Can you explain what Songs of Disappearance is about?
Songs of Disappearance brings conservation into popular culture by asking Australians to buy an album of the sounds of threatened species. By purchasing the album, people are voting for these species on the ARIA charts, as well as demonstrating that they will not allow these precious voices to be silenced. It's been absurd and wonderful to see birds and frogs soar and hop into the top of the charts alongside the most famous artists in the world, including Taylor Swift, Adele and Ed Sheeran, and the albums have twice reached the top of the ARIA Australian Albums chart. This has generated international media attention for threatened species, as well as much needed funds.
Who is involved and how did you start working together?
The Bowerbird Collective, a charity making art for nature founded in 2017 by violinist Simone Slattery and cellist Anthony Albrecht, produced these albums alongside incredible conservation partners. In 2021 we worked with BirdLife Australia, Charles Darwin University and the renowned nature recordist David Stewart (Nature Sound) to produce the Australian Bird Calls album. This was the result of a conversation between Anthony and his PhD supervisor at Charles Darwin University, Prof Stephen Garnett, who was lead editor of the 2020 Action Plan for Australian Birds. He asked how the Bowerbird Collective could help tell the story of the action plan in a creative way, and Songs of Disappearance emerged not only as a way to potentially reach the masses, but also as a way to research the impacts of environmental art on audiences' attitudes and behaviour. In 2022 the Australian Frog Calls album was released in partnership with the Australian Museum FrogID project, supporting frog conservation and their amazing citizen science app FrogID. Each year, Mervyn Street of Mangkaja Arts has produced the beautiful album artwork, culminating in animations by Bernadette Trench-Thiedeman and Jodie Austin.
Can you tell us a little about your process when it comes to capturing sounds and curating a body of work?
The sounds for these albums have been captured by a combination of renowned nature recordists, leading scientists and everyday Australians. The Australian Bird Calls album features recordings from the archives of David Stewart (Nature Sound), who has spent decades travelling to the remotest parts of Australia with highly specialised equipment to record rare and threatened species. His contribution to the national archives of our native soundscape is immense. For the Australian Frog Calls album, we chose to highlight the contributions of citizen scientists to the FrogID project. Most of the recordings on the album are user submissions! For some of the rarer and Critically Endangered frogs, the scientists who work to save these frogs submitted their own recordings, for which we are very grateful. The tracks for Australian Frogs Calls were digitally remastered by Andrew Skeoch of Listening Earth, one of Australia's foremost nature recordists, and the final 5 tracks of the album are a selection of his stunning soundscapes.
The curation of these recordings is a very detailed process requiring scientific levels of precision. All the recordings needed to be listened to many times by both the creative producers of the album and scientists to ensure correct species identification, and to make sure the birds and frogs were singing and croaking in harmony with each other. Simone Slattery arranged the title tracks, featuring every species on each album, on the one hand to imitate a dawn chorus, and on the other to imitate a fabulously froggy pond soundscape. Of course one would never hear all these species in one place, but these tracks highlight the amazing diversity of Australia's sounds.
What message are you hoping to spread via Songs of Disappearance?
Songs of Disappearance asks Australians to listen deeply to the natural world, and to appreciate and act on behalf of all we stand to lose. Through these albums and our live productions, the Bowerbird Collective is exploring ways to communicate the biodiversity and climate crises we all face without being confrontational. We want to help distil the messages our best scientists are sharing into creative experiences that people of all ages can enjoy and learn from, building hope and momentum for conservation efforts.
How can people get involved and help the cause?
Both albums are still on sale at www.songsofdisappearance.com, with proceeds going to BirdLife Australia and the Australian Museum FrogID project. Please visit the BirdLife and FrogID websites to learn more about the amazing work these organisations are doing on behalf of our threatened species. People can join local volunteer groups, submit bird sightings and frog recordings to help scientists track population and distribution changes, make donations, and learn from all the awesome educational resources that have been developed for birds and frogs. Once you become aware of these species and begin to listen to and observe them, it's impossible not to fall in love with them. The Songs of Disappearance projects have enriched our lives and deepened our appreciation of the natural world, and we encourage everyone to get involved and experience the sense of hope and connection they can give you.