Author: Lucy Stevens
New networks for nature is a broad alliance of creators (including poets, authors, scientists, film makers, visual artists, environmentalists, musicians and composers) whose work draws strongly on the natural environment. It’s a voluntary run organisation that runs an annual series of discussions for like minded people to meet and learn about the latest news and discoveries from academics and artists- this time I went to a talk about alien plant and animal species and our changing attitudes towards non-native species and another about how modern technology can be used to connect people with nature, instead of distancing them from it. Look out for there next meeting at Stamford Arts centre in November 2014.
On Saturday 23 November I gave a talk about my most recent artist residency at ‘In residence’ at Embrace Arts, organised by Synapse Arts. I spoke about Ricklundgarden in Northern Sweden and the beautiful landscape, the remoteness, the outdoor adventures, gathering sound recordings of the environment and drawing in response to birdsong.
The day was a mix of artists talking about their experiences of artist residencies and portfolio sessions for artists with curators and professionals. I met some lovely artists and it was great to talk about our experiences of residencies, commissions and plans for the future.
Ive been invited to exhibit as part of the Alumni exhibition, celebrating 170 years of art and design at Nottingham Trent University. The exhibition takes place between Thursday 9 January – Sunday 16 February 2014, with a preview party on Wednesday 8 January at Bonington Gallery.
For this exhibition I will develop a selection of work created in May 2013, as part of an artist residency at Ricklundgården in Northern Sweden. Im particularly interested in taking a new approach to the drawings created in response to birdsong, in particular the Curlew, Brambling and Redshank.
In the last week Ive joined the Leicester Print Workshop and have created a series of monoprints; experimenting with layers of colour, drawing into ink and painting onto ink using white spirit. I will continue these experiments using sound recordings (taken from Sweden) of birdsong, to structure the composition and a series of colour palettes that Ive created on Colourlovers.com that I feel best represent the bird and its environment. Using print making techniques I hope to create a fluid and expressive representation of birdsong heard in Sweden.
Listen to: Curlew Song, 1.22 mins
Listen to: Bramblings and Redshank, 1.33 mins
24 September 2013
This piece was created for the University of Leicester’s School of Museum Studies ‘Museum Metamorphosis’ project and will be on display at the School of Museum Studies from 26 September 2013 until 10 February 2014.
The Lyrebird, currently exhibited at New Walk Museum & Art Gallery in Leicester, was transformed through a series of drawings, scanned objects and watercolour to create a layered digital print. The final image ties the notion of metamorphosis with mimicry, using symmetry and mirroring; transforming the appearance of the bird and it’s environment using patterns created from its own courtship songs.
‘The Magic Voice’ focuses particularly on the recent discovery by Dr Anastasia Dalziell (Australian National University) on lyrebirds in the Dandenong Ranges and their 4-part coordinated song-dance courtship routine. The lyrebirds song range is complex; it is also one of the few birds that can dance whilst it sings- hence the different positioning of the birds feathers on the print. This work concentrates on the four dance moves and four calls during courtship; including sounds familiar to an 80′s video game, a ruler being twanged and a mixture of repetitive loud sharp short calls and buzzing sounds.
Through interpreting birdsong with drawings and sonogram software, I was able to visualise the pitch and volume of the sounds. The feathers and body have been exaggerated in colour and pattern with some birds taking on the visual form of their own song. The environment around the birds reflects its ability to mimic industrial and artificial sounds by replacing a forest with a cityscape of Leicester- filling the sky with the sound of the lyrebirds voice.
18 July 2013
For the Museum Metamorphosis project artists were asked to select an object to inspire new artwork, as part of New Walk Museum & Art Galleries permanent collections. I choose the Lyre bird, because of its fantastic ability to perfectly mimic other birds and even mechanical sounds. This proposal has been accepted by The School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester and New Walk Museum & Art Gallery, and will be exhibited (at the School of Museum Studies) from 26 September – 10 February 2014. The selected artists met today to discuss their proposals and to select a case to install their artwork.
The Lyre bird is famous for its extraordinary skills in mimicry and the most accomplished songster of any bird, developing its repertoire with calls ‘borrowed’ from at least 20 other species of bird; and more impressively being able to perfectly mimic the sound of camera shutters, chainsaws and car alarms!
Concept of ‘Metamorphosis’
Its song range is complex and elaborate, totalling around 100, but I will concentrate of the four calls during courtship; including sounds familiar to an 80s video game, a ruler being twanged and a mixture of repetitive loud sharp short calls and buzzing sounds. The image of the lyre bird will reflect this with feather colour and shape being replaced with a visual interpretation of its calls. Through interpreting birdsong with drawings and sonogram software, I’m able to visualise the pitch and volume of a sound, a technique I’ve been using since January 2013. The environment around the bird will reflect its ability to mimic artificial and mechanical sounds by replacing a forest with a city.
29 May – 1 June 2013
The last post for my artist residency at Ricklundgården and a sad goodbye to the beautiful gardens and lovely staff!
During my stay I have identified 24 birds, visited 4 main locations, and met with 2 birding experts to gather the sound of birdsong. The drawings, prints and installations have been inspired by birdsong, natural objects from the gardens and the rapidly changing weather; from a snow-covered garden and frozen lake one week, to one filled with sprouting flowers and glorious sunshine the next! Finding out where the garden birds have come from and where they will go to next as part of their yearly migration, how to read birdsong on sonograms and just how expensive the food is here! Read more about this at my blog www.drawingbirdsong.wordpress.com, plus my recent reindeer sighting up a mountain, getting tutted at by a Black Grouse and being stuck in the middle of a sing-off between Bramblings!
25 – 28 May 2013
An overview of bird migration, plus an unusual way to identify migration intensity using the moon.
Listen to the dawn chorus featuring Swedish birds at 3am, compared to 11pm.
Take a listen to the sound of the changing weather here in Ricklundgården and how ice melting can sound like music!
Read more about my 3 week artist residency at Ricklundgården here on my blog www.drawingbirdsong.wordpress.com
21 – 24 May 2013
Take a look at some new work based on the sound of birdsong, including prints using fire ash and water and drawing ink and a giant pin board installation using twigs, feathers, branches, grass, lichen and more. Plus charcoal shadow drawings and charcoal rubbings to reveal the beautiful fragility and detail of down feathers. Read more and see all images at my Drawing birdsong blog www.drawingbirdsong.wordpress.com as part of a 3 week artist residency at Ricklundgården in Northern Sweden.
18 – 20 May 2013
An alternative way to learn how to identify birdsong using sound recordings, drawing and sonograms. Listen to sound recordings of birds including a Brambling, Fieldfare and Willow warbler from the beautiful surroundings of Ricklundgården in Sweden. Learn more about reading sonograms to identify birds based on their pitch and volume on my blog www.drawingbirdsong.wordpress.com
16 – 17 May 2013
Following on from the Stonechat’s collision with the large studio window (and its full recovery), Ive created a series of alternative ‘Danger window’ warning signs for birds, using ink and charcoal, which feature an interpretation of the Stonechat’s song. The drawings are contained within a triangle or circle to reflect traffic warning or no entry signs, to indicate potential hazards or obstacles. Ive also been creating prints to reflect a flock of birds, using pine cones, lichen, a branch from a pine tree and more that Ive collected from the surroundings of Ricklundgården. Read the full post here on drawingbirdsong.wordpress.com.
15 May 2013
How a Stonechat (a bird the size of a Robin) hitting my window caused inspiration to create anti-window strikes and drawing the sound of birdsong using ash from the fire. Find out more on my blog drawingbirdsong.wordpress.com, as part of a 3-week artist residency in Northern Sweden.
14 May 2013
Find out what happened when I missed my flight to Vilhelmina and check out the incredible views of Ricklundgarden in Northern Sweden. Listen to a sound recording from under a giant tree house and more on my drawing birdsong blog as part of a 3-week artist residency to create a series of drawings, digital prints and sound recordings, in response to bird song.
6 May 2013
International Dawn Chorus Day on Sunday 5 May was a worldwide celebration to welcome back birds from their long migration. To mark this occasion, I took part in a guided bird walk led by Tim Mackrill at Rutland Water’s Lyndon Visitor Centre to capture the sound of the dawn chorus at 5.30am!
I arrived early (very unlike me), to test my Tascam DR-680 recording device and DPA 4060 microphones, using the A-B stereo technique with a coat hanger recommended by the BBC’s Chris Watson. But then realised I was at the wrong location (damn it!), although this gave me a chance to record the sound of the dawn chorus in the car park of the Anglian Birdwatching Centre for a while without any interruptions.
