Monday, 17 June 2013

Slow, sweet and low down

Second post about the Birdswing project pilot at Garboldisham Primary

Birdsong, as performed, is beautifully incomprehensible: just too high and too fast, too slippery to get a real grip on. To gain a better understanding of birdsong's hidden qualities we must take it slow and low. Then we really begin to hear patterns, rhythm, timbre, textures and subtle variations. Birdsong becomes music.  Many composers down the centuries have been inspired by birdsong, although it's only relatively recently that careful and detailed study has been technically possible.

 In order to simplify that process Cornell Lab of Ornithology have developed Raven:
Raven is a software program for the acquisition, visualization, measurement, and analysis of sounds.


Opera Unlimited/Birdswing have been actively involved in its development. Raven allows the slowing down of birdsong by fixed amounts and plays the result, whilst displaying a moving spectograph of the music as a graphic score. The spectograph on the right shows part of the nightingale's song.
With these twin tools, a little practise and some expert guidance even children as young as seven were able to accurately vocally reproduce the songs of birds. Peter and Liz Cowdrey led the afternoon session, with me adding technical support and throwing some teaching ideas around to see which stuck.
Image courtesy Nicky Rowbottom

One of my contributions was to record performances using my faithful Blue Snowball mike and Audacity. The Recording below is of children performing the Greenfinches song at 1/10 speed.


Here it is again at 10x the recorded speed


And, just for comparison - the real bird:


Meanwhile Rosie Johnson and Pam Harling-Challis were making video recordings of small groups doing the same thing. Sadly, I can't post their delightful video here because of child protection issues. Suffice it to say there was a near-riot of laughter when the speeded-up videos were played to the whole school on our final afternoon.
Now lest this kind of aural education should seem a little esoteric and irrelevant to the real issues addressing our planet, let me direct you to this report of a TED talk by the eminent wildlife sound recorder Bernie Krause. Pam Harling-Challis sent a link to this earlier on this evening ... prescience?