Sonic Rewild – by Harry Ovington

The Land Lines website is delighted to showcase a variety of exciting audio work with you over the month of November! As part of the Tracks, Traces and Trails: Nature Revealed project, we have a brilliant range of soundscapes and audio recordings from both new and established sound artists, which explore new ways of listening to and connecting with our environment and the nonhuman life that we share it with. 


The Cost of Wind

Cost of Wind from Sonic Rewild on Vimeo

The Cost of Wind is an audio-reactive, experimental short film that draws a contrast between the ultrasonic emissions of bats and the ecological effect of wind farms. It utilises ultrasonic recordings of bat echolocation and emissions from wind turbines in combination with filmed footage to create an artistic representation of an ecological issue which is outside of the human perspective. Wind energy production datasets have also been utilised to process and manipulate these sound sources, allowing for the creation and development of textural and gestural content that reflects the connection between wind farms and bat mortality rates in the UK. The resulting visual output is a direct result of documented data and field recordings captured on site (Scout Moor Wind Farm, UK). 

Figure 1

We often regard wind energy as being a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels – which it is. However, The Cost of Wind sets out to highlight an overlooked ecological disadvantage that is not obvious to humans. Although wind energy is considered progressive, it is failing to address all but our own human perspectives on future ecology. Through the 2015 doctoral study (Suzanne Mary Richardson 2015) it is possible to draw a direct correlation between bat mortality rates in the UK and their proximity to commercial wind farms.

Photo by Author

It is this conclusion that should lead us to re-evaluate our ecological efforts and strive for the development of long-term and beneficial ways of sustaining our existence, in harmony with our surrounding ecosystems. 

My recording processes during this project consisted of two different methods of capturing different sound sources. Firstly, a Dodotronics Ultramic 384k BLE microphone was used in combination with the Android application Bat Recorder in order to capture ultrasonic recordings of bat echolocation (fig.1) and ultrasonic emissions from wind turbines. Additionally, omnidirectional, contact, and shotgun microphones were used on location to capture the various compositional material produced by the wind turbines. The visual element to this was constructed by visual artist Sean Clarke of TestCard. The abstract visual composition was built in TouchDesigner and relies on audio reactive algorithms that create digital abstractions, as well as the processing and manipulating of pre-recorded footage. 

Photo by Author

A Path to Shore: Wrong without Turning 

Shore Chapel is abandoned and attracts no visitors. This site-specific composition follows a forgotten footpath leading to Shore Baptist Chapel. The composition exists in two mediums; one fixed media, stereo composition, and two site-specific virtual sound walks that were constructed using the geolocation based audio engine SonicMaps

The composition is predominantly made up of field recordings which were captured during the time the composer spent within the landscape. These recordings portray the path in a state of natural resurgence, during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. During this time, human traffic lessened, the roar of vehicles disappeared and the noisy mechanics of human life were subdued. All this allowed the landscape to speak in new ways. Whilst recording elements of this unique rural respite, I found myself extracting sonic elements that I’d never noticed before. The sonic individuality of this period encouraged me to spend more time scrutinising the topography and ecology around me. 

Figure 3

Landscape art is something that has fascinated me for some time now. I relish the idea that a unique focal point can be constructed within a space, using only materials which make up that space. I can draw direct parallels between this practice and my own use of site-specific field recordings. For these reasons, I constructed two separate pieces of landscape art; a cairn (fig.3) to draw attention to the start of the route and stone circle in a pooled section of a stream on the path (fig.4). 

FIgure 4

The process of building these pieces allowed for further detail and expressive content to be extracted from the landscape when field recording.

Where this interaction between myself and the landscape took place, it allowed me to become creative in how I captured my practice, and gave me field recordings from different perspectives, which focused on materiality, texture and gesture. To capture these processes, I used a combination of close-mic techniques with contact microphones and hydrophones. 

Presentation of the Work

It was important to present and disseminate this work in a way that reflected the themes of rewilding and audience engagement. To achieve this, it was imperative that the music could be taken away from the concert hall and enjoyed within the original landscape. It was also important that this work should engage people who might be less acquainted with this landscape, through rural sonic elements. 

For these reasons, the web-based geolocative tool SonicMaps was used to construct two separate virtual sound-walks. Listeners are able to interact with sounds placed in these locations and develop the structure and narrative of the piece themselves, by moving through the routes. These sound-walks can be accessed by anyone, either in their respective locations or remotely from home. 

Figure 5

The first virtual composition is plotted along the original footpath (fig.5). This allows audience members to simultaneously interact with the composition and original landscape. In contrast to this, the second version of the composition has been plotted along an urban street in the Manchester suburb, Ardwick. Here, the exact same elements of composition are employed in an identical structure and lead to the still-active Coverdale Baptist Church (fig.6). However, this time the sonic elements are presented in juxtaposition to the urban landscape which surrounds this location. The intention here is that the composition, in this form, provides local residents with a virtual green-space and also engages them with the benefits of rural soundscape and may even encourage a visit to the original site. It is this heightened engagement that lends this method of composition and presentation as a tool for rewilding and public engagement. 

Figure 6

The two virtual sound-walks can be accessed via the links below:

Original Location: recursivearts.com/sonicmaps/player/?p=359 

Rewilded Location: recursivearts.com/sonicmaps/player/?p=360 

The fixed media composition can be found here: 

Further Reading:
– Drewitt A. and Langston, R., 2006. Assessing the impacts of wind farms on birds. Ibis, 148, pp.29-42. Energy.gov. 2020. Environmental Impacts And Siting Of Wind Projects. [online] Available at: https://www.energy.gov/eere/wind/environment al-impacts-and-siting-wind-projects [Accessed 28 October 2020]
– Mary Richardson, S., 2015. The Effect Of Wind Turbines On Bats In Britain. PHD. University of Exeter.
– Energy.gov. 2020. Wind Turbine Interactions With Wildlife And Their Habitats. [online] Available at: https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2015/0 3/f20/AWWI-Wind-Wildlife-Interactions-Factsheet.pdf [Accessed 28 October 2020]


About the Artist

Harry Ovington is a Manchester-based artist creating sonic work that combines the use of field recordings and data sonification with analogue synthesis and environmental information. His initial practice began in composition, but has developed to include performance, locative audio, landscape sculpture and sound art installations. Harry’s primary interest is in creating works which communicate environmental information through artistic expression, and that allow a space for audience engagement and heightened environmental understanding. Immersing himself in acoustic spaces of natural phenomena, his mission is to deconstruct these spaces in ways that provoke reconnection with our planet and inspire rural creativity. After living in a city centre for a number of years, it became clear that Harry needed to obtain this connection to nature for himself. The importance of this personal reconnection has manifested itself into a desire to deliver this to audiences in a variety of sound-based implementations. During his work, Harry has created pieces for The Manchester International Festival, MANTIS Sound Diffusion Festivals as well as various international galleries. This work has been documented and presented under the title Sonic Rewild. More information can be found on his website: https://harryovingtonmusic.com.


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