This was the dawn chorus captured at 5am at the Anglian Birdwatching Centre, it features Wood Pigeons, Collared Doves, Carrion Crows, Garden Warblers, Wrens, Goldfinches, Blackbirds, Great tits, Blue tits, Dunnocks, Robins, Jackdaws, Chaffinches and flying above; Canadian Geese and Shelducks… and possibly more! I cant take credit for the information on birds (below), although I know a bit, my knowledge is not as vast as the RSPB website!
As always these recordings sound better through headphones than your computer/laptop speakers.
Listen to: Dawn chorus at the Anglian Birdwatching Centre at 5am, 10.27 mins
Listen to: Song Thrush, 2.09 mins. This bird repeats its loud song phrases 5 – 6 times, then sings a new phrase. It likes to eat snails which it breaks into by smashing them against a stone with a flick of the head. Unfortunately their numbers are declining, especially on farmland making it a Red List species.
Listen to: Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler, Chiff Chaff and Dunnock, 1.42 mins. The Garden Warbler is a very plain warbler with no distinguishing features. Its song is similar to that of a blackcap, but has longer mellow phrases. The Willow warbler are small birds with grey-green backs, a yellow tinged chest and a stripe above the eye. Their population has undergone a moderate decline over the past 25 years making them an Amber List species. The Chiff Chaff is a small olive-brown warbler, with a distinctive tail-wagging movement. Its an easy bird to remember because it sings its own name. The Dunnock is a quiet small brown and grey bird, often seen on its own. When two rival males come together they become animated with lots of wing-flicking and loud calling.
Listen to: Willow Warbler, Wren, Wood Pigeon, Chaffinch, Great Tit and Green Woodpecker, 1.20. See above for information on the Willow Warbler. The Wren is a tiny brown bird. It is dumpy, almost rounded, with quite long legs and toes, very short round wings and a short, narrow tail. For such a small bird it has a remarkably loud voice. The Wood Pigeon (as you probably already know!) is the UK’s largest and commonest pigeon, it is largely grey with a white neck patch and white wing patches. Its cooing call is a familiar sound in woodlands as is the loud clatter of its wings when it flies away. The Chaffinch is the most colourful of the UK’s finches. It does not feed openly on bird feeders – but prefers to hop about under the bird table or under the hedge. The Great Tit is green and yellow with a striking glossy black head with white cheeks and a distinctive two-syllable song. The Green Woodpecker has a heavy-looking body, short tail and a strong, long bill. It is green on its upperparts with a paler belly, bright yellow rump and red on the top of its head. They have an undulating flight and a loud, laughing call.
Listen to: Dunnock, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Shelduck, 1.17 mins. See above for information on the Dunnock and Willow Warbler. The Sedge Warbler is a small, quite plump, warbler with a striking broad creamy stripe above its eye. It is a summer visitor, and winters in Africa, south of the Sahara Desert. Its song is a noisy, rambling. The Shelduck is a big, colourful duck, both sexes have a dark green head and neck, a chestnut belly stripe and a red bill. On this recording Tim tells us about how Shelducks like to nest in rabbit burrows!
Listen to: Willow Warbler, Wood Pigeon, Blackcap and Robin, 4.35 mins. See above for information on the Willow Warbler and Wood Pigeon. The Blackcap is a distinctive greyish warbler, the male has a black cap, and the female a chestnut one. Its fluting song has earned it the name ‘northern nightingale’. The Robin is the UK’s favourite bird – with its bright red breast it is familar throughout the year. Robins sing nearly all year round, and despite their cute appearance, they are aggressively territorial. On this recording Tim tells us about the Willow Warbler’s migration from Africa and how Robins are affected by street lights, and asks was it a Nightingale or a Robin that inspired the song “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square?”
4 May 2013
At the start of March I went to the Lake District for a short break, to be inspired by the beautiful scenery. As part of our schedule (there has to be a schedule, even though Scott isn’t keen and thinks a holiday should be for relaxing), we stayed in Windermere and spent most of our time exploring Orrest Head, Lake Windermere and Hill Top (Beatrix Potter’s house and garden).
In between walking, bird watching/listening, picnicking, taking photographs and collecting feathers and twigs, we took a Lake cruise and Mountain Goat (that’s a mini bus not an actual goat) to Hill Top to explore Beatrix Potter’s house. Every inch was filled with beautiful objects, paintings and furniture, including a small basket next to her bed for her pet pig!
The house still boasts some of her original furniture, my favourite room contained her desk, where she created some of the best-loved children’s books of all time. This room felt special because it was where she would write letters to family and friends and a space where she could invent new colourful characters for her books. I imagined her painting at her desk, with the sun pouring through the window and the sound of the birds from the garden below, I touched the desk when the assistant wasn’t looking, hoping that some of her magical talent would rub off on me.
Walking around her garden and allotment we spotted rabbits hoping around the lawn, blue tits and robins in the trees and groups of Jackdaws perched on the roof of her house.
I didnt have my sound recording equipment with me to capture the sounds of the Jackdaws, so I used a sound recording taken from Bradgate Park to create some drawings. The first image was created using drawing ink and a twig from Beatrix Potter’s garden. The willow charcoal drawing was another response to the Jackdaw recording, which also used natural objects to create a textured composition.
19 April 2013
Bradgate Park is one of my favourite parks and one that I have visited since I was a kid tearing around in my bauer skates and playing hide and seek, or as we called it ‘free pod’ in the tall bracken.
The park is very popular and with previous recordings, Ive found it difficult to record just the sounds of wildlife without capturing people talking and dogs barking. This time I managed to find a spot where I was undisturbed; leant against a small wooden fence containing a young tree (probably to keep the deer away) and sat on my coat in the sun, in-between pathways and surrounded by dry bracken. I used my Marantz PMD660 with my Rode NT55 mic with interchangeable omni/cardioid capsules (I used omni), with a Telinga parabolic dish. From all the sound recordings I took, Ive selected very short sections which feature different areas of the park and different birds, although the sun was shining, it was difficult to avoid the wind completely.
This sound recording was taken at the nest of a group of Jackdaws, who had made a nest in the gap of a tree trunk at Bradgate Park. Jackdaws often pull out deer hair and add it to their nest, so I collected some hair (I didnt pull it out there was a clump on the ground!), bracken, leaves, grass and feathers to take to a monoprint workshop at Lakeside Arts centre with Leicester Print Workshop, led by artist and tutor Kate Da’Casto. I hadn’t done any monoprinting for years and wanted to use this method as its one of the most versatile, with one of results and a technique that can be used in the field.
Listen to Jackdaws, 38 secs
Listen to Carrion Crows, Blue Tits and a Goldfinch, 22 secs
This sound recording features Carrion Crows, Blue Tits and a Goldfinch at Bradgate Park. The mono print (below) has been layered with 3 colours- Yellow, Magenta and Cyan. This print was created by layering objects and stencils including bracken, leaves, feathers and a silhouette of a blue tit.
Listen to a Mistle Thrush contact/alarm call, 32 secs
This sound recording features a Mistle Thrush contact/alarm call- this was captured from a distance using the parabolic dish, the ratchet-like call gets louder as it flies above my head.
I plan to use natural objects to create monoprints as well as drawings and sound recordings to document the sound of bird vocalisation, both during and after my residency at Ricklundgården studios in Southern Lapland.
1 April 2013
Keep up-to-date with my artist residency in Northern Sweden at the Ricklundgården studios (for 3 weeks between May/June) at my new ‘drawing birdsong’ blog. I will work with a local bird expert to identify and create a series of drawings, digital prints and sound recordings, in response to bird song.
28 March 2013
I’m getting into the habit of drawing the ‘sounds’ of birds whenever I can and its usually when I have a few minutes spare before work. Castle Gardens in Leicester is a lovely haven for wildlife and a great spot for on-site drawing.
The drawing to the left was done in the studio from a sound recording taken in January at the park and the drawing to the right was created on-site in March.
There is a noticeable difference between the composition of a drawing created on-site (listening to birdsong), when compared with a studio drawing using sound recordings of birdsong. When Im drawing on-site the drawing is responsive and spontaneous and will capture what Ive heard (and not what Ive missed), the lines and symbols are more than likely to represent a mixture of bird vocalisation rather than a clear symbol for an individual bird as a studio drawing would, where I have the opportunity to pause the recording and identify each bird. This method of studio drawing is more analytical and repeated listening and drawing offers the chance to create more spontaneous arrangements of drawing using selected symbols for birdsong and calls.
