As the longitudinal arc of dawn sweeps across the Earth each day, a wave of birdsong erupts in fields and forests—a reverberating chorus spanning continents. Dawn is a playhead made of light, which sounds our planet as one immense instrument.
But no matter how early we may rise, we hear only fragments and snatches of this global song. No one has ever experienced the full complement of this avian orchestra.
By intricately reworking a massive dataset of geo-tagged birdsong recorded by citizen-scientists for the Xeno-canto project, The Playhead of Dawn—a collaborative sound and software project by visual artist Jenny Kendler and sound artist/programmer Brian Kirkbride—allows us to experience this planetary chorus for the first time.
The garden of The Arts Club of Chicago—located along the Mississippi Flyway, a crucial bird migration corridor—becomes the locus for this experience and a site to welcome birds passing through. Synchronized with Chicago’s own dawn, the twenty-four hour sound piece loops in time with the rotation of the Earth—inviting listeners to travel this sonic circuit. Visitors are also invited to take note of the schedule and return at a specific time to hear the birds of a meaningful region—remembering a special trip, hearing the birds of a loved one’s city, or reliving childhood memories of waking up in a far-off land.
By evoking a planet knitted together by light, song and the diverse lifeways of over ten-thousand species of birds, The Playhead of Dawn reminds us of the interconnected nature of our vast ecosphere—suggesting the need for deeper attention to the impact of our own actions on this singing planet.
The Arts Club of Chicago is located at 201 East Ontario Street, on the southeast corner of St. Clair and Ontario Streets. Exhibitions are free and open to the public. Gallery hours are Tuesday- Friday 11:00 am – 6:00 pm, and Saturday 11:00 am – 3:00 pm. The Arts Club’s Garden Projects can be seen 24-hrs a day, from St. Clair Street between Ontario and Ohio Streets.
JENNY KENDLER (b.1980, New York City) is an interdisciplinary ecological artist, environmental activist, naturalist & wild forager whose work has been exhibited nationally and internationally at museums, biennials, public spaces & natural areas. She is currently the first Artist-in-Residence with Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Her practice seeks to complicate the space between nature and culture, in order to re-enchant human beings’ relationship with the natural world. She asks us to reexamine the idea of nature as something outside ourselves, making space to welcome the radical, transformative otherness of life on our bio-diverse Earth. Kendler helps run artist residency ACRE and art/research/activism initiative Deep Time Chicago—which is creating a project for the HKW in Berlin in 2019. Alongside an interdisciplinary team, she was recently awarded a major grant for her community-engagement project Garden for a Changing Climate, and has contributed to a project at Storm King that opened in May 2018. She lives in Chicago and various forests.
BRIAN KIRKBRIDE is a sound artist, musician, DJ and programmer based in Chicago whose cross-disciplinary practice integrates data, field recordings, synthesizers, software and found sound from records & films through conceptually-driven audio processing. His work investigates the re-contextualization of complex scientific/social systems through musical and other auditory representations—often within immersive environments. Kirkbride has collaborated on several large-scale sound art and data driven installations, which have been exhibited at venues including the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, The Arts Club of Chicago, EXPO Chicago, the Lincoln Park Conservatory for Experimental Sound Studio and at Millennium Park for the Art Institute of Chicago. His short films have been selected for the Ann Arbor Film Festival, Alchemy Film Festival (Scotland), Montréal Underground Film Festival, Onion City Film Festival (Chicago, USA), Video Art Miden (Kalamata, Greece), Simultan Festival (Timisoara, Romania) and Fovea (Nice, France).
Image: Jenny Kendler & Brian Kirkbride, The Playhead of Dawn, 2018. Four custom LED panels, four outdoor speakers, media players, amps, waterproof cases, power conditioner, cables, hardware 4-channel 24-hour sound piece. Courtesy of Jenny Kendler.