, particularly in relation to the particular time of day in which it is heard. If anyone would like to know more about this work or has suggestions for future venues and performances please email me. PR
Art in the dock, Science in the stocks: Collider - exploring hybridity - Public event organised by: Professor Steve Hughes, Co-director, Egenis Funded by the ESRC as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science. Venue: RAMM, Queen Street, Exeter - 07 Nov 2012 12-5pm. An Embroidery of British Bird Song featured as a discreet, installed sound work during the workshops of this event.
This composition is dedicated to Victor C. Lewis for his pioneering work, especially 'A Tapestry Of British Bird Song'.
Acknowledgement and dedication also to Jeffrey Boswall, Ludwig Koch and Beatrice Harrison.
1st weave: RAMM 7/11/12
Koch, Ludwig, 'Songs of British Birds No. 2' (1958), HMV, 7EG 8316
Lewis, Victor C., 'Bird Sounds In Close-Up' (1969), Hallmark Records, HMA 246 - main source
Asquith Anthony (dir.), 'The Demi-Paradise' (1943), Two Cities Films
Howard, Len (1969), 'Birds As Individuals', Collins
Koch, Ludwig (1955), 'Memoirs Of A Birdman', Phoenix House Ltd.
Rothenberg, David (2005), 'Why Birds Sing', Basin Books
Stap, Don (2005), 'Birdsong', Oxford University Press