28 February 2013
The 3-week residency will allow me to develop the visual side of my practice, to create drawings in response to bird song; inspired by Czech visual artist Olga Karlíková and her work ‘Audible landscapes’.
My studio will be based in the vast wilderness, directly above a bird migration path, where I will work with a local bird expert to identify species and develop an individual drawing/symbol, which I feel best represents a bird’s voice, based on tone, pitch, direction, speed and pattern. This will be collated into an identification register and used to create a visual composition (similar to a music score), using a variety of drawing mediums and techniques, including on-site responsive drawing and drawing whilst listening to sound recordings in the studio. I have agreed to give a talk and exhibit my new work as part of an open studio to artists and local residents at my studio in Saxnäs.
Im currently brushing up on my bird watching/listening skills using a Geoff Sample bird identification CD, but hope to purchase a birdvoice lite pen which comes with a field guide, when the pen touches the field guide it plays back the songs and calls of the various birds or information.
I’ve applied to Arts Council England for funding to support the residency, if I am successful I will be able to purchase new equipment, meet with curator Stella Couloutbanis for mentoring sessions and receive support from the Wildlife Sound Recording Society for a feature on their website and journal.
16 January 2013
*UPDATE This work was shortlisted for The Attenborough Prize as part of the Open 24 exhibition at New Walk Museum & Art Gallery
Pigeon Feather Pie Chart is the second visual interpretation that has come from a year of observing and collecting data on feral pigeons in Leicester (between 2010 – 2011), to support Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology with research into why pigeons exist in so many colour variations, in their project ‘Project Pigeon Watch’.
The digital print shows the average pigeon colour morph (varieties of feather colour) of pigeons observed over a year, to create a pie chart using pigeon feathers. The bright red imagery is taken from an early stamp created for the Pigeon-Gram service on the Great Barrier Island (New Zealand), produced when the Pigeon Post service began between the island and Auckland in 1897.
12 September 2012
*UPDATE: ‘Pigeon Clock graph’ has been selected as the first prize winner for £200 sponsorship from John E Wright.
I’m delighted to be selected for the Annual open exhibition at Nottingham castle this year.
The exhibition will run from 29 September – 28 October 2012
A section of the statement submitted for the exhibition: This year Stevens has explored the use of visuals to interpret a year’s worth of data based on feral pigeon behaviour, to support Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology with research into why pigeons exist in so many colour variations. Between 2010 – 2011 Stevens observed and fed pigeons in Leicester every Wednesday, counting and recording the colours of courting pigeons to support scientific research.
Pigeon clock graph shows the average number of pigeons per month over a year and the shape is based on the idea of a concentric circle graph. The image was layered using toulet clock faces from an automatic pigeon clock, used for pigeon racing.
Half eaten bread and seed was created by feeding pigeons directly off sun print paper, with the colours altered and replaced using Photoshop.
15 August 2012
Sound artists and recordists were asked to submit recordings taken between 18 July – 25 July 2012. I entered ‘Wasp VS Ant’, a very quiet and intimate recording taken using a contact microphone (best listened to through headphones)- and it was accepted to be part of the World listening Day 2012 audio CD.
To listen/download the tracks please click on the link below.
Green Field Recordings has invited artists from their catalog, and others who want to join to celebrate the July 18th through special editions. So it was with the first collection “VA, The Collector of Sounds, World Listening Day 2010/2011 (http://greenfieldrecordings.yolasite.com/audio-2012.php) and now with the launch of this new sound work, making the joining around the World Listening Day more 12 artists and their sound pieces.
14 August 2012
Taking photographs provides a visual to show the places I’ve recorded environmental, natural and man-made sounds, to produce soundscapes.
The photographs are currently on exhibition at The Leicester Photographers gallery, until Monday 20 August and are part of a group exhibition with Leicester’s lo-fi photography group. Using colour slide film, the photos have been cross processed; a procedure associated with lo-fi photography, whereby a chemical solution intended for a different type of film is deliberately used to process photographic film.
The images show three locations in Leicester where I have taken sound recordings. The first is at the Rally canal with lots of hungry feral pigeons and a bread suit, the second at Embrace Arts, along their fire route to capture the sound of a dripping tap using a contact microphone and hydrophone. The last photograph shows the taxi rank on Humberstone Gate, featuring the taxi drivers opinion on the area they work in.
22 July 2012
The fire route isn’t usually something that I stop to take a closer look at when I’m at work, but as I was ‘walking’ the route for an evening event, I noticed how peaceful the space was. With hidden sculptures covered by wisteria, the sun was shining and the birds singing, it was a welcome haven away from the hustle and bustle of queues of jazz fans inside. So, I came back for the next two days and took sound recordings from the trees, plants, drain, window, birds, a wasp being attacked by red ants and my favourite- the tap.
I used contact microphones wrapped around trees, plants and taped onto objects, including the tap. Hydrophones (under water microphones) were used to dunk into the drain, puddles and buried in rain-soaked mud. The recordings from the trees and plants haven’t been included this time as they were very quiet and almost inaudible because there was no wind to make the plant sway.
Below are three recordings recordings- one of the wasp being attacked by a group of red ants- the sound of the wasps wings brushing against the contact microphone can be heard, plus some gentle scrapes which are actually the ants dragging the wasp by its legs.
The other two recordings are taken from the tap. One recording is using a contact microphone taped to the top of the tap, to capture the sound of the water being slowly released and passing through the tap. The other is a recording of a hydrophone placed under the tap to capture the sound of falling water.
9 June 2012
My Jubilee weekend was spent in New Brighton learning the technique of ‘crabbing’. Whilst I was on the beach I thought I’d record the sound of the sea, and some more intimate sounds using a hydrophone (under water microphone), made by Jez Riley French including the fizz, crackle and pop of sea weed and tiny sea creatures hidden within a great concrete structure on the beach.
After a few goes at ‘crabbing’ using a line and bacon for bait, I wanted to use my hydrophone to capture any under water sounds. I recorded the sound of crabs moving and eating bacon in the sea, whist attached to the end of the bacon-clad hydrophone (crabs love bacon!), and again in a bucket of water to capture a frenzied circular race between 50 crabs.
Crabbing in New Brighton, 3.08 mins
Crabbing at New Brighton using a hydrophone covered in bacon dipped into the sea and the sound of 50 crabs scrabbling over each other in a bucket of water. There is a small silence between each track. Recorded using one microphone so the soundtrack was originally mono, but has been duplicated to create a stereo track.
Squeaky fence and choppy sea at New Brighton, 2.09 mins
The sound of the tide in and the sea slapping the concrete wall and the squeak of a rusty steel hand rail. Recorded in stereo using the internal mic on a H2 Zoom.
Snap, crackle and pop- tiny marine creatures, 1.12 mins
On New Brighton beach near the concrete structures (see below) was the sound of water dripping softly, sea weed squeaking and other (very quiet!) sounds from tiny marine creatures.
27 May 2012
Last weekend I was taking sound recordings of wildlife at Whitwell Common and Foxley Wood in Norfolk. This was all part of the Advanced wildlife sound recording course organised by Wildeye.
The group of sound artists, gamers, composers, musicians and recordists set off into Foxley Wood at 2.30am on Sunday, with the aim to capture the sounds of the dawn chorus. We walked quickly together in the dark guided by a few head torches, splitting off into narrow corridors of trees to find our own spot to set up our equipment. I used a parabolic dish with NT55 Rode condenser microphone, using a Marantz PMD660.
Later on that day I captured the intimate and hidden sounds of Whitwell garden using a contact microphone (to pick up vibrations rather than air pressure) and a nearby lake, using a pair of hydrophones (under water microphones) to record the sounds of the under water creatures and plants. I did a few experiments with the contact microphones- wrapped them around a wire fence, let bugs walk across them, hung paper over the wire and let it flutter in the wind causing vibrations, but haven’t included the recordings as the results were too quiet.
The course was led by Chris Watson, one of the world’s leading wildlife sound recordists, known for working with the BBC. He has also released four solo award-winning albums of field recordings. Jez Riley French uses experimental field recording techniques, builds his own contact microphones, hydrophones and creates ‘intuitive compositions’ based around the notion of audible silence and stillness for soundscapes, music and performances.
