Duet for clarinet and seagulls seeks to rescue reputation of birds and their song

A musical performance is to use recordings of seagulls to try and persuade audiences to see the beauty in the much-maligned birds.

Queen Canute will premiere at the Contemporary Music Festival 2019, which is taking place at the University of Plymouth from 22 – 24 February 2019.

The piece has been created by Nuria Bonet Filella, an Associate Lecturer and researcher in the University’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR). The composer hopes it will help those who hear it look beyond the birds’ reputation for scavenging behaviour and harsh calls, showing off the beauty of seagull song and the ways it can change over the course of a year.

Her research frequently takes nature as its inspiration, finding musical structures in the environment and even data around climate change, but Queen Canute is something of a first on many fronts.

Miss Bonet has spent many hours recording the birds on the waterfront in Plymouth, and will combine those recordings and observations with the sound of a clarinet to create a unique new duet.

She said:

“Living in a coastal city, seagulls are all around us and a part of our way of life. But what if you took a step back and listened for changes during the day, or to see if their song altered at different times of the year? That is what I hope my piece will do, as well as reminding people that seagulls are in fact beautiful birds and a species we should celebrate more often.

“From a musical perspective, there is not much done in terms of seagulls as composers have always tended to focus more on songbirds. So I also hope it will give my audience a different experience, and a new perspective on a sound that for many of them is an integral part of their daily lives.”

The sounds of Queen Canute

“Queen Canute is a piece for seagulls and clarinet. I cannot bring a live seagull into a concert hall, so I recorded many different sounds of seagulls around Plymouth and cut these together in three movements to accompany the clarinet. King Canute tried to control the waves and control nature. So I see myself as Queen Canute because I tried to control the seagulls and it just wasn’t happening. It’s a way of giving back all the sounds I heard in Plymouth while being a student here.”

– Nuria Bonet

Watch Nuria, a composer and PhD researcher at the University, discuss her upcoming performance of her research piece at the Contemporary Music Festival 2019. Listen to Queen Canute

Tony Whitehead, speaking for the RSPB in the South West, added:

“It’s great to hear of a work hoping to reveal the beauty of these often much maligned birds. Gulls do sometimes come into conflict with people in seaside towns, but many councils are now doing good work to try and reduce these conflicts in a way that doesn’t impact on the birds. Simple measures such as reducing street waste and encouraging people not to feed gulls are good approaches.

"It’s worth remembering that, while the birds are doing well in towns the wild population along the coasts are not faring as well. It’s also worth remembering that for many, gulls are as much a part of the south west seaside experience as pasties and ice cream.”

The Contemporary Music Festival 2019 is organised by the University of Plymouth’s Arts Institute in partnership with the ICCMR.

With a theme of Multiverse, the 2019 edition is aimed at helping us understand how the mysteries of quantum science relate to daily reality, through musical interpretations of the quantum world. Now in its 14th year, this annual celebration of contemporary music has developed a national reputation for combining artistic creativity with scientific development.

Formerly known as the Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival, the event is directed by Eduardo Reck Miranda, Professor in Computer Music at the University of Plymouth and Director of ICCMR.

Queen Canute will premiere as part of the festival’s Research Concert on Sunday 24 February.

Contemporary Music Festival 2019: MULTIVERSE

MULTIVERSE is the theme of University of Plymouth Contemporary Music Festival (CMF) 2019, which celebrates the internationally renowned research combining music, engineering and the life sciences developed at the University of Plymouth’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research (ICCMR).

MULTIVERSE proposes a weekend of musical interpretations of the quantum world. 

Research Concert

The Research Concert will showcase research, new ideas and technologies developed by our ICCMR composers. Alexis Kirke plans to link the brain of two performers to a quantum computer in a piece called 'Entangled Brain', whilst Nuria Bonet's new composition, 'Queen Canute', will explore the intriguing world of seabird communication. 

Date: Sunday 24 February
Time: 14:30–16:00
Venue: The House
Free admission, booking advised

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Photo credit: David Batchelor, Festival, 2006. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. © the artist.

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