Birdsong, seascapes and rain, new musical artwork explores role nature has played during pandemic

For many, getting outside for a breath of fresh air during lockdown has never been more important and never more appreciated.

Sound artist Leafcutter John  Picture: Katherine Mager
Sound artist Leafcutter John Picture: Katherine Mager

Which probably explains why, when musician Leafcutter John put out a call for the outdoor sounds that meant the most to people, 13 hours of field recordings poured in.

Including a woodpecker hammering, wind turbine blades swishing and a torrential downpour, snippets of sound have been woven into a “patchwork” soundtrack by the Bradford-born sound artist.

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Mingled with interviews with Barnsley poet Ian McMillan, among others, Lockdown Patchwork, reflects the varied ways people have experienced nature in a unique – and for some uniquely challenging – year.

The artwork features the sound of the dawn chorus at Wheldrake Ings

Leafcutter John said it was hard to pick out a favourite sound: “People were very forthcoming in providing personal back stories for the sounds they sent me.

“This meant I could find beauty in all of the sounds, whether they were made on a high-end recorder or just a phone. It’s the context and personal reflection that makes each piece magical.”

Among the sounds he was sent was a “really drippy and wet-sounding” recording made during a spectacular downpour at Hirst Wood, Shipley, while another was the dawn chorus at Whiledrake Ings.

Another contributor, from Harrogate, described getting up in the early hours in a turmoil over the pandemic, the impact on his business and turning 50 – but then going out into the garden and hearing the life-affirming crescendo of birdsong.

Meanwhile for beatboxer and sound artist Jason Singh, a walk in the woods, even with the constant hum of the M60 in the distance, was calming and restorative.

He said: “Hearing the wings of moths was incredible”.

Not everyone has been able to get out and about. Musician Ally Craig, who wrote a series of haikus for the piece, has been shielding at his home in Oxford since last March for health reasons. He says the tops of the trees from his back door is about all the green he can see.

Leafcutter John said: “I think people take different stuff from it. I think most people feel kind of reassured by hearing that their worries are not unusual.”

It also, he says, shows up the discrepancy between those who can access greenspace and those who can’t, and the lack of support for people with disabilities.

The hour-long performance, released at 7pm on March 25 on the artist’s You Tube channel, includes a hand-drawn map showing where each recording was made, who recorded it and where it appears in the artwork.

The piece was commissioned by Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and Leeds Art Gallery, which will also host the project on its website at the same time.

Principal keeper Sarah Brown said: “Lockdown Patchwork is created entirely from crowd-sourced musical work and is a poignant time-capsule of a collection of sounds and music relating to our relationship with nature and green spaces during the pandemic.”