Krause began by showing graphically how insects, birds and other songsters avoid using the bandwidths that are dominated by what he calls the geophony – the sounds created by the earth itself, of rivers, wind and the like. And the biophony of animal sounds is divided into clear strata so that each species group makes sounds at the pitches avoided by everyone else. Put this onto a sonograph and the similarity with a musical score is striking.
Krause and Oxford-based composer Richard Blackford have taken this idea and collaborated on a new work for orchestra and recorded soundscapes The Great Animal Orchestra, which is also the title of a book by Krause. This work is premiered at the Cheltenham Festival on 12 July, and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. We were given a brief preview of the opening, with a projected sonograph to follow rather than a score. This showed neatly how the orchestra emerges from the complex soundscape of the rainforest, via a C-sharp on which the gibbon’s dawn song ends, to be taken up by the violins.
Chris Watson - Northumberland based globe-trotting sounds man for the likes of David Attenborough - has been reflecting lately on the sounds that would have surrounded Eadfrith as he made his fabulous illuminations in the Lindisfarne Gospels. It is hardly surprising, he says, that the island's creatures such as eider ducks and grey seals should feature in the manuscript; the human song-like sounds they make would have been unpolluted by the machines and traffic that was over a thousand years into the future. He played his own recordings to make the point, and conjured a picture of grey seals singing in the misty distance, originating the many legends of half-human sea-creatures.
The previous evening, Arlene Sierra’s Urban Birds for three pianos, electronics, sampled bird song and percussion formed part of a concert at the South Bank Centre. Sierra, an American working in the UK and lecturing in Cardiff, is another composer for whom birds and insects are an important element in many of her works. In Urban Birds recordings of blackcap, skylark and cuckoo and responses from the pianists form an intricately-textured piece. I was unable to get to the concert, but Radio 3’s excellent contemporary music programme Hear and Now features the whole concert later on the 12th, so radio listeners will be in for an evening of nature-inspired music next Saturday.