Songs of Place and Time

Birdsong and the Dawn Chorus in Natural History and the Arts

There is an established understanding that birdsong is rooted on the premise that each singing bird is only, or predominantly, concerned with intra-specific communication. Yet, on listening to the mass of birds singing at dawn we have intuitively described the phenomenon as a ‘chorus’. A close analysis of the whole auditory scene suggests inter-specific structure as well as intra-specific relationships, giving rise to the ‘chorus’ impression, rather than random cacophony.

This publication explores how the arts can represent bird song in general and the dawn chorus in particular through ways that underline each chorus’ specific nature of space and place, whilst avoiding the trap of projecting human phenomena onto the more-than-human world.

Transcriptions of birdsong date back to antiquity and imitations of it feature in every culture’s music. However, ‘hearing music in birdsong’ can be little more than a projection of human codes and conventions on to the natural world, avoiding the radical unknowability of this more-than-human world.

The creative work by 29 writers, artists, musicians and poets presented in this multidisciplinary volume reconfigures ways in which the more-than-human is spatially experienced and understood. Such an approach is crucial as we seek alternative narratives to urgently address our current ecological crisis.

Published by Gaia Project in partnership with Art Editions North and Bath Spa University.

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