Below are some sound recordings from the course, they are all raw tracks with no effects. Please excuse the odd creek and gurgle; I was holding the parabolic dish in all of the recordings (apart from those that where recorded using a hydrophone)- next time I shall use a tripod, and my stomach was gurgling in the dawn chorus tracks as we were up super early and I was hungry!
Dawn chorus with Roe Deer, 3.27 mins: A recording taken at Foxley Wood at approx 4.30am. I used a parabolic dish and aimed it at the edge of the wood, so that I could pick up a selection of birdsong and the sound of a male roe deer, rather than the overall ambience of the wood.
Dawn chorus with blue tit, 4.56 mins: This recording was taken shortly after the one above and features a particularly loud blue tit singing his heart out!
Wood pigeons in Whitwell Hall gardens, 6.56 mins: I’m really pleased with this recording as I had tried to record the sound of feral and wood pigeons in Leicester by the canal and had never really got a decent recording as it was so noisy and based near to the city centre. This was recorded in the car park at Whitwell Hall using a parabolic dish, NT55 microphone and the Marantz.
Hydrophone Norfolk lake, 5.42 mins: This was the last recording taken during the weekend, I hadn’t been able to hear any under water life and had almost given up, when I found a nice spot at the end of the trail (I’m guessing for fishing?) I cant identify what I heard but I have been told that the buzzing sound will be underwater insects and the bubbles will be plants giving off oxygen.
28 April 2012
Within the last 3 months Ive been working on sound installations (with and without visual elements), to investigate the relationship between humankind and birds, and the cultural significance birds play to human societies.
I’m a keen bird watcher/listener, not so much a ‘binoculars around the neck type’, but someone who has developed knowledge of the birds in my area, and appreciates birdsong. My fascination for birds has led to meetings with bird watching groups, pigeon fanciers, pet shop owners and animal behavioural psychologists.
Text below taken from artist statement for the Vesch exhibition as part of the Leicester Lo-Fi photography group:
For this exhibition Stevens has taken the notion of ‘Vesch’ loosely translated as ‘an object with a human soul/spirit’ and chosen to produce a series of silver gelatin contact prints showing a chicken egg, which appears to be x-rayed.
In this series of photographs (taken using the iphone4), the egg shell has been burnt using a candle until completely covered with black ash (carbon) and then photographed at various stages; half burnt, fully burnt and then underwater.
‘Egg 3′ is suspended in water and appear to be transparent or to have a reflective surface. This effect is caused by the material becoming hydrophobic (water repellent) and the refraction of light creating the illusion of a mirror.
19 February 2012
Colour morphs (as part of project pigeon watch, 2011), is a sculpture that uses cable ties to represent the average number and colour of pigeons over a year.
I had many different ideas for a visual representation, including bar charts (using photographs taken during my observations of pigeons), paper beaks, plaster casts of pigeon feet (there’s a pair in my studio!), coloured strips of vinyl measuring the same distance of a pigeons wing span, repeat patterns to represent the shape and movement of bird flight and many more… but the cable tie sculpture was something that I was able to create instantly in my studio as a starting point to fuel other works.
Observing pigeons may not sound like the most interesting and exciting subject matter, but I’ve found it a great opportunity to connect with nature. Even though pigeons are an urban bird, domesticated by humans it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are less interesting and intelligent than other rare and beautiful birds. Through observing pigeons and meeting pigeon fanciers I’ve learnt that they are one of the most intelligent birds, with an important social and political history, (as messengers with excellent navigation skills and the capacity to learn), making them familiar with mankind, even if they are not as well-loved as they once were.
Courting Pigeons (as part of project pigeon watch, 2011) is a work in progress. Each plastic bag represents a pigeon and is filled with one pound of bird grit (the average weight of a pigeon). A selection of filled bags are positioned on top of each other (in courting positions) and some balanced on top of glass jars containing a liquid to represent crop milk (which is secreted by both male and female pigeons to feed their young). Im hoping to collect more jars and fill more plastic bags to a total of 79 to create an installation in my studio space.
What does Blackpool sound like in 2011? and The Shadow Inside are the result of a commission by The Grundy Art Gallery to create a soundtrack that represents Blackpool culture in 2011.
Over 5 days in November and December, I worked with three community groups to capture sound recordings, including interviews with residents, shop owners, the sound of the pier, arcades, music, the zoo, the market and much more.
The Shadow Inside is a piece written by Barry McCann. It was recorded at the highest point in the Grundy Art Gallery.
Both soundtracks will be exhibited for the public in March 2012, venue TBC.
Listen to What does Blackpool sound like in 2011? 6.38 mins
The Shadow Inside, 1.41 mins
19 November 2011
The Seals at Donna Nook are important to wildlife watchers around the UK and Europe, attracting 40,000 visitors to the Lincolnshire coast each year. More than half of the worlds grey seal population lives and breeds around the UK coast. The largest populations are found at Donna Nook in Lincolnshire, on the Farne Islands, the Cornish coast and Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland.
Despite a large group of visitors I was able to record the sound of the seals and their young, as they were positioned very close to the shore line, (females or ‘cows’ give birth between September and November). The equipment I used to capture the recordings was an omni-directional microphone and a parabolic dish, the dish was particularly helpful to focus and amplify the sounds of the seals in such a tourist- heavy environment. On the soundtrack (below) the sound of two male (bull) grey seals can be heard in an aggressive attack (bear in mind they are the largest mammals found in the UK), whilst the haunting cries of a seal pup yelps at its mother for more milk (they can drink up to 3 litres in a day). More than 1,000 seal pups have been born at Donna Nook this year.
Listen to Donna Nook seals 2011, approx 2 minutes
17 November 2011
The artists at Wright Studio (based at Faircharm Industrial Estate, off Evelyn Drive), exhibited work created at the studio (including work in progress) at The Exchange Bar in Leicester… since then there have been discussions for the group to exhibit at the bar on a regular basis. As part of the exhibition I decided to exhibit Feeding Frenzy and Baguette Microphone.
31 Oct 2011
World Event Young Artists is the very first event of its kind to take place. It is an exciting occasion bringing together and celebrating the talent and artistic excellence of young people from across the globe. In September 2012 World Event for Young Artists [WEYA] will bring a staggering 1,000 young artists (18 – 30 years) from 120 nations to Nottingham. More info
For all artworks, soundtracks and statements entered for WEYA please view my profile on Axis, the online resource for contemporary art.
Proposal to WEYA (200 word limit)
This proposal is for four art/sound installations based on the social and flocking behaviour of pigeons, whilst investigating the historic and current relationship with humans. Each piece was created using found objects and pigeon-related items. The sound installations contain recordings from pigeons eating bread, a pigeon auction and the sound of Thai whistles attached to flying pigeons. The End of the Line, interprets information based on the messages delivered by pigeons during the Franco-Prussian War. Egg Box Messages is a tribute to the pigeon Cher Ami, who saved the lives of the Lost Battalion during WWI. To support Cornell Science Laboratory with research into feral pigeon behaviour, I have monitored and fed a group of pigeons for a year. Feeding Frenzy uses bread and seed on light sensitive paper to create eight prints, accompanied by a recording taken from a microphone hidden inside a loaf of bread. A pound of pigeon uses bird grit to demonstrate the average weight of a pigeon, positioned in the topological distance model to represent a flock of birds. The pigeon feathers; in a ‘V’ shape, show the wings when at their highest point, in relation to its flushing distance (how close one can get to a bird before it flies off.)
My reason’s for applying for WEYA
To be involved in a high profile arts event, that will provide a platform to raise my profile, and showcase a series of new sound installations, created in 2011 to the East Midlands and beyond. To build creative networks with talented practitioners from across the UK, that are using innovative and inspiring methods of working. The opportunity to engage in creative dialogue and broaden my knowledge will enrich my practice, enabling my work and professional development to flourish at an international level.
All successful applicants will be notified in February… fingers and toes crossed!
25 Oct 2011
Ive never been to Venice or the Biennale, so this seemed like the perfect trip for a break and inspiration! Arriving into Venice on Sunday just after midnight I was surprised by how quiet and calm the narrow walk ways and water ways were. The hotel we had booked was closed and the lady running it refused to come and let us in (cow), so we had to find and pay for another hotel for the night. Admittedly not the best start but the next day the sun was shining and even though the Biennale was closed today, there was still plenty for us (me and my friend Nic), to explore. We jumped on a water bus and found a cafe close to the Giardini, had coffee and fed biscuits by hand to pigeons and sparrows. Wandered through the walk ways and the market, found the Piazza San Marco and was completely stunned as we turned a corner to see the St Mark’s Basilic. We went up the 323 ft St Mark’s Campanile and grabbed a pizza roll and some beer from the local supermarket.
