The Playhead of Dawn
Playhead of Dawn, 2018–2019
Jenny Kendler + Brian Kirkbride
4-channel 24-hour audio, custom LED panels, speakers & audio hardware
As the longitudinal arc of dawn sweeps across the Earth each day, a wave of birdsong erupts in fields and forests—a reverberating chorus spanning continents. Dawn is a playhead made of light, which sounds our planet as one immense instrument.
But no matter how early we may rise, we hear only fragments and snatches of this global song. No one has ever experienced the full complement of this avian orchestra.
By intricately reworking a massive dataset of geo-tagged birdsong recorded by citizen-scientists for the Xeno-canto project, The Playhead of Dawn—a collaborative sound and software project by visual artist Jenny Kendler and sound artist/programmer Brian Kirkbride—allows us to experience this planetary chorus for the first time.
The garden of The Arts Club of Chicago—located along the Mississippi Flyway, a crucial bird migration corridor—becomes the locus for this experience and a site to welcome birds passing through. Synchronized with Chicago’s own dawn, the twenty-four hour sound piece loops in time with the rotation of the Earth—inviting listeners to travel this sonic circuit. Visitors are also invited to take note of the schedule and return at a specific time to hear the birds of a meaningful region—remembering a special trip, hearing the birds of a loved one’s city, or reliving childhood memories of waking up in a far-off land.
By evoking a planet knitted together by light, song and the diverse lifeways of over ten-thousand species of birds, The Playhead of Dawn reminds us of the interconnected nature of our vast ecosphere—suggesting the need for deeper attention to the impact of our own actions on this singing planet.
Created for solo public garden project at The Arts Club of Chicago : Sept 20, 2018–Mar 16, 2019
Exhibited as part of The Future is Present: Artists and Global Change : Laumeier Sculpture Park : Feb 6–May 9, 2021
Upcoming in fall 2024 at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History