Online at sonicsevern.co.uk
Bristol Festival of Nature (June 2012, Bristol, UK)
Bristol Festival of Nature (June 2010, Bristol, UK)
Palmer, M (2011) "On breathing and geography - sonifying the Severn as shared generative art practice", ISEA conference, Istanbul, September 2011
Jones, O (2010) "Another Place": affective time-spaces of tidal processes as rendered in literature and art, in T. Edensor (ed) Geographies of Rhythm, Oxford: Ashgate, pp 189-203.
Michaela Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Owain Jones at email@example.com
Sonifying the Severn Estuary, an intertidal landscape. A brief introduction to the project
Michaela Palmer and Owain Jones work on the sonification of the extraordinary tidal rhythms of the Severn Estuary, in order to bring to public and political attention the very rich ecological and cultural heritages of this estuary, as well as the threats it faces.
Tidal estuaries are some of the richest ecological systems on the planet. The Severn Estuary is the largest estuary in the UK. It covers around 500 km2, of which a fifth are intertidal mud flats.The Breath of the Moon is a sonification of the tidal patterns at the Avonmouth Docks. The artefact follows these patterns for 12 hrs and 18 mins. During this time the tide goes out, reaches low tide, comes back in, reaches high tide and then recedes again. This tidal movement has been translated into sound and then, to make it more easily perceptible, contracted in time.
The composition itself is not a fixed arrangement of pre-recorded sounds, but a software program that arranges its sound samples live. Moreover, some sounds are also generated live. Combining these two processes means that - unlike the two example recordings on this page - the real artefact sounds a little different each time it is played.
The Breath of the Moon is a sonification of the tidal patterns at the Avonmouth Docks on the 12th June 2010, and observes these patterns for 12 hrs and 18 mins. This involved the tide going out, reaching low tide, coming back in, reaching high tide and then receding again. This movement has been translated into sound and then, to make it more easily perceptible, contracted in time.
Below are two recordings of the artefact in action:
If you cannot see the audio player above, please click here
|In this very condensed example, 7.5 seconds correspond to 1 hour of clock time at Avonmouth.|
If you cannot see the audio player above, please click here
|In this slightly more extended example, 15 seconds correspond to 1 hour of clock time.|
The composition itself is not a fixed arrangement of pre-recorded sounds, but a software program that arranges its sound samples live. Moreover, some sounds are also generated live. Combining these two processes means that - unlike the two example recordings above - the real artefact sounds a little different each time it is played.
The aim of this artefact was to firstly raise awareness of the Severn Estuary as an internationally important intertidal landscape facing many pressures; and secondly to raise awareness of the communication potential inherit in sonification techniques.
What is sonification and how can it be applied to the Severn Estuary?
Sonification is the use of sound to communicate information. It is particularly appropriate in situations where a constant monitoring of changing data is required but a visual data display may be distracting. For instance in an operating theatre it may be more useful to hear an audio stream of the patient's vital body functions instead of having to check for these visually.
In the context of the Severn Estuary, sonification can be a helpful method to communicate a whole range of information: real-time tidal and weather data, positions of ships and buoys in the estuary, biological data of migration of species, traffic crossing the Severn Estuary by boat, train or road, release of waste products into the Severn Estuary, tourist hot spots, archaeological data, or geological changes.
In The Breath of the Moon pilot, the sonification concentrated on the rising and falling of the tide at Avonmouth docks on the 12th June 2010. This particular tide was chosen not only because it coincided with a new moon (generating a very high tide), but also because it coincided with the Bristol Festival of Nature. It was hoped that festival visitors would be able to relate what they heard to real tidal movements taking place in the estuary, and obtain an understanding for the 'living' landscape that is the Severn Estuary.
As its source material, the work employed tide and weather predictions for Avonmouth for the day, as well as data from sun and moon calendars. Using the software Max/Msp, a mapping scheme was devised that would use number streams (representing the environmental data) to drive an arrangement of pre-recorded sounds. More frequently asked questions
How can an environment control a sound composition?
By constantly monitoring a set of environmental sensors (thermometers, barometers etc) that are placed outside the building we are in, it would be possible for us to measure the changes taking place in this local environment. This data, which we have turned by measuring into streams of numeric values, could then be fed into a computer program that generates sounds from it. Thus we would be able to hear, for example, how the sky becomes overcast, or how the earth surface warms up in the morning.
Thankfully, many public weather stations nowadays update their data online in regular intervals, in some cases every few seconds. By connecting to such 'online' weather stations it is possible to sonify many local environmental events without travelling there. Since different weather conditions will generate different sound patterns, it is possible to listen to many interesting and 'unplanned' sound compositions. More frequently asked questions
What about the barrage planned for the Severn Estuary?
The idea of using the tidal powers in the Severn Estuary to generate energy has been discussed for a long time. Several potential schemes have emerged since, amongst them the controversial proposal to build a 10-mile barrage across the estuary from Somerset to south Wales. This plan has now been put on hold, but further feasibility studies will still be carried out for a smaller scheme. The Severn Estuary Partnership maintains a useful resource page on the topic. More frequently asked questions
Why is it called The Breath of the Moon?
The title was chosen to reflect the complex connection between the position of earth, moon and sun, and its effect on the tides: when the moon is either full or new, the gravitational forces of moon and sun work together. Then the high tides are very high and the low tides very low, a phenomenon known as 'spring tides'. During the moon's quarter phases the gravitational forces of moon and sun work against each other. The result is a much smaller difference between high and low tides, a phenomenon known as 'neap tides'. More frequently asked questions
When was The Breath of the Moon developed?
The sound composition for The Breath of the Moon was developed in 2010. A next phase of development saw the creation of Sonic Severn in 2011, and Sedimentsonority in 2012. More frequently asked questions
Who developed The Breath of the Moon?
The idea concept of sonifying tidal rhythms in the Severn Estuary and the first pilot (The Breath of the Moon) that featured the tide at Avonmouth on the 12th June 2010 was developed by Dr Michaela Palmer, Senior Lecturer in Digital Media, University of the West of England, and Dr Owain Jones, Senior Research Fellow in Cultural Geography, Countryside & Community Research Institute. More frequently asked questions
How can I get involved?
Sonifying the tidal processes of the Severn Estuary and how these affect the surrounding landscape and its inhabitants may be a worthwhile, but not a small task. There are so many unique tide-specific phenomena and rhythms that deserve public awareness. This could easily take a life-time of listening, researching and composing.
Michaela and Owain's work necessarily is open in nature; the Sonic Severn site an invitation to everyone who lives in or cares for the Severn Estuary to join in, to discover the rhythms of this rich landscape afresh, and to expand the sonic map. If you would like to know more, please email us. More frequently asked questions