The three highlights for me were Mike Nelson‘s large scale installation, Impostor at the British Pavilion. He spent three months transforming the British pavilion in Venice for the biennale. The resulting installation is a delicate and melancholic meditation on identity and historical memory. More info.
Christian Boltanski‘s installation Chance at the French pavilion. This exhibition playfully explores the luck and fate of newborns, whose beginnings are subject entirely to chance. While the title translated in french has a positive connotation of luck and good fortune, the english interpretation conversely suggests hazard or risk, rendering the exhibition appropriately ambiguous. More info. Watch a video of the installation here on designboom.
Fernando Prats‘ Sismografias project at the Chilean Pavilion. Fernando effectively stones his paintings, he lets the branches whip them or that the doves leave the marks of the flapping of their wings on them; the photographs of his work process reveal that he even licks the smoke cured surface of the paintings in order to leave enigmatic traces, or that even worms “draw” fascinating labyrinthical lines on the fertile territory of this other incarnation of painting. More info.
15 Oct 2011
Tumble, Multi-channel audio installation for racing pigeons by Matt Lewis
A great exhibition based on pigeon flight patterns by artist Matt Lewis at The Pigeon Wing, in the Guild House on Rollins Street, London. I met Matt who was kind enough to show me and fellow sound artist Esther around the exhibition and even took us onto the roof of the exhibition space to meet the pigeons responsible for creating his latest body of work.
Following his state side residency at Diapason, New York, Matt Lewis is producing a generative multi-channel audio installation for carrier pigeons. This project explores pigeon racing culture, multi-channel audio performance and notions of musical score.
Text from The Pigeon Wing Gallery: We currently have racing pigeons on The Pigeon Wing roof, Matt Lewis is training them ready for flights later this month. During the two weeks that the installation runs in the gallery space, the pigeons will be fitted with GPS tracking devices and released from various locations around city and will fly back to their loft above the gallery space. The flight routes – tracked by GPS – will form the musical structure of the piece, with the coordinates of their flight, airspeed and distance defining which audio material is triggered, all audio will be drawn from environmental recordings made from the gallery roof. The audio will be in multi-channel with 4.1 separate audio channels. Also displayed will be a visual score generated from the flight information, forming a composition of the birds’ performance in retrospect. This score will be performed by musicians on 15th Oct. In addition to the installation there will be screenings of documentaries on pigeon culture. This project was made possible with the support of Diapason Gallery, New York.
14 Oct 2011
I have a studio space at Wright Studios in Leicester. I moved in mid October and am very lucky to have such a nice, talented bunch of artists around me.
Here’s what it looks like so far …
I’m hoping to use it to experiment with found objects, to record and play back sound recordings (lucky fellow artists!) and also as an installation space.
6 Oct 2011
Since returning from a month-long residency in France (April), I’ve been thinking of ways to develop the ideas and techniques used to create sound installation The End of the Line. Most of the studio work was based on the interpretation of data, listing carrier pigeons successful and failed attempts at delivering messages during the Franco-Prussian War (pigeon post into Paris).
I’ve been using the project space at the Great Central Gallery in Leicester between July – September to create installations/experiments that analyse the social and flocking behaviour of pigeons, using scientific theories and models, whilst examining our current relationship with pigeons. I’ve been experimenting with creating installations using sound recordings taken from pigeon lofts and fanciers, using found objects and pigeon-related items (bird grit, pigeon feet, whole pigeon wings and feathers).
A pound of pigeon uses bird grit to demonstrate the average weight of a pigeon, positioned in the shape of the topological distance model to represent a flock of birds. The pigeon feathers; in a ‘V’ shape, show the wings when at their highest point, in relation to the flushing distance model (how close one can get to a bird before it flies off.)
3 Sept 2011
Alex and Ian from Project Pigeon invited me to talk about my art practice and my current projects inspired by pigeons, at The New Art Gallery Walsall. I spoke about my fascination with the group of feral pigeons at a canal in Leicester, Don’t Shoot the Messenger sound walk, Project Pigeon, an artist residency in France inspired by the Pigeon Post into Paris during the Franco Prussian War and the recent experiments with pigeons and nature print paper and a baguette microphone.
Project Pigeon will be organising a series of pigeon-related events over the coming weekends at the gallery including:
Sat 10 Sept, 11am – 5pm: An exhibition of over 50 breeds of pigeon.
Sat 17 Sept, 11am – 5pm: A free film screening of pigeon-related movies, including artist Lyndall Phelps’ ‘Pigeon Archive’, footage from a camera attached to a pigeon.
Sat 24 Sept, 11.30am – 4pm: An auction day of racing pigeons and a pigeon release from the gallery terrace at 3.30pm. See www.project-pigeon.co.uk for further info.
20 July 2011
The half-baked baguette worked as a perfect host for my NT55 Rode microphone. Previous recordings of pigeons at the canal had been distorted due to the loud sounds coming from the nearby factory and also the canal, in particular the weir.
The pigeons took a little coaxing, (there was already a pile of bread crumbs left by someone else to compete with!) to feed off the baguette microphone, but once they started it was a challenge to get them to stop and they quickly found the microphone.
I wanted to record the sounds of pigeons feeding and was inspired by Chris Watson, at a course organised by Wild Eye. He spoke about his time in the dessert recording the sound of vultures feeding off a dead zebra carcass and how he had successfully added a microphone to the skeleton.
I walk along the canal and see the pigeons everyday, if they have been left food they tear it apart, so it is more manageable to eat, by flinging it with their beaks, fighting off seagulls and other birds. I wanted to record this intimate sound, but what I got was a muffled recording. The hum of the factory, the occasional snort, squeak and wing flap from a pigeon, but mainly an aggressive pecking which sounded like an attack on the microphone. This wasn’t the best way to record pigeons feeding, the microphone had an omni-directional head on it, so no matter where the pigeon was feeding from, its ‘peck’ could be heard. Perhaps next time I need to use a clip tie microphone attached to the baguette or make a frame for it to sit in above the bread to be able to take a more realistic and clear recording.
Listen to baguette microphone approx 2.30 mins
18 July 2011
There’s still bread crumbs dotted around the house after this experiment. I made a trail of bread crumbs from the bottom of the stairs to the toilet seat in our house. If I had a studio space this is the kind of experiment that would happen there.
I’m interested in using food that would usually be throw for the pigeons. I’ve seen people throw down whole carrier bags of bread at the canal, I’ve also recently seen more rats lurking.
17 July 2011
I drove to the canal to have a go at the sun print paper idea.
I wanted to use a different method to document feeding the pigeons, so I used sun print paper (or nature print paper). The paper is coated with light sensitive chemicals that react when exposed to light. When solid objects are placed on the paper, they block the light and turn white, while the paper around them remains blue. To encourage the pigeons to stand on the paper and essentially make their mark, I covered the paper with bread and seed. It wasn’t hard to encourage the pigeons to feed off the paper, as this is the same group of birds I usually feed every Wednesday for Project Pigeon Watch (gathering one year’s worth of data on pigeon colour morphs and courtship behaviour, to produce a sound composition). I drove to the canal so that I could use the boot of my car as a processing area. It had a tray of water that was used to ‘fix’ the image after approx 1 minute exposure to sunlight.
4 July 2011
Its been just over two months since my return from France as part of an artist residency at CAMAC (centre for art, science and technology). I stayed in the rural and remote surroundings of the Champagne region for a month and developed three audio- visual installations: ‘The End of the Line’, ‘Egg Box Messages’ and ‘Under the Seine’. All three pieces would not have been possible if I hadn’t been given a fantastically large studio to myself where I was able to make lots of noise, record sound and play it back (very loudly).
Since I’ve been back in Leicester I have been trying to recreate the studio environment I had at CAMAC. The Great Central Gallery have been kind enough to let me use their gallery space (during change over periods), although I’ve only used this space twice, it has allowed me the time to reflect on the work created at CAMAC, to listen to sound recordings and visualise ideas in a practical way, that I find impossible at home. There are a number of studio spaces in Leicester, including The Great Central Gallery, Knighton Lane artists group, The Attic, LCB Depot and Fabrika. CUSP are an artist collective made up of DMU Fine Art graduates, who will be opening a new artist-led gallery and studios in the Highcross, I’m hoping to have a space in the CUSP studios when they open in August.
