Performance aims to change public perception of seagulls and their song

A seagull on Brighton beach (Credit: Abbesses, Getty Images)

To many people, seagulls can often be seen as little more than a pest – both for their shrill shrieks and their scavenging behaviour.

But one composer is hoping to change that way of thinking and encourage audiences to look beyond their initial impressions of these fixtures of coastal life.

Queen Canute will premiere at the 2018 Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival, which is taking place at the University of Plymouth from March 2-4, 2018.

It is designed to demonstrate the beauty of the birds and their song, and to show the ways it can change over the course of a year.

The piece has been created by Nuria Bonet Filella, a PhD student within the University’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR).

Her research often takes nature as its inspiration, finding musical structures within the environment and even data around climate change, but this piece is something of a first on many fronts.

She has spent many hours recording the birds on the waterfront in Plymouth, and will then combine those recordings and observations with the sound of a clarinet to create a unique new duet. Nuria said:

“Living in a coastal city, seagulls are all around us and a part of our way of life. But what if you took a step back and listened for changes during the day, or to see if their song altered at different times of the year? That is what I hope my piece will do, as well as reminding people that seagulls are in fact beautiful birds and a species we should celebrate more often.

“From a musical perspective, there is not much done in terms of seagulls as composers have always tended to focus more on songbirds. So I also hope it will give my audience a different experience, and a new perspective on a sound that for many of them is an integral part of their daily lives.”

Tony Whitehead, speaking for the RSPB in the South West, added:

“It’s great to hear of a work hoping to reveal the beauty of these often much maligned birds. Gulls do sometimes come into conflict with people in seaside towns, but many councils are now doing good work to try and reduce these conflicts in a way that doesn’t impact on the birds. Simple measures such as reducing street waste and encouraging people not to feed gulls are good approaches.

"It’s worth remembering that, while the birds are doing well in towns the wild population along the coasts are not faring as well. It’s also worth remembering that for many, gulls are as much a part of the south west seaside experience as pasties and ice cream.”

Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival 2018: Decoding Life

The Decoding Life is the theme of Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival (PACMF) 2018, which celebrates the internationally renowned research combining music, engineering and the life sciences developed at Plymouth University’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR).

Decoding Life proposes a weekend of musical allusions to human endeavours to understand, modify, simulate and even create life.

Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR)

Cutting-edge research in topics including the interface between music, computers, and the brain within a vibrant contemporary music community.

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