World Listening Day 2020

A Quiet Field


There is something new afoot. The field itself is changing.

The creature world knows.  The creative one does too. 

So what does it mean now to listen? How do we express what we know?

Be alert.

Individually and in concert,

There is sanctity in it.

Amid new conditions, travel the field and explore

By call and response

The rhythm within. 

How does your song fit

Within the collective chorus?


“Current times have asked each of us, individually and in concert, to retreat, reflect, and rethink the world we thought we knew, but how do we respond?  Energizing this shared global experience holds gifts of rejuvenation. Respect this – but glean what it yields. The Collective Field invites you to express your recent journey through what was, what is, and what will be, evoked only by wandering into new territory.  Stay silent until you know. Then speak. Share.  Perform. How have you been transformed? We are all in the woods of a new age, and we’re listening to the future.”


This year’s World Listening Day’s theme “The Collective Field” was created by Wild Sanctuary Vice President, Katherine Krause, and she asked us to think about and reflect on the sound changes that the pandemic has brought. How has it affected me as an audio artist?

Even before being confined to the house, I have always been acutely aware of the mass of sound and noises that surround me everyday, even in very quiet places. To me, the world has always been a hum, static, fizz to the ears, drones, and an underlying miasma of noise, even in the seemingly most tranquil of places. Of course, our brain filters out most of the superfluous noise and concentrates on what it thinks is important.

There was so much talk of how, with lockdown, the world seemed to be heard more clearly. Without air traffic, cars and people in the streets, the usual hustle and bustle was silenced and nature took over in sound, especially birdsong. Yet, I didn’t feel this to be wholly true. Yes, at the very beginning there was a “momentary silence” where we were confined to our houses and with the window open every day, I could hear the world breathe again. No aircraft, cars, people on the street..

But it didn’t last long.

The field itself is changing….

Well, not really here.

If I lived in a large metropolis or conurbation then I may be more aware of the decline of background noise but here, on the edges of a town, the sound hasn’t changed much. In fact, with people confined to home and then allowed into their gardens or outside for exercise, the noise levels increased. Good weather meant loud radios, diy projects, lawnmowers, garden games, children squealing, sirens in the background all en masse but yes, at certain times of the day, the birds seemingly sang louder and longer and with more variety. 

This has stopped.

So what does it mean now to listen? How do we express what we know?

My world has always been noisy. The divide between sight and sound blurred. Like many, I too began to record the quiet times, the changed world, only to find that my recordings contained lots of additional noise. An early morning walk at the beginning of June, was a way to prove to myself that the world hadn’t changed all that much to me and the perceived calm was maybe just a blip on the sonic map. Yes, the beautiful birdsong I heard was seemingly louder and clearer and my brain honed into it with joy. Without humans wandering around, the birds began to venture out of the woody strip between two roads towards the edges and sang with full throttle and my brain focussed mainly on the birdsong. I recorded it to preserve its beauty but what was that? The recording was not what I thought I had heard when played back. The birdsong that was so prominent to my ear, was in competition with the increasing passing traffic on the dual carriageway and the site machinery on the roadworks. Sirens too….and the static, the hum, the unseen soundwaves were still there.

So, I took the sound file and broke it down into its digital information. The birdsong was not as loud and clear. It was masked and in competition. The quiet sections were unmasked not to be silent but to have traces of waveforms and the midi track only upheld visually what I had suspected. Taking just the one recording, using all this digital information,  I created what turned out to be a very noisy track. ‘A Quiet Field’ is proof to me that we don’t live in a changed world of sound. It never was and is not now, quiet. 

Even as I sit writing here in July, the crows, the magpies in their nest, the children, the lawnmower, the fence repairer, the distant radio, the whir of the computer fan and the click clack of the keyboard as I type, are all vying for my attention.

Luckily for me, the crows and magpies are just about winning the sound wars.

As a final note, the birds that had emerged from their place of safety and sang with full throat have all now retreated back inwards into the woody strip.