Dawn Chor­us, 2007

14 or 7 chan­nel video install­a­tion, HD 1080 × 1920 16:9, 18 min loop
Field­work record­ings by Geoff Sample
Filmed in Bris­tol, UK
Filmed by Louie Blystad-Collins
Sound by Paul Baker and Mary Milton
Sing­ers: Paul Baker, Joe Brad­ley, Bar­ring­ton Cham­bers, Sue Coates, Pearl Con­way, Ed Guil­bert, Norma Head, James Mur­den, Ben Owen, Phoebe Part­ridge, Piers Part­ridge, Meena Ree­tooraz-Yeo­mans, Rasha Shaheen, Yoshino Shi­gi­hara, Alfie Ver­gano, Rina Ver­gano, Nick, Dav­id Rothenberg
Sci­entif­ic Advisor: Peter McGregor
Video post-pro­duc­tion: Pic­ture This
Com­mis­sioned and pro­duced by Pic­ture This
Fun­ded by Wellcome Trust

The video install­a­tion uses human voices to rep­lic­ate the nat­ur­al phe­nom­ena of a bird­song chor­us at dawn dur­ing Spring. Each of the four­teen screens fea­ture a view of a human hab­it­at: a car, an office, a bed­room, a school staff room etc. Indi­vidu­als are seen sit­ting in their domains singing accur­ate birdsong.

Assisted by Coates, Geoff Sample (wild­life sound record­ist) recor­ded the indi­vidu­al wild bird’s songs on the edge of a small wood­land near Bam­burgh, Northum­ber­land, from 3 am to 9 am in May 2005. They used up to four­teen micro­phones to sim­ul­tan­eously record as many of the indi­vidu­al songs as they could. The record­ings of each bird were then slowed down by up to 20 times, lower­ing the tone and length­en­ing the dur­a­tion so that they fell in the range of the human voice and became slow enough to sing along to.

Sing­ers from a vari­ety of choirs in Bris­tol volun­teered to mim­ic these slowed down record­ings. They were selec­ted accord­ing to their vocal range and abil­ity as the bird songs var­ied in their com­plex­ity. Some bird­songs, like the robin’s, have a broad ton­al range and unpre­dict­able rhythms; oth­ers, like the chiffchaff (as the name sug­gests), repeat two simple high pitch notes which when slowed down, reveal pre­vi­ously unheard notes and dynam­ics. The sing­ers were then filmed singing along to this slowed down bird­song for up to two hours. 

The video foot­age togeth­er with the audio was then sped up to the ori­gin­al tempo of the bird­song (approx­im­ately 20 times faster), cre­at­ing a trans­form­a­tion of the human voice into that of a bird. When the indi­vidu­als are seen and heard as a col­lect­ive, the tim­ings of their songs, rel­at­ive to each oth­er, rep­lic­ate when they were sung on the morn­ing they were ori­gin­ally recorded.

In the­ory, male birds of this kind of hab­it­at have favour­ite song-posts that they sing from; a bird will sing a while from one, then move on to anoth­er, its song show­ing the area that this bird is claim­ing as its ter­rit­ory. Some birds (wrens, tits, some warblers) are more mobile: they may sing while for­aging for food – they stop, deliv­er a song, then con­tin­ue mov­ing through the foliage. Oth­er than fit­ting indi­vidu­al birds with tiny radio mics, I didn’t see how we could deal with this; some day soon this may be feas­ible. It seemed to me that we had to choose our mic loc­a­tions care­fully and spread them through the area. It wasn’t simply a mat­ter of micing an individual’s song-post, but put­ting mics in spots where mobile birds might sing for a while in passing – isol­ated bushes, wood edges, the corner of an old hut and such-like.’

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.grid .col.col‑2 <br/​> .col.col‑4 .col.col‑4 .col.col‑2 <br/​> grid. Song­thrush {: .cen­ter}

.grid .col.col‑2 <br/​> .col.col‑4 .col.col‑4 .col.col‑2 <br/​> grid. Black­cap {: .cen­ter}

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