birdsong & guitar

Been working away trying to get more birdsong out of the guitar in recent months.

Inspired through mainly listening to what goes on in the gardens behind and around our flat, listening and playing along, listening and drawing. Also Gary Smiths work is really interesting here and definitely worth checking out here.

There was an interesting programme on radio 3 about composers and birdsong recently, its on the iplayer for a few more days, listen here while you can.

Makes for intriguing listening but has always been abit of a mystery to me how unlike birdsong most classical works inspired by birdsong is! Messiaen of course has the best go at it in my opinion but constricts himself with 12 tones.

Final note on birds, great performance at the Bristol live art show me and Bekke played at on saturday from Emma Bennett who used cadences and rhythms form birdsong as the basis for her verbal descriptions of the birds.


Psykick Dancehall 5

A drawing of birdsong and piece of writing about it were published by Psykick Dancehall up in Glasgow at the end of last year. It’s a bit of a meditative memory exercise in response to one of long list of questions posed by Dancehall.

See below or here in published context; the text layout and way it interacts with other contributes is worth seeing.

  1. Recount a family anecdote that the sounds you are hearing now put you in mind of.


Not so much an anecdote but a sense of place and sounds where family is. I am listening to and drawing bird sounds in my parents garden. The idea of drawing sounds is inspired by work I’ve done in the last year or so with Naomi Kendrick and Dan Bridgwood-Hill. Dan and myself improvise and Naomi draws what she hears on huge sheets of paper; it works as a really exciting process for us all, working collectively across implied boundaries presented by form. It’s made me think differently about the possibilites of sound, drawing and mark making and led to situations like the one now: I’m actively listening to my surroundings and drawing as automatically as possible what I hear.


Being in the garden of the house I grew up in presents an overwhelming sense of childhood memory, warmth and belonging but also subtle changes and dislocation since it has been a long time since I lived here and was part of the daily rhythms of the house and garden; I am a visitor now. It lies squarely in fairly nondescript surburbia, the multiple possibilities of the city of Leicester just to the south: music, gigs, records shops, rehearsal studios, pubs, smoking, drinking, curry, walking home after missing the last bus…. To the north the gentle rolls of the midlands countryside: woods, fields, fields bisected by roads, birdsong, mechanised farming, small knots of council estate added to villages, looming power stations, distant motorway drone, pylon hum…


Considering the birdsounds from childhood: blackbirds song and their nests, blackbird trapped in the old chimney, its distressed flapping amplified through the walls, it’s really injured we discover once my dad has coaxed it out; later he has to finished it off, my sister and I don’t realise at the time. Finding the tiny wrens nest much later on in winter once the leaves had fallen, wood pidgeons demented with a tiny black pupil in the middle of a huge white eye, huge swooping flocks of chattering starlings waiting to fly south gathering in the swaying poplars, geese honking overhead in a V on their way to raid a cornfield for supper, thrush listening with its head sideways for worm sounds just below the surface, kestrels sometimes…


Hearing some of these birds and sounds again and pencil scrabble as I try to keep up with the pace and rhythms flying in from all sides; the mixture of turn taking and intuitive entry and re-entry into the overall soundscape fascinates me, with so many individual voices present, there is much more listening going on than actual vocalising; a vital part of collective music making. I stop drawing once enough layers of memory are present in the density of the pencil marks.



Shot above kindly taken by Helen during set with Richard Scott & Olaf Rupp @ Lichtblikt Kino, Berlin

Birdsong & Bells

Picture of backyard from balcony of Thomas’ flat where we stayed was pleasantly overgrown and a real haven for birds, spent a good bit of time listening and playing along with them: mainly trying to isolate elements in it relevant to guitar: high end trills, repetition,¬† slide on high end of neck, picks, clicks, harmonics.

The yard was also a great place to hear churchbells, a couple of times a day the church on the street at right angles rung out loud and clear. Wonderful drones and overtones from struck metal. Made me wonder where the bell  sounds are in Manchester; silent mostly. Made me think of a great stop off on one of the Kalbakken tours, eating ice cream in the churchyard of Youlgreave in Derbyshire, blazing summers day with the bells ringing out, ominous atonal overtone drones hanging in the air.