This weekend is International Dawn Chorus Day. The first Sunday in May has become a good moment to stop and enjoy the increasing cacophony of natural sounds as Spring settles in.
Depending on your feelings, this can be little more than a half-noticed thing on a warm night with the window left open. Or it can be something worth waking up early for – to seek out some nearby woodland or farmland and really get amongst it.
If you want to go another step further, you could even listen to Soundcamp’s live audio show, a 24-hour broadcast called Reveil aiming to capture the chorus as it rolls across the face of the globe. There are also various Soundcamps taking place: literally campsites for like minded folks to turn up and listen in to the dawn chorus as it unfolds.
You can even take part in the audio feed by streaming your local environment via microphone and internet connection, and allowing the main feed’s curators to bring in your sounds. There’s a lot more information on how to do that, and the project in general, here.
The great thing is that this won’t sound the same everywhere – for some it’ll be a familiar twittering, but elsewhere it might be captured by hydrophones bobbing in the ocean waves.
Starting on the morning of Saturday 5 May just before daybreak in Rotherhithe near the Greenwich Meridian, the Reveil broadcast will pick up these feeds one by one, tracking the sunrise west from microphone to microphone, following the wave of intensified sound that loops the earth every 24 hours at first light.
In 2018 Reveil features new streams from the UNESCO Monarch butterfly Biosphere Reserve at Cerro Pelón, State of México, the Noosa Biosphere Reserve in Queensland, Australia, a gull colony on South Walney Island, Cumbria, UK
The broadcast will run from 5am on Saturday morning until 6am on Sunday morning.
Whatever the source of the audio, you’ll be able to tune in online here, or in London via Resonance FM, who will play snippets including 5am-6am and 10.30pm-12am on Saturday, and Resonance Extra, which will be playing the whole thing live. Resonance Extra was recently added to the DAB Trial London multiplex.
I’ve done ten of these now, so I guess it’s A Thing? Admittedly I’ll need to do another 42 to make it official, and that seems like a bewildering number, but it feels like A Thing, so long may that continue.
After the previous week’s snow, it was back to business as usual at work, for the most part. There’s a lot of seasonal admin going on at the moment – some big mailouts. My office has a very cyclical nature to it, which I enjoy, as you can usually tell what’s happening, or predict busy periods and lulls, and organise your work accordingly. It also provides semi-artificial deadline, and lord knows I need a good deadline. Amongst very estate-y tasks was spray-painting potholes on one of our private roads, which was rather satisfying.
I also made some more progress on the two websites I’m working on in my own time. They’re close to being ready now, which I’m pleased about. Both clients are very helpful in their feedback and vision for how they want things to look and feel. It’s been a very positive experience so far.
After the NY Times piece I found myself nodding along with most of it, and was pleased to find that Phil Gyford‘s ace Guardian Daily is still working well. It strips out the content of each day’s paper into just clean text and some images, and makes the whole thing swipeable in a browser. Crucially it allows the reader to focus only on the story (not easy on the full Guardian website), and it provides the sense of a finite, finishable object that the likes of Craig Mod and others so often hail. It also had me reaching for stockists of the Guardian’s excellent Weekly edition, but I can’t seem to find any; it only seems to be available by post in the UK. I might try a trial. It made more sense when keeping up with news while in, say, New Zealand. But actually the weekly round-up nature of it – the slow news aspect – seems more appealing than ever in this current age of breaking news.
And the Atlantic piece about retweets made some sense. I quite like some retweets. They’re a nice way to diversify your feed (only a little, mind you – the echo chamber is a persistent issue), and they often bring items of interest. But they also provide items of little interest – and worse, they often come without comment. My friend retweeted this thing, but what do they feel about it? It’s not as simple as just assuming they agree 100%. It might be promotion of a serious issue, or just a quick meme that made them chuckle. Context is important.
As the piece mentions, there’s no easy way to turn off retweets globally, although my third party app of choice Flamingo has such a feature. And even better, it allows quoted tweets to show – and these are the ones I want to see. They provide the all-important context.
