By Alice Eldridge
This weekend is International Dawn Chorus day, a worldwide celebration of nature’s great symphony. Not everyone is of the requisite constitution to get up in time to witness the majesty of the spring dawn chorus, but fear not — you can listen in from the comfort of your own bed. As part of ongoing research into the art, science and technology of wild soundscapes we have installed a high-fidelity, DIY, off-grid live audio transmitter at Knepp Wilding Project in West Sussex.
Our live feed is part of a global broadcast, linking the dawn chorus of Sussex to a network of open microphones around the world. Over the weekend of Dawn Chorus day each year, project partners, Sound Camp curate a live global dawn chorus transmission, Reveil. By mixing live feeds from around the globe they create one continuous 24 dawn chorus, following the path of the rising sun around the planet as our feathered friends awaken and warm up their virtuosic synrinxes.
You are invited to listen to the Knepp soundscapes both above and below water. One ear is up in an oak tree, roosting with the turtle doves, cuckoos, owls and nightingales that have come to breed, evidence of the astonishing success of the rewilding of this arable farm over the last 20 years. The other ear takes you under water into a little stream where you can variously hear the tinkle of a babbling brook, splashing of a duck bathing, pig drinking, or subtle munching of an, as yet unidentified, freshwater invertebrate.
This technical and artistic experiment complements ongoing scientific and ethnographic research into cultural and natural soundscapes, including the potential to use sound to monitor ecological status. We now recognise that we are on the edge of the sixth great extinction. Various national, European and global strategies such as Biodiversity Net Gain, EU Biodiversity strategy 2030 or the UN Decade on Restoration, aim to halt or reverse biodiversity loss. Such schemes require evidence to monitor progress and inform decision making, but traditional survey methods of ecological health assessment are prohibitively time-consuming. Our previous research, alongside that of an increasingly active international community of ecoacousticians, demonstrates that listening in to ecosystems can provide valuable information about ecological status, biodiversity, and even behavioural changes in certain species.
The research cannot progress within a single discipline. Even within Sussex University over the last few years our research into cultural and natural soundscapes has involved collaborations across disciplines including conservation biology, international development, anthropology, AI, complexity science, neuroscience and music, partnering with artists in London, indigenous communities in Ecuador, fishers in Indonesia, parabiologists in Papua New Guinea, tourism operators in Sweden, anthropologists in Finland, ecoacousticians in Italy and geographers in France. Working together across and beyond disciplines enables technical and methodological innovation alongside enthnographic, cultural and ethical insights, that not only stimulate methodological and theoretical advances in conservation technologies, but bring other voices in to the conversation. In this way we aim to contribute to social and ecological sustainability through creating cost-effective monitoring tools and advancing equitable conservation agendas.
If the soundscape acts as a transdisciplinary nexus for research, it also connects across species boundaries. As you listen to the exquisite nightingale trios in the late evening, the sound of ducks paddling or tiny insects feeding, I defy you to maintain a strong sense of human exceptionalism. Intimately witnessing the moment-to-moment details of the lives of these other beings unfold is a strong, sensory reminder of our interdependence — of the fact that human well being and that of all other living organisms are inseparable. And a reminder that we need to act fast to ensure that all our songs continue long into the future.
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Bringing you 24 hours of dawn chorus around the earth, Reveil runs 5am London time (UTC+1) on Saturday 30 April to 6am on Sunday 1 May 2022. Listen live on the Reveil platform
The live stream from Knepp is a long-term experiment in Rewilding Soundscapes – perhaps the ultimate slow radio. It is funded by Sussex Humanities Lab, Experimental Ecologies strand and is a collaboration between Alice Eldridge and arts cooperative Sound Camp.
You can listen to the live stream from Knepp day and night for years to come here.
Coming soon: An exciting announcement which explains the motivation for and development of this long term audio streaming project …