Ian Baxter
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Sound Artist


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The Lark is My Morning Alarmer (Dawn Chorus)

What you can hear is a rolling dawn chorus, with an ever changing cast of birds, from regions indicated by the map below

This is another experiment in 'ambient webpages' - pieces of sound art, based on the web that can be left on in the background whilst you're working, reading or pottering around. These projects have been inspired by Janek Schaefer's found soundscape (which I contributed to in 2015). In writing about that project Janek directly referenced Radio Birdsong a shortlived radio station, occupying a spare slot on the nascent DAB service in the UK. Janek writes "Foundsoundscape was inspired by the very first Digital Radio station in the UK, that simply played a recording of a rural location. Radio you could just leave running to add a peaceful ambience to your environment indoors" . The other day, my facebook 'on this day' function (which dredges up status updates from years ago) reminded me of my own fleeting passion for the birdsong radio station. Radio Birdsong is commemorated on Wikipedia here and its own website

It may seem odd for a sound artist to be citing a gardening writer as inspiration but these words from one of Monty Don's old Guardian columns struck me

When I was a student, my father made me a tape of the dawn chorus in early March, standing in his garden at 6am with primitive tape recorder, and sent it to me. I could only bear to listen to it once. It was a heartbreaking, deeply disturbing sound, like glimpsing someone you love passing on a train. The robin, blackbird and thrush slowly breaking the dark and going insane with song as the dawn rose.

Perhaps because it made me reflect on my own 'countryside' upbringing (in reality quite a large market town, but rural compared to Sheffield) where I would regularly be woken by the cacophony of the dawn chorus. On reading Don's words I actually got up and recorded the dawn chorus myself one summer morning. It was accepted to the British Library's Sound Map of Britain (which appears to be broken.) That was nearly a decade ago and this year marks my living in urban Sheffield for longer than I ever lived "back home". Perhaps my dawn chorus' are gone for good.

After I made Syrinx "the transfiguration of Donald Trump" I realised I had in my hands a sort of portable, virtual dawn chorus. However, there are shortcomings to that piece. Chiefly, I found however devious the machinations of the enciphering algorithm were the overall result was often very similar. And the static nature of sonifying one tweet and waiting for another meant the piece addressed the same cacophonous sounds for long periods of time. Despite Trump's reputation as trigger happy tweeter, he tends to fire off bursts of tweets then go back to the day-to-day business of being the President.

I wanted something more nuanced, more layered and also something which uses the vast corpus of the xeno-canto archive (some 30,000+ recordings). A couple of factors came together to make a successful work:

Thanks to my piece Nochevkoy I already had in place the architecture for a website that was able to intelligently determine what time of day it was (thanks to SunCalc - see acknowledgements) and the xeno-canto API allows searches by latitude and longitude. The thought struck me that at any given moment it's dawn somewhere on earth and so by calculating the coordinates where the sun being between -12 degrees and 1 degree in the sky, xeno-canto could be asked to return recordings from these regions and create a virtual (albeit ersatz) dawn chorus.

Acknowldegements

This piece would not be possible at all, of course, without the incredible archive of recordings, offered under a creative commons license by the recordists who contribute to xeno-canto.org. The nature of the piece (accessing all recordings issued under the share-alike license) makes it impossible to create a fixed list of credits - but they are available as a rolling list here

Sun-calc by mourner is a javascript library allowing quick calculations of the sun's angle.

To enable the cross-origin loading of sounds from xeno-canto into my script I rely on cors-anywhere by Rob Wu

I am in debt to Tero Parviainen's introduction to the web-audio API.

The title is from the folk song "The Farmer's Toast" which I heard regularly sung by Roger Bond at my local folk club growing up.