17 – 19 June 2011
A weekend trip to Glasgow to catch up with a friend, check out the West End Festival and take another look at the British Art Show 7: In the Days of the Comet (I first saw it in Nottingham). The British Art Show is widely recognised as the most ambitious and influential exhibition of contemporary British art… so well worth a second look in my opinion, as well as the other independent art galleries/exhibitions. The Glue factory on Garscube Industrial Estate, was transformed to host the Glasgow School of Art Degree show. Dark corners were lit up with ‘floating’ video projections, some silent, some with sound, showing vibrant, odd contemporary dance/performance on a beach and close ups of tin foil. A few sound pieces dotted here and there- actually in a separate room- behind a wall, on a bench (triggered by the movement of the viewer) and from a box (triggered when the lid was lifted).
The Common Guild was the first venue I arrived at after flying into Glasgow at 8am. I arrived at 21 Woodlands Terrace (I found out later that this is actually Douglas Gordon’s house- one of my favourite artists!) at 9am, but the sign on the door said the gallery didn’t open until 12pm. Bugger. But it didn’t matter because I was welcomed in (from the rain) by Kitty, a member of staff who very kindly let me dry off in the office, while looking through magazines and helping me plan my tour of Glasgow galleries over the weekend.
The exhibition was booted up (lots of monitors and projections) and I was told I could wander around with my tea- now that’s customer service and a great show it was.
“You seem the same as always, -” brings together a range of works by international and Glasgow-based artists, which share a very particular focus: that of the artist’s own hand. The exhibition includes film, video, photography, prints, drawings and objects, all of which share a refreshing sense of immediacy and directness and vary from the witty to the uncanny.
Claire Barclay, Katie Davis, Olafur Eliasson, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Douglas Gordon, Gabriel Orozco, Yvonne Rainer, Richard Serra and David Shrigley.
BAS7 was exhibited across three venues in Glasgow, including the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Gallery of Modern Art and Tramway. Here’s a few of my favourites…
Christian Marclay’s The Clock, features thousands of found film fragments of clocks, watches, and characters reacting to a particular time of day. These are edited together to create a 24 hour-long, single-channel video that is synchronised with local time. As each new clip appears a new narrative is suggested, only to be swiftly overtaken by another. Watching, we inhabit two worlds; that of fiction and that of fact, as real-time seconds fly inexorably by.
Haroon Mirza’s complex audio-visual installations are assembled out of domestic furniture, electronic equipment and lights. Regaining a Degree of Control, a new work created for BAS7, uses previously unseen footage of Ian Curtis, frontman for the post-punk band Joy Division.
Curtis’s song ‘She’s Lost Control’ concerns a girl with epilepsy, a condition that Curtis himself suffered from and to which the strobe light in Mirza’s installation refers. Here, as in much of Mirza’s work, the central proposition is about transforming noise into sound, and making hearing and listening as important and relevant as seeing and looking. His aim is to ‘explore visual and acoustic space as one sensorial mode of perception.’
Luke Fowler and Toshiya Tsunoda ‘Composition for Flutter Screen’, 2008. Installation with 16mm colour film and projector, homemade screen, timer, wire, fans, lights.
This sculptural installation features a flimsy handmade screen which is subjected to a series of interventions. Fixed images – a moth, a meniscus, a candle flame – projected onto it are caused to move because the screen itself is in constant motion, blown about by electric fans. From time to time, bright light and amplified sound interrupt the choreographed flow of the work, revealing the mechanisms of its illusions.
7 May 2011
I have spent a month at CAMAC (art, science, technology organisation), based in Marnay-sur-Seine, as part of an artist residency programme. As a result I have created 3 new sound installations, inspired by the pigeon post into Paris. Developed from a series of experimental studio works, all 3 sound installations were shown as part of the Open studio event at CAMAC on 28 April.
Marnay-sur-Seine is rural and remote and CAMAC is positioned with the River Seine on one side and a transport canal on the other. Every morning I was woken by a chorus of birds and the first chime of the day by the church bell. At dusk a chorus of frogs could be heard from the River Seine. Ive kept a blog to document my time at CAMAC and will use the new sound installations to fuel further work now that Im back in Leicester… all I need now is a studio space!
28 March 2011
*UPDATE: Unfortunately all 5 pinhole cameras were removed while I was away in France, so I was unable to capture any images from the cameras.
Ive made 5 pinhole cameras from beer cans and attached them to locations at the canal (near the Rally park), in Leicester. These ‘cameras’ contain photo paper which will capture an image (long exposure photograph), of all the activity at the canal between Sat 26 March – Sat 30 April. Take a look at Justin Quinnell’s website- he truly is the godfather when it comes to long exposure pinhole photography, some of his work has used pinhole to capture 6 month duration images.
As I will not be in Leicester to feed the pigeons (as part of Project Pigeon Watch), during April, this is one way to see what Ive missed. Fingers crossed the cameras will survive until I return!
27 March 2011
Since 2007, I have been making sound recordings using in-ear microphones to produce binaural audio walks and installations. Since March 2010, Ive been keen to use different methods of recording sound, particularly the sound of birds. With advice from Wildeye, Jez Riley and the Wildlife Sound Recording Society, I have purchased a parabolic dish from Telinga and a Rode NT55 compact condenser microphone. The parabolic dish acts as a focal point for sound to be captured by the microphone, it is such a powerful tool for recording bird song that it has been described as making the sound 10 times closer to the person recording the sound. It is a non- intrusive way of recording birds from a distance, without scaring them away. A parabolic dish is “an acoustical filter, approximately compensating for distance.”
Last weekend I went to several places to test out the recording equipment, including the Attenborough Nature Centre in Nottinghamshire, the canal in Leicester (Rally Park), Watermead Country Park and Bradgate Park.
Here’s some recordings from that weekend:
Attenborough Nature Reserve, with a train track nearby it can be quite noisy, but it was large enough to be able to record some decent bird songs/calls.
Attenborough 1: Approx 2 mins, Celebrating getting the new mic to work, blue tits, geese, horses, a wood pigeon flying past, magpie? and the water lapping at our feet.
Attenborough 2: Approx 1 min and my favourite recording from the day: Blue tits, geese, gulls and mallards!
Contact microphones pick up vibrations, rather than air pressure. Here is the sound of a contact microphone wrapped around a steel fence that is being pinged and slapped and also the placed on the throat area to pick up the vibrations of the voice box.
Steel smack and throat: Approx 1 min 30 secs
Canal in Leicester (Rally park), a bit dodgy but still one of my favourite places in Leicester. The recording was distorted because of the sound of the weir and the factory nearby. Ive not added the recording, as I can barely make out the sound of any wildlife, let alone the pigeons.
Watermead Country Park, a great place for bird watching and not bad for recording sound, although it is positioned next to a dual carriage way, so the sound of traffic can interfere with recordings. Recording coming soon.
Bradgate Park, the biggest park of all the above and the only one with wild deer and a dovecote. This is where I was able to record the sounds of the birds (and pigeons!) and a bee trying to push its way under the earth. Recording coming soon.
23 March 2011
I’m a member of the Wildlife Sound Recording Society. The Society welcomes anyone who is interested in or has an appreciation of the sounds made by wildlife. Ive joined to develop a network with other sound artists and to learn which sound recording equipment is best for recording birds.
Roger Charters (another member of WSRS), has had many years experience recording the sounds of wildlife. He invited me to his house to discuss my interests, share his experiences and pass on some helpful tips and advice on purchasing sound recording equipment. We went to a nature reserve nearby in Leamington Spa, I used Rogers directional mics (crossed over for a stereo effect) to record the sounds of the birds in the trees. The batteries on my Marantz recorder ran out, so below is a very short example of some of the recordings!
15 March 2011
Camac is an organisation in the rural village of Marnay-sur-Seine in France that hosts an artist residency programme, with the aim to bring together artists from all countries and disciplines in mid or advanced career stages.
I have been offered the opportunity to complete an artist residency at Camac, between 1 – 30 April 2011. To follow my progress and for more info please visit www.parispigeonpost.wordpress.com
The residency will be used as an opportunity for research and development into the pigeon post into Paris during 1870- 1871. As part of this investigation I will visit the 11 pigeon contraception houses and Post Museum based in Paris, as well as interview residents and those that continue to break the law by stealthily feeding pigeons at night when no one is looking. Previous research into pigeon intelligence, pigeon fancying and Project Pigeonwatch (a project started in Oct 2010 to capture data on feral pigeon numbers and colour morphs), will act as a catalyst for experimental work in the studio environment of Camac.
