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Exploring Birdsong with
Domestic Technology

Potted History

The original device was conceived by Mark Adams in 2013 to facilitate

a Planet Birdsong Project to use birdsong for creative and therapeutic

purposes with non verbal young adults.

It has always been a laser cut kit for students to assemble to make

recordings of birdsong on a tight budget.

Planet Birdsong team and many of our own students have assisted considerably in

testing ParaChirp in the field.

V24!!:- Two years of testing in the field by T&S students and Planet Birdsong team have found the product to be robust, lightweight, easy to handle, 'creak free' and adaptable for adding equipment such as microphones and selfie rigs. But it didn't start out like that. We always knew what we wanted, we just didn't know what it looked like back then. That's the fun of design. It's a journey.

 

Schools, students . . .

If you wish to develop on our designs please contact us in the first instance. We reserve all copyright and IP but are happy to share our work on an educational non commercial basis.  

Design Context that requires a new product:

  • Birds are under threat in various ways.

  • Many birds varieties inhabit city spaces as well as the countryside.

  • Most people in urban areas are unaware of more than a few species.

  • Most people are unaware of the complexity of birdsong and what it tells us about bird life.

  • Listening to birdsong is best done by isolating the birdsong from other sounds 

  • Listening to birdsong is not just therapeutic but has inspired creativity throughout the ages

  • But birdsong is not 'music'. It is sometimes accompanied by movement.

  • Many birds make many different vocalisations at different times. It is communication and we need to learn about what it means for birds.

  • Birds can often be heard but not seen for example in hedgerows and bushes. 

  • Isolating a single bird's vocalisation requires specialist technology.

  • Naturalists are interested in the birds' environment as much as the birds themselves, and so are interested in un-edited recordings complete with some background context, responses of other birds and silences.

  • Many archive recordings of wild birds from round the world are still taken from these birds in captivity.

  • Birdsong specialists cannot be 'everywhere' - we need to empower indigenous people who live in locations where birds inhabit to be able to easily record and share birdsong with GPS locations times and dates.

  • Professional equipment is often expensive, fragile, often vulnerable to theft and requires additional technology to perform editing and sharing functions.

  • Most people own and use a phone of some kind that very often has highly developed audio and video capturing capability.

  • All smart-phones also have considerable sharing capability across the globe.

Brief:

Provide a low cost, sustainable domestic solution for smartphones to accurately record birdsong and thereby inform us about how to protect them and learn from them.

Specification:

Function:

  • isolate the birdsong source from the background sounds including other birdsong.

  • locate the source without being able to see it.

  • get as close as possible without causing a disturbance

  • make a recording/video of the subject

  • review, process and share recordings as easily as possible without disturbing wildlife.

Aesthetics

  • ParaChirp is not designed for surveillance

  • Low visual distraction to wildlife without being clandestine in nature.

  • Aesthetic related to wildlife related products

  • Readily customisable in colour for camouflage and personalisation

  • Credible technological quality of appearance

Ergonomics

  • Non- handed

  • Light

  • Easy to grip/carry for long periods

  • Facility for attachment to belt/carrying strap

  • Visual and physical access to smartphone during operation

Construction

  • Easy /self explanatory to assemble

  • without adhesives or tools.

Disassembly

  • Option to disassemble in the field for compactness/portability

Compatibility

  • A range of smartphones/tablets/voice recorders etc

  • Where necessary use common attachment methods with redundancy (stronger than it needs to be) simple reliable systems 

Cost

  • affordable in UK domestically and in education

  • lower cost than expensive professional equipment therefore less security risk.

Materials

  • Easy to repair with domestic facilities

  • Timber based products offer domestic suitability for use and disposal. Plywood is a sustainable and non toxic solution. MDF is timber based and biodegradable however combustion of some varieties emits formaldehydes. We shall explore Laser MDF specified for laser cutting with minimal formaldehyde emission. 

  • Any plastics used to be sustainable. PLA is vegetable based and widely used in 3D printing. Polypropylene is low toxicity, fully recyclable, biodegradable in 15 years as opposed to 200 years, emits no chlorine when combusted.

 

Manufacturing

  • Processes that lend themselves to local manufacture on licence as opposed to centralised production

  • Initial production to be done with laser cutting given the low numbers at the early stages.

  • Look to medium volume production in due course - stamping etc

Performance

  • Resilient to damage through use by children or climatic conditions, heat humidity etc

  • Able to isolate sounds at 100m distance

  • Creak free - ie minimal mechanical noises when handling

  • Wind cheating - minimise wind contact with mic.

  • Secure mounting of smartphone (will need to be constantly monitored by operarator)

Maintenance

  • Low tech to be modified, repaired, customised and disposed of easily and sustainably.

Technologies currently available that do a similar job

Shotgun microphones only cancel out unwanted sound but do nothing to amplify the source sound.

Parabolas gather more sound from a specific source and focus the sound onto a microphone. However these still tend to be relatively expensive items. Parabolas are often large and cumbersome to carry. They tend not to be designed for portability/travel. Both types can be expensive.

Reflection better than baffling

The benefit of a parabolic reflector is that it gathers sound from a wider area than a shotgun mic and focusses it onto the microphone - which need only be a relatively inexpensive device. The effectiveness of shotgun mics is proportional to their cost which begins at well over £100. Reflectors are low tech.

 

Smart Phones

We adapted our initial device from a 'tie clip mic' to fit an iPhone SE.  We were immediately impressed by the quality of the recording. After 24 versions; ParaChirp now accommodates a wide variety of phones from tiny to huge as well as tie-clip mics and headphones. 

 

Accessibility

ParaChirp suits both domestic and educational use. We anticipate that multiple ParaChirps could be stored in sheds or greenhouses, outbuildings, cars, caravans etc ready for that impromptu recording. 

 

In our own educational projects the recordings are used to:

  • identify birds either in real time using identification apps on the device

  • processed to reveal the 'spectrogram' of the birdsong (a visual representation of the frequencies using colours) 

  • slowed down  to bring the birdsong into the pitch range of the human voice

  • mimicked by the learner as a recording and speeded back up to birdsong pitch.

  • trace the spectrogram in a CAD program to produce cut lines that can be used to make 3D artifacts, graphic products and sculptures

  • sample the birdsong into an audio program/app for use in music/ sound effect production

  • comparison of birdsongs from different individuals to identify unique characteristics, regional accents and species.

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Design

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