My plan is to go retweet-free for the rest of the week, and then turn them back on globally, turning RTs off on a per-account basis until I reach a happy medium.
M and I watched series one of Spaced this weekend, and it’s the kind of show I can virtually quote word-for-word. It’s been some years since we both watched it, and although elements still cut deep as they’re so well written or edited, other stick out like a bizarre anachronism: ringing someone’s landline from a payphone in the pub? Smoking in a nightclub?! But it’s reassuring how much of this 1999 TV series remains hilarious and ‘cutting edge’, nearly twenty years on. Series two next.
I made more progress in Banished, you’ll be pleased to hear. I’ve got my community up to 150 or so adults, with plenty more children and students on their way. The game still occasionally feels like a grind, but the realism of the mechanics of the town’s expansion – oh no, the cemetery is full, I’d better build a new one – are engaging. I’m concerned that the game is a bit too open-ended. There’s no narrative or end-game (that I know of). So at some stage I will just have a steadily increasing town. There’s also no development of eras like some games have – where you’ll transition through styles of architecture or technology, say. Still, I’m still some hours away from the first perceived achievement level of 300 citizens, although I did get some cute awards for having a very happy town, and a very healthy town.
I was bored on a train platform this week, so I was tuning round on my handheld DAB radio and stumbled on Forces Radio BFBS at a time when they were playing classic rock and indie. It provided a nice distraction, and I was a little stunned to see that the DAB+ station was streaming at a paltry 24kbps! I’ve seen other stations just scraping by on 32kbps, and they tend to be predominantly spoken word. But here was a music show sounding pretty decent on very little bandwidth.
In fact, the only audio glitch I could discern was the intro of the Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go which has some stereo separation which wasn’t being properly played out.
A brief scan of Wohnort tells me that this is the lowest bitrate of any DAB station, certainly nationally (apart from data services), and it’s very promising to hear such efficient compression sounding so reasonable.
On Thursday I went back to Oxford for the second time in recent weeks. This time I had tickets to see the wonderful Youthmovies play their first gig in eight years, and I was thrilled to see the Audiograft festival was taking place while I would be visiting, so I made some plans to enjoy some of the installations and performances from the audio/noise festival.
Now that I know the layout of Oxford a bit better, and I’ve scoped out a few good pubs and eateries, it’s a nice little city to wander round.
I made sure to visit the Natural History and Pitt Rivers museum(s?) this time, and loved them both. The former is well-lit under a glass roof, and has a classical, elegant display of animal skeletons inside a gorgeous neo-Gothic building. And the latter is a vast collection of antique display cases of various items from around the world. It’s a darker space, and has the air of rooting around a closed museum or even a particularly well-stocked attic space.
Unlike other museums with similar ethnographic collections, the Pitt Rivers lumps items of a kind together in one area. So here you’ll have writing instruments, or there you’ll find timepieces. Or, more specifically, you might find Treatment of Dead Enemies, or Charms and Amulets. It makes for a fascinating selection, particularly seeing such contrasting objects cheek by jowl across cultures.
After the museums and a much-needed pint – outside in the Spring sunshine! – I headed to OVADA, an exhibition space in an old industrial building. Inside I found installations of sound experiments, including vinyl records playing a Morse code version of Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale which was then received by a device that attempted to decode and display the words. It did this through a thin veil of recordings of birdsong and other ‘interruptions’, causing small glitches in the text. I was pleased to find that the artist Kathy Hinde was around to explain a little more about her installation Twittering Machines.
Elsewhere I also found Sally Ann MacIntyre’s Study for a Data Deficient Species (Grey Ghost Transmission). It was a necessarily small (portable!) installation, with an enchanting recording I had also encountered via the recent Radiophrenia broadcasts. I’ve followed Sally Ann’s blog radio cegeste for a number of years, so it was nice to come into contact with her work at OVADA thanks to Audiograft.
The space at OVADA affords a number of opportunities for installations like this one, but also some compromises. On the one hand it is a large space and allows for a number of installations to co-exist without feeling too crammed in. On the other hand, as some of these works are by their very nature audible, they compete for attention as they reverberate around. This worked quite nicely for the most part: hearing birdsong interrupted by music, impersonated birdsong, and the staccato human-spoken binary of Simon Blackmore’s How We Communicate made for quite a mixture of sounds and audio textures quite in line with the other textures on show, whether part of an installation or the fabric of the building itself.
