Visualized Bird Song – by Elisabeth Pellathy

Voice of the New Caledonian Owlet-Nightjar, visualised by Pellathy

“First, it should be stated that the single most significant threat to bird populations is habitat destruction, in all of its forms and with all of its causes.” – Sibley Guide Book

“Sounds, once generated, never die; they fade but continue to reverberate as sound waves across the universe” – Guglielmo Marconi, radio pioneer.

So many things are disappearing at such an alarming rate that perhaps we will only have a catalogue of objects to remember what they were and how they existed in our environment. How can we begin the conversation to preserve?

Using the dense audio resources found at the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the voices of the top ten most endangered birds of the world are cataloged, collected and charted becoming objects and prints representing the voices of these birds. The bird songs are mapped in sound editing so ware and then traced in 3D modelling soft ware and 3D printed. Digital drawings, made by removing the router bit from a CNC machine and replacing it with a ball- point pen, and following the tool path of a stereo-lithograph, accompany the 3D prints.

The bird calls become more than just records – instead an encounter with a frozen instant of time. A visualized model charts the intangible and elicits reaction on the fleeting nature of what is here now, but may not last. A moment of reflection with individual species from endangered bird species possesses a poetic quality. I think of the objects and prints as a catalogue of the disappearing, much like an 18th century wonder-cabinet.

The display serves to rarify the object, contain it and isolate it. The bell jars reference a specimen that has been collected and displayed which also becomes a commodity to be owned. Perhaps the viewers will contemplate the collective idea of objectifying the experience of the natural world.

Elisabeth Pellathy is an artist and academic based at University of Alabama, Birmingham.