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A creative mix of beauty and knowledge
Recently on the Ri Channel we featured a new collection of videos from the Plankton Chronicles - a gorgeous web-video project created by research biologist Christian Sardet working in collaboration with Montreal production company, Para Films. Although I tend to refrain from reposting content from the Ri Channel on this blog, I'm really captivated by the work this project is producing, it's simply stunning - see below:
The series takes you down into the dark alien world of plankton, a category of aquatic life that encompasses an incredibly diverse collection of organisms; one which includes animals, plants, bacteria and archaea. Each episode delves into the life of a particular organism - from iridescent comb jellies to gelatinous zooplankton - all presented through a stunning mix of high definition video, abstract sound design and narration to guide you along. The project aims to illuminate the hidden world of these bizarre creatures and 'magnifies our fascination for the wonders of underwater life'.
Easily the most attractive feature of this project is the incredible macro photography, with illuminated organisms scurrying across jet black backgrounds in exquisite detail. The sound design is also commendable, with synthetic bleeps and pulses underlining the 'otherworldliness' of this complex ecosystem (and is reminiscent of a particularly cherished episode from the BBC Blue Planet series). The videos have also been carefully scripted and tightly crafted for the 'quick-fix' web-audience, with episodes only running for around two minutes each. With this in mind it's important to note that these videos are beautifully paced - allowing the content to breath and flow under its own rhythm, and providing a delicate balance between eye candy and information.
The videos are all presented across an interactive web-platform which pulls together additional information, imagery and extended links. The videos are also available in a choice of either French or English - opening up accessibility further.
We asked project founder Christian Sardet for a bit more detail on the project and I've reproduced some of his comments below:
What are the aims of the Plankton Chronicles and what are you trying to achieve with it?
The series was conceived in the context of the Villefranche sur mer Marine Station an ideal place to study plankton and the Tara Oceans expedition devoted to exploring plankton in all oceans. This scientific adventure definitely raises ecological awareness. Plankton Chronicles deal with biodiversity, but focus mainly on the visual splendor of marine organisms. The series magnifies our fascination for the wonders of underwater life.
What challenges did you face capturing your footage, and producing the videos?
Catching and maintaining species in perfect shape is tough. Luck and patience are keys to success. Filming animal behavior and movements can take hours of trial and error. Use of dark field macroscopy and microscopy help reveal the exquisite patterns of transparent and gelatinous organisms. Filming requires lots of light and sensitive cameras. We benefited from the great new SLR cameras able to film in HD format which just appeared on the market when we started the project.
What role do you think the internet and online videos play in today’s communication of science and education?
A major role. It is possible to produce quality documents like the plankton Chronicles episodes on a shoe string budget and make them accessible to large numbers of viewers. The ability to create a site with complementary videos, texts and photos is also a great advantage provided by the internet.
What makes a great science communication video?
A creative mix of beauty and knowledge
TED Ed have also made a great short using footage from this project:
Chris is one of the worlds leading sound recordists and is well known for his work with the BBC Natural History Unit, including the recent Frozen Planet series.
There was a lot of interesting discussion during this interview about the nature of noise pollution and the considerable threat it poses to our quality of life. Worrying still, it appears that our noisy modern world is drowning out the natural soundscape and interfering with species of wildlife that rely on sound for communication.
What seems to be most alarming is that we're largely ignoring this problem - our world certainly isn't getting any quieter - and with more of us living in urbanised environments, noise pollution is fast becoming a significant health problem.
As only a portion of this interview was included within the Alder Hey piece, I thought it might be interesting to share some of the additional material. The interview was recorded at FACT in Liverpool, back in April of last year and explores some of the causes and concerns towards noise in the modern world.
- Further reading on the health effects of noise: a WHO report on the burden of disease from environmental noise
- Nature on BBC Radio 4 is recommended listening if you want to hear more of Chris and his stunning wildlife recordings.
- Touch Music also releases sound work by Chris, you can browse his collection here.
I was interested to read today about a new research project being undertaken, to investigate the psychological impacts of exposure to birdsong. In particular the project will look at how birdsong affects our psychological state, including its effect on mood, attention and sense of creativity.
The research is being conducted as a joint collaboration between the University of Surrey, National Trust and Surrey Wildlife Trust. Researcher Eleanor Ratcliffe, highlighted that there was a real a lack of evidence on the effects of birdsong, stating:
"A great deal of anecdotal evidence suggests that we respond positively to birdsong. However, currently there is a lack of scientific research on the psychological effects of listening to birds."
