On Chorus

Friend of Cow House and sound artist Christopher Steenson is launching his latest project On Chorus today, Monday 16 November 2020. For the next two weeks, his project will use Iarnród Éireann train station PA systems across Ireland to play the sound of birdsong to the general public from 8:00 am to 9:00 am, every day, for two weeks, ending on Sunday 29 November 2020. Just a few short weeks ago Chris was kind enough to present his work to our gap year students, illustrating how artists can respond to moments of adversity and change.

On Chorus aims to highlight the dramatic reduction in noise pollution in Ireland during the first COVID-19 lockdown in Ireland. During this time, the sounds of towns and cities across Ireland were filled with the clear and uninterrupted sound of birdsong, which provided a stark contrast to the sounds of cars, planes, and other machinery that usually consume our urban soundscapes. The recordings played on Iarnród Éireann’s PA systems were recorded by Steenson during the first weeks of lockdown, in inner-city Dublin.

On Chorus aims to use birdsong as a vehicle for highlighting the biodiversity of our urban environments, emphasizing the rich variety of wildlife that exists in our towns and cities, which usually go unnoticed amongst the noisy commotion of our daily lives. Using the collective act of listening, On Chorus asks listeners to reflect on the relative period of quietness we all experienced during the early months of the pandemic, creating a new sense of connection with our present moment as we all acclimatize to the ‘new normal’ of the COVID-19 climate. Given current restrictions, the only people that will be able to hear the birdsong in Iarnród Éireann train stations will be essential workers. In this way, the project acts as a gesture of appreciation and solidarity for these workers as the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold.

At the same time that birdsong will be heard in Iarnród Éireann train stations, birdsong will also play on a website created especially for the project www.on-chorus.com, each day between 8:00 am and 9:00 am, for people who are still self-isolating or unable to travel. The website provides information about the project and presents a series of 35mm photographs created by Christopher Steenson. The website also features a series of texts by a group of invited contributors, including Christopher Steenson, Jez Riley French (sound artist), Mark Garry (visual artist), and Suzanne Walsh (writer/artist). The www.on-chorus.com website has been developed in collaboration with the publishing space Fallow Media, created by Ian Maleney.

On Sunday 22 November, CCA Glasgow’s Radiophrenia will broadcast a recording of the birdsong featured in On Chorus, as heard from Dublin city’s Connolly Station. This recording will be broadcast from 8:00 am to 9:00 am, at the same time that birdsong will be heard in Irish train stations.

On Chorus is supported by Iarnród Éireann in consultation with BirdWatch Ireland. The project is also supported by Fire Station Artists’ Studios, RTÉ Supporting the Arts and Fallow Media. The project is funded through the Arts Council of Ireland’s COVID-19 Crisis Response Award, with additional funding from The Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

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