14 Oct 2010

visible city #4 : shouting over the music : a dawn chorus for walter and olivier

A 2009 study conducted by researchers from the department of Zoology at the University of Melbourne into the impact of traffic noise on animal communication ascertained that urban birds are changing their songs to different pitches in response to living in the city.

As the department's Mr Yanh Hu concluded : “Urban noise makes it hard for animals to hear each other’s calls and songs, and this is especially true for those who communicate using low-pitched sounds... birds that can’t be heard above the noise of the city may have trouble attracting a mate, maintaining a territory, raising their family, and warning other birds of danger from approaching predators.”

shouting over the music : a dawn chorus for walter and olivier was a Mini FM radio programme created for central Melbourne, which transmitted the sounds of Australian native birds in the early hours of the morning to the historic inner city site of Cathedral Arcade, a pre-Mall built in 1925, one of the city's Art Deco heritage sites, and a historic and contemporary site for artists' studios, writers groups, and other localised artist-driven cultural activity.

Through the audible (and visible) presence of many small ('bird-sized') radios distributed around the foyer's artificial plants and nested within selected shops in the arcade, as well as utilising the localised territory of transmission via Mini-FM, the physicality of radio itself becomes analogous to the presence of birds in shopping malls and other urban environments, and an audible / visible trace of the continued existence of - and need for - natural and cultural presences and spaces within the city which sit in uneasy co-existence with consumer spectacle, the 9 to 5 working week, and the territorial hegemony of mainstream communications media. Sometimes, strategic silences can work wonders - and the ability to refuse shouting over the music can be seen as tactical - it can be the silent gestures, the small sounds, that create a sense of close-listening, and a kind of intimacy, which people really notice, if they are tuned in.

transmitted audio was sourced from the archives of the Australian twitcher (bird watching) group 'urban birder', who are interested in the life of birds in association with the human built environment, as well as field recordings of spaces around melbourne, and sonic reference to Réveil des Oiseaux (Dawn Chorus), the first of 20th Century composer Oliver Messaien's sequence of works dedicated almost entirely to the sonic notation of birdsong.

shouting over the music : a dawn chorus for walter and olivier was commissioned by the Melbourne Fringe festival as part of the visible city multi-artist project in October 2010, and is part of the ongoing Radio d' Oiseaux series of live mini FM rtransmission works by radio cegeste. It was transmitted into Cathedral Arcade on the week of the 70th anniversary of the death of Walter Benjamin.

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