A Descent of mechanical woodpeckers is positioned within the public realm. You spot a colourful button. You press it and a note resonates across the space. You press it again and realise that a bird is perched overhead, pecking the surface of a post as you press the button. You spot other buttons, each triggering a bird that percusses a surface. You get it; someone has exposed the musical potential of this space. You play.

Earlier this year we were commissioned by Warwick Arts Centre and Capsule to create a sound art piece to be installed as part of Sonic Gorilla and then Supersonic Festival. At Warwick Arts five of the birds appear as a cluster within the main entrance space; two further pairs tapped a car park roof and the handrails of a footbridge.

Descent - Warwick Arts
Mechanical woodpecker perched high on a resonant metal post

This is a playful piece. It draws on various influences, including the philosophies of Cage and the instruments of Felix Thorn and David Byrne – in very much scaled down form – but we wanted to come up with a hook that made it immediately obvious what these things do. It was a nice moment when a family approached the controller unit, looked up and exclaimed “Look, woodpeckers!”. They knew straight away what the buttons would do…and they tapped out some wonky rhythms.

Descent - Warwick Arts
Control buttons for two woodpeckers perched three stories above

This was an original commission, and we experienced one or two issues with the mains powered controller when installed at Warwick Arts. Nothing we couldn’t patch in the short-term and fix properly before we installed Descent at Millennium Point, where the woodpeckers performed without fail for two weeks.

Descent - Millennium Point
Pair of woodpeckers at Millennium Point

It made us chuckle when we realised that the solenoids we were using were made in 1974 (before Sam was born) and we were coupling these with the latest 3D printing technology to make the woodpeckers.

Descent - Millennium Point
Pair of woodpeckers at Millennium Point

Descent - Millennium Point (blurb)
Descent blurb

This is a very rewarding project; it is great to explore each new space to find what sounds are hidden within it. Descent is ready to migrate, as a self-contained touring project, so please get in touch if you’d like our mechanical woodpeckers to pay your space a visit.

Many thanks to Katja for the Millennium Point photographs.

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