Songpole (2008)

Songpole is a sound installation at the on Route 45 of the National Cycle Network in the Cotswold Water Park.  For most of the year the pole stands as a monument to the absence of the sound of the birds that nest in it for just a few weeks in the spring. During those weeks, the sound of nesting Great Tits and Tree Sparrows can be heard through a loudspeaker at the base of the pole, the microphone in the nesting box acting as an aural microscope on the intimate habits of the nesting birds.

Standing nearly four meters tall, the songpole is inscribed with a text by Larry Lynch that takes as its point of departure the theme of the absence of sound. The over-sized text makes deliberate reference to the way-markers found along country paths in the area.

SO TEAR FROM THE WINDS HEAR SONG MAY SING

The Songpole is a listening device by which the visitor is encouraged to reflect on the act of listening itself. When the birds are not nesting, the song pole acts as an ‘ode to absence’, a monument or ‘totem’ to the sound it celebrates and is designed to act as a catalyst to listening, inviting visitors to reflect both on the absence of the birds that will come to nest in it while also suggesting reflection on the sounds that surround them.

The Songpole is made from a single post of green oak. The green oak came from a two hundred and thirty year old Oak tree growing in Swan Grove at the Badminton Estate in Wiltshire, which was blown over by a storm in 2008.

In order to make the 700mm diameter tree suitable for use as a structural column, the sapwood was cut from the tree into a square piece of heartwood at Grittleton Sawmills in Wiltshire. The carpenters at Timber Frame Solutions were then able to hollow out the timber, creating holes for the nesting box, the technology and listening space without cutting the timber into sections.

Green Oak was chosen, as the timber can be used without the need for treatment and so can remain in a state very close to the tree from which it came. Green Oak is also durable when placed directly in the ground and will weather with the environment. It has been designed as a temporary structure with a design life of 10 years, although green oak timbers have be known to remain stable in the ground for over 100 years.

Over time, the Songpole will weather, crack, twist and become overgrown by the surrounding plants. Just as a tree’s leaves turn sunlight into energy, the song pole is powered by a photovoltaic cell turning the energy from the sun into electricity to power the amplifiers for the speaker.