An example of the aural environment on my visit to OVADA can be heard below:
Later, I made my way to the beautiful Holywell Music Room where I was pleased to catch three of the evening’s four pieces.
It’s a gorgeous space, I’m sure, for any type of music and performance. But the three pieces I caught were all experimental in their own different ways. First was a wordless exploration of human vocal sounds in response to external stimuli – thought not strictly to my taste, I enjoyed the fact that such a performance found a home in such a space; they suited each other in their own unusual ways.
Next was an interesting cross section of nerdy audio experimentation and sheer noise. A series of four cymbals was placed upon individual speakers, through which sound was passed, causing the cymbals to reverberate. This was then, I believe, fed back into the speakers. It was essentially twenty minutes of feedback, but finely tuned, and the aural equivalent of seeing coloured dye dropped into clear water and watching as it swirled slowly, forming organic or pseudo-random patterns.
The last piece I caught was, I think, an interpretation of a simple narrative of house and the stories it held, told through spoken word, projected video, and overhead transparencies.
It caused me a little amusement that all three pieces suffered from the “It’s not finished!…. It’s finished!” issue as parodied in Spaced. But I was so glad to have caught such a diverse set of performances. And all as a ‘pay what you decide’ format, with anonymous donations upon leaving.
I would’ve been more sad to miss the last act, were I not headed to the Bullingdon for the Youthmovies show.
It’s hard to summarise the show, really, as the band take up so much emotional space in my head, having soundtracked significant episodes in my life, some wonderful and some less so. But seeing a band play for the first time in eight years – in honour of a departed friend of theirs – was as emotional and uncanny and yet familiar as I had hoped. Fittingly, it wasn’t a perfect performance. They played songs they hadn’t played together in years, and most of them feature quite unusual time signatures. But it felt like a 100% positive and uplifting experience for all present.
As expected, I had forgotten over the years some of the magic of their live performance that made them such a favourite in the first place. Their recorded output will remain a bewilderingly impressive and imaginative selection of tracks. But it’s their immense joy at playing these special songs, and the modesty and passion they display when onstage that makes them a truly special band. It was an honour to have the opportunity to step back into those shoes for one night.
And then this weekend, with nothing much planned, M and I went for a nice walk along the canal on Saturday afternoon. And on Sunday I felt the urge to go for a little run, and ended up covering 22km.
I had intended to head as far as I could towards the Thames, and to turn back for home whenever I felt like I was flagging. But as Foo Fighters’ My Hero hit its climactic chorus on Whitehall, and Strava announced that I’d hit the 10km mark, I knew I had to continue.
I treat these kind of cross-city runs as something of a sightseeing exercise – people-watching in motion, with some London landmarks thrown in for free.
I’m suffering some aches and pains a day later, but it’s reassuring to know I can still pull that out of the bag every now and then. As Spring comes, I intend to get a little bit of consistency into my running and walking.
Another week of various estate inspections, though fortunately nothing too dire – no more trees down. The Suburb didn’t escape the windy weather entirely though – I saw signs of damage to buildings, including St Jude’s, unfortunately.
Lots of winter gardening going on – turning over of soil and tidying up here and there. And we’re almost ready to instruct our contractors to do the annual tree work on the estate. It’s one of the biggest jobs of the year, but we’ve got it down to a pretty fine art so far (I say that; it’s all down to my colleagues having done a grand job of it in years past).
I had a couple of evening meetings this week, which is unusual for me, but they do happen. Both estate management related, and both needing my input. It’s good to do these meetings now and again as the people who attend are good at asking questions about the things we do which we might not have considered. And it’s just nice to be able to do a periodic round-up of achievements and good news stories too.
Earlier in the week, I met up with Jonty for a pint and a ramble about all sorts of things – initially radio-related but increasingly varied as our interests wove their way through one another. I came away pleased to have found a kindred spirit with so many shared obsessions, and the conversation left me scribbling away in my notebook for days afterwards. Some new projects, perhaps?