You can find out more about the project here.
For me the sound of birdsong offers predominantly positive associations. Living in London, I’m now surrounded by a largely synthetic soundscape, which is strongly connected to the stresses and frustrations of city life (the daily commute, working long hours and a persistent sense of fatigue).
Living amongst this hubbub has unsurprisingly increased the value I attribute to natural soundscapes. Standing in binary opposition to the din of urban living, natural soundscapes offer potential for escape, not just from noise, but from all the negative associations paired with it.
It may be that natural sounds can help us escape from a chaotic lifestyle or at least provide a restorative effect from stress. Understanding the psychological impacts of birdsong will allow us to better understand how we respond to such sounds and perhaps learn more about this relationship. If birdsong really does improve our state of mind and / or sense of wellbeing then it could have real potential in it’s application as a therapeutic tool.
Birdsong as a therapeutic tool?
Back in April / May – I produced a radio piece which looked at the use of Birdsong in the healthcare environment. Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool has been experimenting with the use of birdsong to improve the experiences of it’s young patients.
Installed in the central corridor is a sound installation playing the beautiful birdsong recordings made by Chris Watson and Alder Hey patients. These recordings are also used with patients during traumatic and painful procedures, often as a way of calming them down or taking their minds off the situation.
Speaking to the hospital’s Arts Coordinator Vicky Charnock, I found out that there was already tremendous anecdotal evidence in support of birdsong as a therapeutic tool. They were also interested in setting up some form of trial in which to test the potential therapeutic benefits of birdsong.
You can listen to and download the piece here:
An experimental sound piece which takes recordings made during a vist to Bury St Edmunds and weaves them into a surreal narrative, morphing between lakeside walks, market criers, street performers and birdsong. Recordings made using a Zoom H4n, edited and assembled on Ableton Live.
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Finally figured out how to embedd this video... This is a short video I produced last month with Nisha Ligon, Tom Welch and Camilla Ruz for the Guardian website. It features BBC wildlife presenter Kate Humble and Martin McGill who were promoting their new book 'Watching Waterbirds with Kate Humble' at the London Wetlands Centre.
We got really lucky with the weather. Turning up at Hammersmith station in the morning we were greeted with a torrential downpour - not ideal for shooting wildlife outside. Thankfully the rain subsided just as we arrived at the Wetlands Centre and we were granted with an afternoon's worth of sunshine to walk round the site and capture some of the wildlife on camera.
Check out the video below to have a look for yourself!
Watch here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/video/2011/aug/31/kate-humble-birdwatching-london-wetland-video
... or below if it works:
The London Wetlands Centre is an unusual oasis of wildlife and greenery which is situated surprisingly within the city confines near Hammersmith. It provides people with a great chance to break free from the usual urban surroundings and take in some of the natural scenery usually reserved to those living outside the city limits.
Our response to sound and noise are influenced heavily by the psychological associations we have with them. Hospitals and their internal soundscapes obviously carry very negative connotations and in the case of young children these negative associations can lead to increased levels of distress and fear. However the reverse of this is also true, certain sounds can have very positive associations and the effect of listening to these sounds can be very positive and powerful.
Several weeks ago, I was walking down the central corridor of Liverpool’s Alder Hey children’s hospital when I became aware of the sound of birdsong. As I continued down I could hear quite clearly the sound of a single blackbird gracefully chirping through the din of the chaotic hospital. As I focused on the sound I found that it brought with it a sense of calm and I begun to lose the feeling of unease that I tend to experience inside hospitals. However, there was no sign of this little bird or any other wildlife inside the hospital, save from the colourful murals adorned across the corridor walls. I quickly realised that what I was listening to was a very special sound installation; playing out the wonderful recordings made by BAFTA award winning sound artist Chris Watson.
I’d come to Alder Hey specifically to talk with their Arts Coordinator Vicky Charnock to find out how the hospital had been experimenting with sound to improve the experiences of their young patients. I also got chance to speak with Chris Watson, the creative talent behind the installation and he explained to me why he chose to bring the sounds of a local park within the walls of this hospital.
The Dawn Chorus installation forms part of the larger Sonicstreams project which is a creative collaboration between Alder Hey and the Foundation for Arts and Creative Technology (FACT); the project aims to creatively explore the impact of sound on the human body.
You can listen/download the radio piece below:
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