Twittering Machines – Installation : 2014
New live performance edition of Twittering Machines – here…
Humankind maintains an ongoing fascination with attempts to decipher, understand and categorise birdsong and animal communication. Twittering Machines invites us to ponder upon these fascinations, and plays with birdsong imitation, translation, message sending, encryption, interference, miscommunications, and mappings. Language and vocalisations can express metaphors through poetry and abstractions through music and song. A dansette record player spins a vinyl recording of John Keat’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ translated into Morse Code. Software listens in, live, and translates the code back into text. Extraneous sounds in the room can be detected by the software which interfere with the translation, interrupting the Keats poem. A Bavarian bird imitator cheerfully whistles the songs of local birds amongst the hum of radios intermittently receiving signals from each other and the surrounding chirping objects. Twittering Machines starts as a live sonic art performance and evolves into an installation created from remnants and artefacts used in the performance.
The performance samples the morse code blips and beeps from the records combined with music boxes, dulcitone, broken toy pianos, bird imitation and decoy toys, various broken piano parts and detritus to conjure up the impression of a huge flock of birds flying around the space. This multichannel surround-soundscape masks the vinyl morse code and the software translation loses the Keats poem completely only to generate a stream of letters vaguely reminiscent of phonetic transcriptions of birdsong.
A reflection on the delicate state of bird populations, as suitable habitat becomes rarer and climate change confuses the seasons.
Twittering Machines was first commissioned for the Fort Gatehouse at Chatham docks for TÖNE Festival of light and sound 2014. Details of this site responsive edition are here. A new version of Twittering Machines was developed on a 2018 Cryptic winter residency at Cove Park, Scotland and then exhibited at OVADA Gallery for Audiograft Festival with a live, improvised performance at the Launch event, within the installation setting, on 6th March 2018. Software programmed by Matthew Olden. Videos and photos below by Kathy Hinde, with live sound engineering and audio recording by Tim Hand.