Automated 'woodpeckers' in extraordinary Summer of Sound

Wakehurst launches a major new summer programme Summer of Sound, featuring six striking large-scale sound installations, offering immersive and mindful moments across the wild botanic garden.

Wednesday, 7th July 2021, 6:05 am
The Woodpeckers © Marco Barotti
The Woodpeckers © Marco Barotti

It will run from July 9-September 12. Tickets on www.kew.org/wakehurst. Pre-booking essential.

• UK premiere of artist Marco Barotti’s robotic ‘woodpeckers’ creates a striking live soundscape activated in real time by signals from visitors’ mobile devices.

• Giant wooden megaphones nestled in Coates Wood form a unique surround sound experience, amplifying natural noises from their atmospheric woodland setting, with mesmerising views of the meadows below.

• A rare opportunity to experience Wakehurst at night in Summer of Sound: After Hours, featuring newly commissioned spoken word, special live performances, open-fire cooking and botanical cocktails.

• Interactive workshops for children and adults include learning how to talk to birds, writing Wakehurst-inspired songs, and Deep Listening Walks led by participating artist Kathy Hinde.

Spokeswoman Frances Teehan said: “Weaving their way through Wakehurst’s wild landscape, visitors will discover a series of playful, innovative installations, each offering moments to pause and feel connected to nature through a symphony of sounds created or inspired by the natural world.

“Championing the rich diversity of Wakehurst’s multiple habitats, the artworks offer an incredible range of sonic encounters from catching whispers of the forest to uncovering voices from deep underwater.

“Launching the Summer of Sound experience is the UK premiere of The Woodpeckers (chime edition) from award-winning artist Marco Barotti. On entering Bethlehem Woods, home to Britain’s finest national collection of birches, visitors are confronted with a series of mechanical ‘woodpeckers’ attached to tree trunks.

“Exploring the relationship between technology and nature in a tech ecosystem, the installation invites visitors to pull out their mobile devices and watch as the invisible radiations emitted from wireless technology activate the ‘birds’. Responding to the emissions, the curious creatures ‘peck’ at chime bars generating a live composition that constantly changes according to the level of wireless activity around them, offering the chance for visitors to play with the intensity of the soundscape in the natural environment.

“Moving deeper into Coates Wood, viewers will discover a large-scale mesh of fluorescent-coloured string, twisting and turning between trees to emulate a musical stave.

“A selection of handmade instruments crafted from metal, wood and recycled materials will hang from each line, drawing visitors’ eyes to the canopy of branches high above.

“Designed specifically for one of Wakehurst’s most atmospheric woodlands, planted with trees from Australasia and South America, Sound Wave is activated by the natural movement of air passing through the trunks and branches, creating a striking symphonic journey.

“With spectacular views of the Wealden meadow flowers that carpet Bloomers Valley below, visitors are invited to pause in a bespoke installation designed by Estonian artist Birgit Õigus. Formed of three giant wooden megaphones each measuring three-metre in diameter, the ‘bandstand’ amplifies the natural sounds that often go unnoticed deep within the surrounding woodland, to create a unique ‘surround sound’ experience.

“The megaphones create the perfect place for visitors to sit, escape from everyday pressures, and feel grounded in a peaceful, beautiful setting.”

Frances added: “Nestled in a glade in Horsebridge Woods, home to Wakehurst’s giant Redwoods, Sonic Woodland: Glade forms a new immersive experience from Brighton-based Hidden Orchestra. Created by composer/producer Joe Acheson and spatial audio engineer Tim Southorn, the installation bathes listeners in the natural sounds of Wakehurst, played through a series of hidden speakers. Exploring the concept of symbiosis – the interaction between two biological organisms – the self-generating composition forms an infinite canon, giving voice to the natural world and the constant interchange taking place within it, from the trees arching above, to the underground roots below. Featuring cellist Rebecca Knight of the City of London Sinfonia, the unique composition promises moments of tranquility throughout the day.

“Completing the line-up are two water-based sound installations from 2020 Ivor Novello Award for Sound Art winner Kathy Hinde. Emerging from the depths of the Wetlands and Water Gardens, Hinde’s wind-up metal Listening Horns will play soundscapes recorded in Wakehurst’s underwater habitats, revealing voices from subaquatic worlds. In Water Balance, a series of kinetic sound sculptures trailing through the Water Gardens, visitors are invited to reflect on the life-giving power of water. As water enters suspended metal tubes, the sculpture tips under its weight, with the passing flow chiming against small gongs, their hums resounding through the landscape.

