< Dr. Mark Pilkington » Howzat: An Appeal for Nature (2014)

Acoustic ecology recognizes the soundscape as complex sounding systems that change in space and time, and shapes our understanding of the surrounding world. The way we experience sound affects behavior and our relationship to the environment we inhabit. As a sound artist, I was invited to take part in an event called Arts for Nature to celebrated the ecological diversity of Atherton Wildlife and Nature Meadow, Lancashire, UK.

For my contribution I wrote and performed a piece called Howzat: An Appeal for Nature (2014) an algorithmic sound composition that transformed live sound recordings gathered from the surrounding area to raise an awareness to the rich diversity of sounds residing in this unique soundscape. As a complex ‘entity’, the soundscape presents the listener with significant temporal and spatial variation. Each individual environment reveals temporal variations that relate both to biological and human rhythms of activities, while spatial variation mainly reflects land-uses in the landscape. The conservation of the soundscape is an integral part of urban and rural infrastructure. Monitoring and decoding the sonic activities help us to understand how sound imparts and informs our existence.

Sounds were recorded on a mobile Zoom recorder at different locations around the area. Capturing fleeting moments of activities as they inadvertently passed by. Muffled conversations, barking dogs, cyclist  children playing, a cricket match and the noise of low flying aircraft humming across the sky. Each sound was carefully selected and edited in the studio into shorter fragments to reveal the materiality of the sound. The ability to listen to the sound fragments in isolation frees them from any contextual constraints and thus blurs the original source cause relationship. The process of reduced listening assisted in balancing the perceptual responses to reveal new meanings beyond the original context. The technique of spectral filtering allows the listener to focus on the rich harmonic content of resonant peaks. Searching for hidden musical properties in the sound material such as pitched tones and interesting textures. Often unwanted noise or artifacts gave the sounds a unique character.

For the performance I transformed the sound material using a custom built max/MSP algorithm to produce a generative music composition. The performance took place outdoors on-site,  on the back of a large container truck positioned outside Atherton Cricket Club at 15.30 on Monday 25th August 2014. Having the ability to directly shape the sound material emitted from the loudspeaker system on-site helped to compensate for the lack of room reflection that forms a large part of our listening experience.