Saturday, 18 June 2011

Hearing Beauty

With beauty all around me may I walk...

If the secret to creating beautiful art lies in seeing clearly, then finding the beauty in sound is no different. It's fairly easy to find the beauty of sound in your favourite music but what about the everyday noises we often take for granted? What if we took an old sound and looked at it from a new perspective? That, in a manner of speaking, is what another artist did a few years back...

and a 'manner of speaking' is exactly what these videos are all about!

Marcus Coates, shaman-artist, looks at the connections between humans and animals - and humans as animals. He blends humour and amazement. The videos below are of his art exhibit 'Dawn Chorus', which was shown in 2007. It's my choice for the second in my 'Walk in Beauty' series.

Coates worked with wildlife sound recordist Geoff Sample to record a real "dawn chorus" of wild birds singing in the morning. He then slowed the sound down to a speed humans can cope with... and taught these "songs" to real everyday humans. He filmed these people singing their songs in their natural morning "habitats" - kitchens, offices, bedrooms, etc. Once everyone was taped he sped them up to bird speed and the results are amazing - human voices chirping and singing like birds. For the exhibit he had all the videos playing together in a room and the result sounds EXACTLY like real dawn birdsong.

Beautifully I will possess again
Beautifully birds

The first video shows each person singing their song individually. I so love the doctor and the old lady in bed. The cab driver and the old man reading the paper made me laugh.

The next video is about the making of the tapes and shows one of the people "singing" his song at normal speed. It also ends with the actual exhibit in the gallery with all the "birds" singing together. Do go to the end to hear them sing, it really is worth it to hear the entire chorus.

Beautifully joyful birds
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk

It is finished in beauty


  1. Fascinating piece, Michelle, thanks for sharing it. The Pollen Path indeed!

    Watching, and seeing the movements also speeded up so that they became birdlike along with the songs, I wondered if each creatures' rhythm & pacing is derived from their own heartbeat.

    Seems that internal metronome might be what marks the pace of both movement and song. Certainly 'small' is connected to greater speed, and also faster heartbeat. On the speed side, it seems directly observable, although one would need to measure to be sure. Intuition tells me there's a through-line here.

  2. Love your thoughts, Hayden. You echo some of my own about speed and time.

    I'd love to try this with other animals - slowing or speeding up to our "rate" in order to see how the sounds compare. Last year the BBC had a show with taped sounds of birds. both slowed and lowered the pitch and the results were amazing. a HUGE vocabulary that had previously been "invisible" to human ears. Whole conversations, maybe even "words" and sentence structure. Wish I could remember the bird now, but my brain won't let me at the memory. :-\

  3. Interesting - I do believe that now and then someone does 'understand' and can hear the conversation - perhaps it has something to do w/ being able to access that other speed.

    I often think of children as birds - small critters moving fast and high-pitched.

  4. This is really fascinating! Thank you for sharing these, Michelle. :)



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