“Throughout the summer, a series of workshops and events offer visitors of all ages the chance to explore the dynamic sounds hidden in Wakehurst’s wild landscape and reflect on the benefits of taking time to pause and reconnect with nature.”

Summer of Sound: After Hours, August 12-15, 18.00-21.00 (Entry slots between 18.00-19.00) £15: 10% discount for members Booking essential

A rare opportunity to see Wakehurst at night, Summer of Sound: After Hours sees the gardens and installations come alive with captivating live performances, open-air cooking and botanical cocktails, forming the perfect midsummer date or night out with friends. Wandering through the landscape, evening guests will find many of the artworks can be enjoyed anew in twilight, enhanced by musicians performing live in response to the works, and newly commissioned spoken word.

Inspired by the Asado grills of Argentina, The Herb Kitchen’s menu of delicious seasonal fare ensures that evening explorers are spoilt for choice. Mouthwatering dishes will be cooked to order on a spectacular open fire in the heart of Wakehurst. Bar Saguaro completes the evening experience offering refreshing botanical cocktails, international award winning English Sparkling Wine from local winery Ridgeview, and locally sourced beers and soft drinks, all served from their handcrafted bar made from sustainable materials.

Full Listings

Adult workshops (18yrs+)

Deep Listening Walks with Kathy Hinde 10-11 July 11.00-17.00 including 1 hour lunch break £79 (£72 for members), hot drinks and cake included Kathy Hinde, the award-winning artist behind Water Balance and Listening Horns leads a full day workshop of listening and experimental image-making, exploring the wetlands of Wakehurst. Attendees are invited to disconnect from the buzz of everyday life, and tune into the hidden underwater soundworlds of Wakehurst using specialist underwater microphones (hydrophones) broadcast to wireless headphones. In the afternoon, participants can create their own wetlands-inspired artwork, using eco-processing techniques to transform algae and plant fragments into abstract imagery.

The Wakehurst Chorus: birdsong walk 31 July 10.30-12.30; 13.30-15.30 £30 (£27 for members) Local bird expert and ecologist Tom Forward invites visitors to discover the songs and calls of Wakehurst’s birds. The immersive nature walk will uncover the sounds of the season, with the aid of field guides and smartphone apps.

Children’s workshops: Make some noise storytelling 26-29 July 10.30-12.00; 13.30-15.00 4-8yrs £20 per child with 1 accompanying adult free Professional storytellers Bard & Troubadour invite children to seek out the noisy stories inspired by the natural world, and to join in with songs, sound effects, and DIY mini musical instruments.

Seeds, sounds and songs 2 -5 August 10.30-11.10; 11.30-12.10; 12.30-13.10 1-5yrs. £15 per child with 1 accompanying adult free Music Mike leads an outdoor musical adventure! From creating instruments from the natural surroundings and exploring the sounds we hear in nature, to singing and dancing to new and familiar songs, there’s plenty to keep little ones entertained.

World music and beats workshop 9-12 August 10.30-12.00; 13.30-15.00 4-11yrs £20 per child with 1 accompanying adult free An immersive and organic music-making experience, designed to tap into children’s natural curiosity and intrinsic motivation to explore sound. Children can discover instruments and percussion from around the world, including Indian tabla, West African djembes and udus (pot drums), as well as simple pitched percussion. No musical experience required.

Learn to talk to birds 16-19 August 11.00-12.30; 13.30-15.00 6+ yrs £20 per child with 1 accompanying adult free Bird expert, ecologist and environmental educator Tom Forward, leads a walk with a difference through the woodlands and gardens of Wakehurst. Participants will get tips on how to remember birdsongs and calls and even how to mimic them.

Let’s get lyrical workshop 23-26 August 10.30-12.30; 14.00-16.00 7-10yrs / 11-13yrs £20 per child with 1 accompanying adult free Sussex based singer songwriter Emily Barden invites children to create a group song inspired by the landscape, nature and stories of Wakehurst. No previous experience or instrumental skills required.