Music, News, Theatre and Performance

Botanical Birdsong: An Interview with Lucy Stevens

Written by Chloe Hutchinson

The sun is shining (or at least trying to!) and the birds are singing which can only mean one thing – it’s time for Botanical Birdsong.

Although our Summer programme is beginning to draw to a close, we’re not quite ready for it to end just yet. This weekend Attenborough Arts Centre is excited to present Botanical Birdsong at the Botanic Garden, a unique musical performance blending birdsong and Indian classical music. Created in collaboration with contemporary artist Lucy Stevens and musicians Akash Parekar and Rishii Chowdhury, Botanical Birdsong uses audio recordings of birds taken from the University of Leicester’s Botanic Garden as inspiration to create musical responses on the tabla and sitar. To give you a sense of what to expect, we’ve interviewed one of the artists to find out a little bit more about the performance and the creative processes behind it: multidisciplinary contemporary artist, Lucy Stevens.

What was the inspiration behind Botanical Birdsong?

Lucy: “The inspiration started with the birdsong gathered at the Botanic Gardens. The robin was the bird that I recorded the most and this will start and end the soundtrack as part of the concert.”

How did this collaboration arise?

Lucy: “Lucy and Rishii have been working together since 2014. It doesn’t happen very often but when it does it’s always a successful and joyous collaboration.”

What does Botanical Birdsong mean to you?

Lucy: “Botanical Birdsong is an opportunity to share the vocalisations of birds from the gardens with audiences in a new way, using tabla and sitar to respond to birdsong and shape and inspire a new composition of music. It’s also an opportunity to showcase the skills of both Rishii and Akash, who are both talented Indian classical musicians who have not only created music in response to birdsong but can improvise using a wide repertoire of melodic phrases.”

Much of your work draws on both visual and auditory artforms. How does your artistic process for creating a soundwork, like Botanical Birdsong, differ from creating a piece of visual art?

Lucy: “The process for creating a soundwork follows a much more structured process than if I were creating a visual artwork. I have to make sure that the equipment is working ok by testing it and checking I have spare batteries, etc. The recording process does usually require a site visit in advance so I can find the perfect location for recording (whilst its light), as I’m usually recording in the dark at dawn before the birds start to sing. Whilst recording it’s like being in a meditative state. Sound is enhanced because you’re listening via headphones so you can hear everything, including traffic, people and any other sounds within the area. I try to make a note of all the birds I’ve heard and seen whilst on site so I can match this up with my recording later on and make sure to give each bird a chance to shine.

The editing process is a bit like a collage. You’re listening for anything interesting that can be part of experience you’ve had recording on location and as part of the narrative you want to share. Any sound that doesn’t have much in it or has too much traffic or disruption will be removed. Then you’re left with bits of sound that can be edited together, repeated, stretched, reversed, etc to form a soundtrack for musicians to respond to. I don’t see or even hear this track as a finished piece until the musicians respond to it. As part of the concert, I am hoping to record the musicians so that their playing can be layered over the soundtrack to make it a finished piece.”

Where can we find more of your work?

You can find more of our work at:

To make sure you don’t miss out on what is sure to be a fantastic experience click here to book for Botanical Birdsong today.

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