The residency will mark a development in my practice as a sound artist by using contact microphones (to record vibrations, for example- bird footsteps, rather than air pressure), hydrophones (to record under water sound) and a parabolic dish, specifically designed for capturing bird song and other wildlife.
22 Feb 2011
Project Pigeon works with pigeons and people to bring about social change. Alexandra Lockett and Ian England do lots of things with their pigeons, such as run workshops, make musical performances, curate exhibitions and design and build city centre lofts.
I got in touch with Alex and Ian to find out more and visit the loft in Digbeth, Birmingham. The first Project Pigeon workshop was last Saturday and saw a group of us huddled together around the loft, out of the rain, drinking tea and discussing pigeons. Pigeon history, pigeon fancying, pigeon racing… and how to cheat.
Two pigeon racers from the club Alex and Ian had recently joined were discussing the numerous methods that can be used to make pigeons fly faster (or at least appear to fly faster), including putting the clock that times the pigeon into the fringe or oven (to slow down or speed up the time) to win a race. There were many other techniques to increase speed and the overall productivity of the racing pigeons, but what struck me the most was just how competitive pigeon racing is. Pigeon racing club members or committees can decide whether a new member can join based on their track record (for racing pigeons). If a new member is seen to be joining all the local clubs and winning too many prizes then they can be turned down for membership or the zone for which they live can be altered so that it doesn’t include them. This may seem unfair or even petty but this attitude is most likely due to the fact that its members are very dedicated and spend a lot of time caring for and training their pigeons. Some club members do it to win cash prizes, others do it to be involved with the social side.
If you are curious about pigeons and want to learn more come along to the workshops at Digbeth, (run by Alex and Ian- both lovely people!) from now until April on Fridays and Saturdays.
8 Feb 2011
Pigeons are intelligent. They have the ability to ‘home’ and take advantage of feeding opportunities within their environment to survive. The evidence is in the cities thriving pigeon population.
How do pigeons successfully find their way home? There are many explanations including the use of smell, memory, the sun, the roads, landmarks and the earths electromagnetic field, but there is still no hard evidence that one method is better than the other. Could it be that all the theories relating to pigeon navigation are correct, and that pigeons use a combination of (learnt) skills and instinct to guide them on their journey?
I met with lecturer and researcher Dr Mark Haselgrove from the Faculty of Science at Nottingham University, who believes that pigeons use more than one method to navigate.
My research examines the mechanisms and properties of learning in humans and non-human animals. I am particularly interested in understanding how animals attend to and represent stimuli within the world. Most of my research has employed techniques such as appetitive Pavlovian conditioning with rats, and autoshaping with pigeons.
Autoshaping (sometimes called “sign tracking”) is any of a variety of experimental procedures used to study classical conditioning in pigeons. In autoshaping, in contrast to shaping, food comes irrespective of the behavior of the pigeon. Therefore it can be seen as a method of learning, in this experiment a pigeon was placed in a box and presented with an image to respond to and receive food.
Mark Haswell and his colleagues have developed a theory that pigeons have a photographic memory, that can be used to assist with autoshaping. Mark explains that the pigeon can recall the memory of the image (visual stimuli), like a photograph and use to successfully overlay and match up both images.
Triangle shape image= food
Circle shape image= no food
Card 1- peck
Card 2- do not peck
Pigeons are very good at distinguishing letters, shape and colour to peck at in order to receive food. However, they are not very good at realising abstract shapes, and do not respond as well to sound or smell.
The data I have been collecting from the pigeons at the canal started in Oct 2009, I intend to collect a years worth of data (on numbers and colour morph). During this time I would also like to explore learning and memory in pigeons, by using autoshaping to produce a series of experiments. There are a few ways I could do this- by changing the colour of my coats, by wearing different perfume, by using an object they can associate with being fed and not being fed and exploring the use of different tonal sounds. At the moment the pigeons at the canal associate my green coat and my iphone with being fed.
There are also imitation experiments, including Automatic imitation and Counter imitation.
Humans often engage in automatic imitation without even realising it, when the sight of a friend, relative or a colleague moving in a particular way elicits the same movement in the observer.
In an experiment, budgerigars had to peck or step upon a small button for food reward whilst watching video recordings of another budgerigar either pecking or stepping on the same button. The scientists split the birds into two groups — one in which they were rewarded for imitation, the other in which they were rewarded for counter-imitation.
B.F. Skinner was a American behaviorist, author, inventor, social philosopher and poet. Skinner invented the operant conditioning chamber, (seen above) innovated his own philosophy of science called Radical behaviorism and founded his own school of experimental research psychology—the experimental analysis of behavior.
B.F. Skinner trains two pigeons to perform a chain of behaviours for the classroom demonstration. As a result, pigeons engage in a competition, the so-called ‘Pigeon Ping Pong’ (narrated by B.F. Skinner).
21 December 2010
The weekend of 11/12 Dec I was in Norfolk recording the sound of the sea, seal pups and a frozen pond, as part of a Wild Eye course. Wild Eye is the International school of Wildlife film-making, offering anyone with an interest in film making and sound recording the opportunity to learn new skills from experts, such as Chris Watson, Jez Riley French and Piers Morgan (the founder of Wild Eye).
The Wildlife sound recording course, was a fantastic opportunity to meet other practitioners working in various fields, using sound as their primary medium. I signed up to this course to learn about the best methods of practice when recording wild life, in particular birds.
All my soundscapes are recorded via in- ear binaural microphones and the narration via a Sure SM58 microphone. I wanted to get some pr actice using a range of other microphones and equipment. During the course I was able to purchase a parabolic reflector and use it along with Chris Watson’s DPA’s (very nice of him to loan them), to pick up the sounds of the sea, seal pups and a family conversation at Norfolk beach. The reflector had a wire coat hanger attac hed in the centre to hold the two microphones in place, a small piece of cardboard was added to separate the microphones.
The most fascinating field recording session of the weekend was when I tried out my contact microphone, (microphones that pick up audible vibrations), in the garden of Whitwell Hall. Jez Riley French makes the contact microphones, but because of the way in which they are made (small and durable), it means you can have fun and experiment with them. I stayed in the freezing wintry garden for hours to bury mine under the snow, under the mud, a pile leaves, a pile of logs, in a mole hill, wrapped around a tree, suspended around a piece of hazard tape and coiled around a wire fence… of course all these experiments required some sort of movement, so plenty of stamping, tapping and pinging was needed to pick up the vibrations which were then translated into sound.
Chris Watson’s latest project, The WIRED Lab uses contact microphones attached to wire structures blown by the wind to create music. Jez Riley French, has a love for creating compositions of audible silence and stillness and makes his own contact microphones to record hidden and over looked sounds. Chris and Jez played some samples of their work to the group, and provided some useful tips.
1. Atmospheres (also called wild track or buzz track) – this is the foundation of any track and is essentially the ambience of a room/location, it is also crucial for creating any soundtrack. It is important to get the levels right, when playing back to an audience as you want them to lean in and listen rather than play a track that is too loud and forcing them to listen.
Chris usually works with wired dynamic microphones that have metres of cable that can be left outside to record, while he stays inside to listen. This is what he did during the course, which meant that the group were able to hear the wildlife close up, which would have been impossible if we had tried to capture it sitting out in the garden.
2. Habitats Chris told the group a fascinating story about his time in Kenya, where he wanted to record the sounds of vultures eating, so he attached two omni directional microphones to the ribs of a dead zebra, then buried the cable of the wires under the sand and sat and waited for over 5 hours for the vultures to come and feed. His patience paid off, the result is gut wrenching and cringe- worthy but definitely worth a listen. The track is called Vultures and its available on his album Outside the Circle of Fire.
3. Microphones Chris discussed the three main different types of air pressure microphones with the group, along with polar patterns and editing software. There were a few items on sale at the course, including second- hand parabolic reflectors. I brought one as I was keen to be able to capture the sound of individual birds, using the reflector, because it instantly turns the microphone into a directional one. Any microphones can be used with the reflector, including a dynamic microphone, as it has a large output and no hiss, however, it can be heavy due to the magnet inside, so will need to be securely attached to the reflector. The light weight omni directional microphones work very well and also pick up sound from the back of the reflector.
