A while ago, sitting on a bridge in my local nature reserve and listening to a particularly soulful blackbird, I realized that birdsong could be a great source of inspiration for the visual design of my furniture. Now I’m about to start work on the first of a series of “birdsong tables”.
In my past life with the BBC Natural History Unit I made many programmes exploring and celebrating birdsong – I looked at why we find birdsong so beautiful, how the origin of human music might lie in the same biological principles as birdsong. You can still hear a dawn chorus radio programme that I made on the BBC website. I even recreated the birdsong soundscapes that inspired Olivier Messiaen to write his Catalogue d’Oiseaux. It was glorious to hear the concert hall at the Bath International Music festival filled with the birdsong of the French countryside and Messiaen’s piano music. Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I fell heavily under the spell of the songs of the different species and the character and timbre of their voices.
These days, as well as making furniture I write a blog about the wildlife on my local nature reserve – Nind Nature – and while I was sitting on the bridge down there a few months back listening to that soulful blackbird I started writing down his song in my sketch book; not using musical notation (which Messiaen did), but just responding to the phrases with stroke of the pen.
When I had done the same for a song thrush, chiff chaff, chaffinch… it was clear that this avian calligraphy was capturing the similarities and differences in the songs and looking rather lovely in its own right.
So on the principle that simple is often best, the plan for the first birdsong tables is to carve these birdsong transcriptions around the edge of a series of occasional tables choosing woods that are suggestive of the character and timbre of the songs.
My first commission is for a blackbird table for a garden room overlooking a garden full of roses and bird feeders. I am waiting for a call from the clients any day now so that I can transcribe the song of their own garden blackbird who they have watched and listened to all year. I’ll make the table in English cherry which has the combination of brightness and reediness which I think is right for this marvelous song bird. I also have some beautiful brown oak that I plan to use for a mistle thrush table – its song is a rich and haunting contralto.
So over the next couple of months, along with a coffee table for a Georgian manor house, that’s what I’ll be working on. I’ll post some pictures once there’s something to see.