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City Tech Professor’s Installation Draws Attention to Rare Brooklyn Birds

Sweet Melissa on Court Street in Cobble Hill is one site of Spevack’s bird song project. Audio speaker is above her head.
Photo credit: Matt Isaac.

How tweet it is! Brooklyn artist and City Tech Assistant Professor Jenna Spevack’s new community-based audio artwork, “Birds of Brooklyn,” brings the sounds of Brooklyn’s displaced, endangered and bygone birds to various sites around the borough.
From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., bird songs that are rarely heard in densely populated Brooklyn neighborhoods are projected from speakers installed currently in seven participating host locations — Brooklyn Design Lab (Park Slope), Mile End Delicatessen (Boerum Hill), ShyBirdy (Williamsburg), Sweet Melissa (Cobble Hill), Lava Studio (Prospect Heights), and Monti Studios and Breukelen Coffee House (Crown Heights).

Additional sites will be added shortly in the Downtown, Ditmas Park, Flatbush, Red Hook and Bay Ridge neighborhoods, including on the campus of City Tech. To print out a map of current host sites, visit www.birdsofbrooklyn.org

Neighborhood residents and passersby hear 20 different recordings, including the Ring-necked Pheasant, Grasshopper Sparrow and Eastern Blue Bird, played in a random loop. “The project aims to reconnect city dwellers with the natural sounds of the area and raise awareness about declining bird populations in urban environments,” explains Spevack, who, in consultation with members of the Brooklyn Bird Club, is highlighting birds that at one time may have been commonly heard in Brooklyn.

Although some of the birds are common outside of New York City or in local parks, many are threatened or have been extirpated from the Brooklyn area due to urban development, pesticides, airport management practices and climate change, as well as shrinking grasslands, marshlands and forests.

“Many neighborhoods in Brooklyn lack green space for bird habitats,” notes Spevack, “Residential neighbors often coexist with industrial or commercial sites and birds are either drowned out or absent due to development and pollution.”

Spevack says the idea for this project gelled when she spent a month last summer at an artist residency in rural Connecticut, where she heard a great variety of bird sounds all day and night. “I returned home to Brooklyn and it seemed oddly quiet without the birds I grew accustomed to hearing. I also noticed a distinct absence of birds in my neighborhood, Crown Heights, except for the occasional sparrow. That’s when I started to research Brooklyn birds.”

Around the same time, Spevack started listening to Bird Song Radio, an iTunes stream of recordings, to mask car alarm and construction noise in her neighborhood. She then came up with the concept for “Birds of Brooklyn,” and received a grant from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs / Brooklyn Arts Council to realize it. She hopes to expand the project in the coming year.

By constructing an aural landscape that “greens” the concrete physical environment and gently reintroduces the sounds of former bird residents, Spevack says she “hopes awareness will inspire Brooklynites to support their bird neighbors.”

Professor Spevack began her career at City Tech in 2002. A member of the College’s Department of Advertising Design & Graphic Arts, she teaches Introduction to Media Design Process, Web Design, Advanced Web Design, Vector Art, Animation, and Design & Color.

For more information, contact Professor Spevack at jenna@birdsofbrooklyn.org.

10.14.10


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