4 Dec 2010
I’m a pigeon fancier in the making, that doesn’t mean I fancy pigeons in some perverted way, it just means that I appreciate and admire them. I like to watch them walk and fly and listen to them coo. As Gary Marsh, a pigeon fancier that owns a pet shop a stones throw away from my house would say ‘They chill you out’.
Pigeons are really intelligent. There’s a reason the pigeon population continues to grow and this is because of the increasing amount of feeding opportunities available in the city and because pigeons have great memory and eye sight. If a food stand, restaurant or individual regularly discards food or directly feeds them, they will remember and come back again and again. Perched on the roof tops they can spot a feeding opportunity and because they are social creatures, they share this news with each other, that’s why pigeons usually come in flocks.
So what has this got to do with art?
At the moment I’m not quite sure but I’m having fun.
Pigeons (especially the feral ones) are easy to spot, unlike other rarer birds on a bird watchers list, pigeon numbers are in abundance.
I’m collecting data every Wednesday morning on pigeon numbers and colour morphs and sharing this with a composer to experiment with producing a musical composition and also with a science lab in New York to support their ongoing research into why pigeons exist in so many colours.
Im attending National Pigeon Association shows in the East Midlands to pick the brains of the most committed pigeon fanciers I can find. I’ve been very lucky to discover that I don’t have to travel to see fancy pigeons, as Gary Marsh who owns a pet shop has a shed full of the things!
I’m off to France for an artist residency at CAMAC, an art, science and technology organisation in April 2011 and intend to use all the data and information gathered this year and leading up to April to support with the production of new work.
At the moment I feel that I want to deepen my knowledge of pigeon fancying and possibly go as far as keeping my own pigeons so that I can develop a relationship with them, to gather sound and video recordings to support the creation of an audio tour or installation. I would also like to explore the possibility of attaching messages, CCTV cameras and GPS tracking devices to pigeons, to build up a visual of where they choose to fly and try to understand how they navigate on long journeys.
4 Dec 2010
The National Pigeon Association is the governing body of Fancy Pigeons in Great Britain. The NPA caters for over 200 varieties of Fancy and Flying Pigeons. The NPA has a wide variety of fanciers from the very experienced exhibitor to the novice, and are very keen to introduce young people into a rewarding and not necessarily expensive hobby.
I expected the pigeon show in Newark and West Bridgford to be full of men aged between 40 and 60 and I was right. I’ve only been to two pigeon shows and spoken to around 12 people, but have been welcomed into the world of pigeon fancying with open arms.
I admire the men (and the few women) who dedicate their time to this traditional hobby. Its obvious that pigeon fancying requires a huge amount of commitment, with most fanciers getting involved as children and some having kept pigeons for up to as long as 65 years.
Most of the men here today would rather sleep with their pigeons than their wives, that’s how serious and dedicated they are about keeping pigeons! John Elsdon, President of the National Pigeon Association for Great Britain.
I’ve met some of those dedicated men (and women) at the National Pigeon Association (NPA) Championship shows in Newark and West Bridgford.
John Elsdon is the president of the NPA of GB.
I’ve kept pigeons for 65 years. I have 100 pigeons that I keep in my garden loft. Its an important part of my life, I wouldn’t like to work out the amount of hours I’ve put into it. I don’t just judge shows, I write for a magazine and I’ve done that for many years.
I raced in my early days for 7- 8 years, it was good fun but expensive. There is a racing pigeon club in every town of Britain and can result in winning very big prizes. Its a very thrilling thing to do, to race pigeons, I can say that because I’ve done it. As much as I love these fancy pigeons and showing them I cant say that they make my hair stand on end like it did when I had a pigeon flying 513 miles from the Shetlands to my home.
Christine Wright is the former secretary of the NPA, she is now retired, but still attends the shows to help out.
I keep Modea pigeons, I have about 80 and show them at the NPA Championship shows. We (Christine and her late husband) would judge each others birds. He was in to it first and then I followed. You get into the hobby together and you’re never stuck for anything to talk about. We used to have competitions with each other. I sometimes won, but he didn’t like it when I did ha ha haaa! I did enjoy it.
When I got the life membership award from the NPA, I was proud. If I win a class, I take the birds home and tell them how clever they are, because they have stood there all day and looked so proud and won.
David Barraclough is the President for the National Modea club.
I keep Modea pigeons, Im showing 73 today. I’ve currently got 5 on victory row (this means that he has 5 pigeons selected and one will win overall best in show). I first brought my wife a pair of pigeons for her 19th birthday in 1976. But she wasn’t interested. She allows me to continue, but as far as she is concerned they are flying rats. Its good in some ways, she has got her own interest and we get on with it.
I’ve only been racing pigeons for 3 years but came 14th out of 687. The pigeon had to fly 207 miles and won me £210. A racing pigeon is an athlete, you put in a similar food regime as you would an athlete.
Richard Greenwood is a member of the NPA and a keen pigeon fancier.
I have had pigeons for 55 years and been showing for 45 years. I have 400 croppers, both the Spanish and English types. I’ve been awarded best Norwich and Spanish cropper today at West Bridgford’s NPA show.
Its about showing and winning. Coming second doesn’t mean anything, you spend as much time as you need to with them. Its all about regularity. The more you put in, the more you get out.
I’ve been married 40 years, I get 100% support from my wife, it doesn’t always go down well. When your dedicated you need to be a bit selfish. Maybe I should have sometimes put it on the back burner but I haven’t.
Jill Fisher shows as part of J&D Fisher. The ‘D’ stands for David that’s my husband.
Today I’ve won 7 firsts including best in show racers and best opposite sex show racer. Its very time consuming. We have a loft in the garden that is 31 ft long by 14 ft wide with separate compartments. The birds are cleaned everyday, given a bath every week and given conditioning seeds to keep their feathers in good condition.
Im the brains behind them. I was brought up with pigeons. My father kept pigeons, I was daddy’s little girl and would come with him to shows. I kept my own pet pigeon and showed as a youngster. I stopped showing because of work commitments and then about 11 years ago I started again.
I think you have to be obsessed. You clean, choose, basket and drive to come to the shows with very little financial gain, but they bring so much enjoyment. Its both stressful and relaxing.
Graham Bates is a judge at today’s NPA in West Bridgford and is a member of the NPA management Committee.
I’ve been involved with pigeons since I was 13 years old (Im 40 now so that’s a long while!) I’ve had experience of racing and fancy pigeons.
I keep 200 pigeons, the blowing types, called pouters. They are the types that hold air in their crop, all pigeons make a cooing sound when the air roles around in the membrane.
I am always trying to promote our hobby, its not everyone’s cup of tea as the public have a perception of pigeons as flying rats or rats with wings. Although pigeons can be very educational and change people’s perceptions. They all descend from the rock dove and people’s perceptions of doves are completely different to that of the pigeon.
Evan Murray started out as a pigeon fancier and for the last two years has been on the NPA management Committee. He is now a big part of the Nottingham shows and he now looks after the Blackpool show.
I’ve kept pigeons since I was 6 and kept for a total of around 48 years, so its been a life time hobby. I keep the blower breeds, but I’m more interested in the social side than the showing side. I did my showing as a young man.
Im an entertainer, everyone laughs at me because I kiss and cuddle everyone- women, kids, cats and dogs. Its part of the enjoyment, so people are made to feel welcome.
I met my wife through pigeons. I used to fly pigeons with her dad, so I can blame meeting my wife and being happily married for 37 years on falling in love with pigeons! Winning is nice, we all like to win, but its not the bee all and end all. That’s how I run my life, I try to be nice to everyone. Being well-known and well- liked to me is much more important.
Brian Brook is a member of the NPA management committee and ex President
I first became interested in pigeons as a child, when my sister gave me two Birmingham Rollers for my 6th birthday.Birmingham Roller pigeons fly up into the air and perform backward somersaults, the reasons for the rolling isn’t clear but some theories link the ‘performance’ as an epileptic fit.
Many fanciers have very supportive partners, my wife included, who is a judge, specialising in Chinese Owls (a type of fancy pigeon). I don’t know any of my fancier friends whose wife’s are totally dis- interested.
My proudest pigeon moment was winning the Doncaster show and getting best Chinese Owl three years in a row. I just love them, I just love birds. I love pigeons I’m not a rabbit man, my dad was. I’m a pigeon man always have been.
If I’m perfectly honest I think the pigeon fancier is dying out. If we were stood here in ten years, this conversation would not be taking place in the same way, I hope not, but I think that because I’ve seen the decline over the years.