A mystery bird will descend on Manchester to lighten the mood

A unique concept travelling art installation has been created for Greater Manchester, and potential national tour, to enlighten and entertain residents from the comfort of their own home whilst COVID restrictions are still affecting us. MYSTERY BIRD is a travelling projection art installation featuring an oversized bird cage full of animated birds and is a collaboration of five local artists whose combined skills in model-making, projection, design, sound and AR are bringing this magical piece to the streets and residential homes. The idea has taken inspiration from the public’s heightened awareness of nature during the pandemic, offering solace, comfort, motivation and relaxation.

“So many people mentioned enjoying birds, listening to birdsong and getting involved with nature in general during the first lock down,” said Programme Producer at Quays Culture and Co-Creator of Mystery Bird Jude Jagger.  “Despite Covid-19 being devastating there are some aspects of this situation that have made us re-focus on important factors in our lives. We want to play that back to people and deliver an ‘art at your front door’ wonder that will be truly special,” said Co-Creator Gemma Saunders. The Mystery Bird is a giant 3metre x 2metre birdcage filled with projected birds and accompanied by a bespoke soundscape created by bird inspirationalist and beatbox star Jason Singh.

This will travel the streets on the back of a flat bed truck – evoking the excitement of a traditional carnival float. Manchester based beatboxer and vocal sculptor Singh is best known for the Tweet Music album, commissioned by the National Trust after research found that listening to bird song before you are twelve makes people calmer and boosts positivity.  And indeed listening to bird song is relaxing, soothing and a re-connect to nature for all age groups. This latest work features endangered birds on the RSPB list and local birds like the Willow Tit (a regular in Wigan), Grasshopper Warbler, Lapwing, tree Sparrows, Starlings plus “saved” birds like the Peregrine Falcon intertwined by his electronic score creating the sounds, rhythms and feelings of bird song.  This premiere performance will be broadcast from the travelling installation.

“This work celebrates all birds, big and small; birds with personalities, displayers, the gangster birds as I call them – the sparrows; birds that people aren’t familiar with.  I hope my work will connect everyone to the amazing creatures in our life that perhaps we haven’t noted until now,” said Singh. The birds themselves have been created by artist Helen Musselwhite who is a paper artist. “I have worked with these six birds, some of whom aren’t commonly known, to show their personality, their lives and their passions.  I show the birds in flight, banking, swooping, flying and static.

I have “lived” these birds for months and want to share their story.  It is the story of us all at present; a feeling of being trapped, unsure, not able to be free – that is the Mystery Bird story.” Helen worked with animators Illuminos to make the birds “come to life” and Jack Hardiker has produced an Augmented Reality element for the public to interact with. Rob Vale and Matt Vale, Illuminos, are tasked with bringing the birds to life.  They have spent months studying the six birds to then animate them realistically.

“It has been fascinating to watch the movements of the group as they are so different,” said Illuminos director Rob.  “The Willow Tit for example is a nervous jumpy bird.  It jumps around and then perches.  The Grasshoppper Warbler sits with its head down and makes a strange insect noise then leaps straight ahead and starts it’s strange performance over again.” “The Starlings are so interesting too,” said Matt. “They run and rattle about then hop around.  The characters of the birds are so different and it has been incredible to bring them to life.” The team at Illuminos had the huge challenge of how to present the birds in a cage, fabricated by M3 Industries, with a 360 degree viewing programme whilst travelling on a moving vehicle.

The Mystery Bird installation will travel the streets, singing and performing their unique life cycle in a seven-minute choreographed showcase before their “release” when the birds will gather, swoop and fly around the houses. The story is one of hope and triumph: The birds are trapped and their chatter and song becomes more frantic as they feel threatened and desperate for escape.  It happens!

The cage opens and the caged birds’ song gives the most beautiful sound recording of freedom and hope.

“The trapped birds will burst from their cage and surround those watching – flying across their houses and down their street.  We hope this creates an element of hope, joy and happiness to those who are lucky enough to see it.” said Co-Creator Gemma Saunders.

The Mystery Bird Tour will take place over four days in December and locations will be kept under wraps to be socially responsible.   However, those people not part of the route will be able to watch the piece online and get involved in our collaborative video – more details to be announced soon.