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Soundcamp 2016

This weekend I was invited to take part in an event called Soundcamp. Let me quote their own description:

Soundcamp is a series of outdoor listening events on International Dawn Chorus Day, linked by Reveil: a 24 hour broadcast that tracks the sounds of daybreak, travelling West from microphone to microphone on sounds transmitted live by audio streamers around the globe.

Soundcamp / Reveil will be at Stave Hill Ecological Park in Rotherhithe from the 30th of April to the 1st of May 2016, and at soundcamps elsewhere in the UK and beyond.

So as an experience, it's two things: a worldwide live-streamed radio event that you can tune into online, and also if you're there in person it's a 24-hour outdoor event with camping, talks and workshops, with a focus on listening and on birdsong.

(Photos here are by @lemon_disco)

There was a great group of people involved. I was very happy to be on the bill with Geoff Sample the excellent bird recordist, and with Sarah Angliss the always-entertaining musician/roboticist/historian. We each spoke about bird sound from our own different angles and I think it was a really good mix of perspectives. There was also Jez Riley French the field recordist, who led a workshop on ultrasonic underwater sound, and Iain Bolton who took us on a bat walk: the immersive sound of multiple bat detectors clicking and squeaking away around the pond at dusk was much more of a sonic experience than I expected, quite memorable.

For myself - well, I talked about our work on automatic bird sound recognition, in particular our app Warblr: how it works, and how it has been used by people. But more than that, it was a great opportunity to think about how we listen to sound. Trying to get computers to make sense of sound is a good way to emphasise what's so strange and amazing about our own powers of listening.

It was also a perfect setting for the little collaboration Sarah Angliss and I put together last year. Sarah has built a robot carillon, a set of automated bells, and we worked together to transcribe birdsong automatically into musical scores for the bells. These bells, singing away in the corner of the park, with the warm spring weather and the real birdsong all around, were right at home.

At dawn on the Sunday we took a dawn chorus walk. It was an interesting thing to do, and the star of the show was undoubtedly when we reached the end of the walk, almost ready to go back, and a grasshopper warbler sang out loud and long and strange - an unfamiliar sound to me, and apparently the first time anyone had heard one around there! Is it an insect, a bird, a piece of machinery...?

The main Soundcamp organisers - Grant Smith, Maria Papadomanolaki, Dawn Scarfe - also brought their own great and really thoughtful approaches to listening too. Grant and his son led a workshop on making a soundscape streaming device, really quite simply with a Raspberry Pi and a couple of microphones (based on Primo EM172 capsules). I've been really impressed by the quality of the sound field they get from a pair of mics stuck in a section of poster tube.

Here's Maria mixing the radio stream, in the temporary on-site studio:

There are more photos here from Dawn Scarfe

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