Fortunately for having a head bursting with ideas, I was able to take Thursday off. Unfortunately, I gave myself a little too much to do, and set myself up for the inevitable disappointment of missing a bunch of goals.
But I did get to muck around with some radio stuff – I satisfied myself that my RTL-SDR dongle is, in fact, working… But just not particularly well. I think my main problem is the antenna. So that’s another avenue to investigate. At the moment I’m favouring the ‘build one yourself with two pizza trays and some soldering’ over ‘buy one’ – but we’ll see.
I also had a bash at filing some disparate audio recordings which were scattered over various hard drives. I found a handful that have some merit – they’re either clear enough, or they’re of an interesting thing – and I’ll try and do something with them.
Others were… a little disappointing. I was pleased to find a MiniDisc entitled ‘New Zealand Journal’, and knew it was an audio diary recorded on an early 2002 trip. I didn’t know much more about it, but was pleased to see the disc contained 41 minutes of audio. I left it digitising in Audacity, and was eager to hear it once it had finished.
To my surprise, there is about six minutes of me talking – I’m pleased to have that, at least – followed by about 30 minutes of various clips of what I think is NZ TV. I *think* what was going through my mind at the time was that it would be nice to have some snippets of NZ TV/radio to listen back on one day. But, a bit like looking back at holiday snaps to find ten photographs of the same tree, it’s actually sometimes better to have recordings of oneself rather than just the fluff around. Well, I suppose a mixture of both, if I’m honest.
Still, like I say, it was a slight disappointment. The holy grail (and I should know better than to set myself up for abject anticlimaxes) will be digitising the contents of a handful of microcassettes made on a Dictaphone when I was in year 7. The bulk of it is me dicking around while on a school trip to France, aged 11. I can’t wait to sample the delights contained on those.
It’s pretty easy, and the art and music is a delight. I was actually quite surprised how quickly I played through it, although I made good use of save states, which I wouldn’t have been able to the first time around. Still, it was nice to start and finish a game, and especially one so familiar.
I plan to work my way through the roughly linear range of Mario games going forward, including the Wario games. Super Mario Bros. 3 is next. This one is much less familiar.
Saturday I messed listened to some radio, including logging some London pirate stations. As always, I found a cross-section. One station which I’ve grown rather fond of was playing a great mix on Saturday evening which included videogame samples. Another was, out of their peak hours, just playing a great playlist which I kept Shazam-ing (for want of a better verb) and adding to a Spotify playlist.
One station made me rather cross, however, as not only did they steal the hourly news of another commercial station, but they played out repetitive adverts for a herbal cancer remedy, gleefully listing the various other ailments it’s also good for. The thing that really got me though is that the station’s mission statement is all about the good it’s doing for the community. It’s basically operating as a community station, just without the license. So that wound me up.
I also made a start on the Buster Keaton Blu-ray set I got for Christmas. It’s a collection of his early short films, starting with the Fatty Arbuckle collaborations. I get a unique joy from watching well-restored hundred-year-old films. Partly it’s the way you can see the seams between theatre and film as it makes the transition from one to the other. And partly it’s the crisp, clear footage of real-world scenes, or at least mock-ups of them.
The other achievement of the weekend was getting the current website project to an almost-finished standard. It even has a shiny new URL (which is quite a pleasant outcome at the request of the client). I hope we’ll get the final tweaks sorted shortly and then it’ll be ready to go.
Sunday I went to see my mum, who seems well and happy. It was nice to visit Amersham briefly, to see what’s changed and what’s still the same. The old Iceland building (which was also the site of a cinema way back when) has gone, leaving a vast hole in the streetscape.
I picked up some beers from a new(ish) place that does microbrewery beer on tap, as well as food, which I’d like to go back to another time. It was also heartening to see my childhood pet shop which sadly closed last year has (re?) opened as a pet shop once more.
And the longstanding independent mobile phone shop next to it (where I bought a Siemens S8 many, many years ago) is now… a vape shop.