Nightlife meets wildlife: the albums mixing birdsong and techno beats

A Bogotà nightclub has used the sounds of animals and birds in the Colombian capital to make a new kind of dance track

Stuck inside and unable to hit the dancefloor, many of the regulars at the electronic dance nights at Bogotá’s popular nightclub Kaputt found themselves missing the clubbing community when they were forced into lockdown by Covid-19. But then came a rallying cry from DJs Jorge Pizarro and Felipe Rodríguez: start recording the “sounds from your window”.

Now the results of that callout are reaching a global audience, with a set of albums blending the sounds of animals and birds in the Colombian capital with techno beats available for streaming.

The aim is to galvanise action to protect biodiversity, says Héctor Buitrago, from the Grammy award-winning rock band Aterciopelados, and co-founder of VozTerra, the collective that came up with the idea for the albums. While incorporating the sounds of nature into classical music might be more commonplace, VozTerra decided to turn to Pizarro and Rodríguez to tap into Bogotá’s dance scene.

Vozterra collective
VozTerra: the collective that came up with the idea for the albums. Photograph: Daniel Bretón/VozTerra

The club’s “coolness factor is the perfect tool to engage young curious minds with ecology”, says Rodríguez. “Fans of electronic music may also be more willing to engage with ecology than those of other genres because dancing to it is spiritual, a mystical experience.”

Pizarro adds: “This was also a way to stay connected to our community and this generation comes with that ‘chip’ – they are more conscious of the environment.”

Sound has the power to spur people into practical action because as well as providing joy it penetrates the human organism at a cellular level, Buitrago says, especially during lockdown when people are more open to listening. “One surprise was that people also recorded messages sharing their fears amid the uncertainty of the pandemic.”

Molly Fannon, chief executive of the Museum for the UN (UN Live), which supported the sounds from your window project, believes culture is underutilised by environmentalists.

Colombians get in the groove with VozTerra’s acoustic ecology
Colombians show their support for UN Live by brandishing blue fingerprints, the organisation’s rallying symbol. Photograph: Daniel Bretón/VozTerra

“UN Live asked a wide range of people in the global south what would provoke them to care about sustainable cities in future,” she says. “In Colombia, we found there were two things that people really cared about: one was a strong feeling of nostalgia for the biodiversity they were missing, the other was a love of music. We thought that if we could combine those two emotions we could provoke people to care.

“The bittersweet emotion of nostalgia is fundamental in Latin American cultures, but perhaps at the moment we are all experiencing nostalgia in a hyper form in the age of Covid. We are all yearning. If we can capture that feeling and show people there is something they can do to ameliorate it, that is really powerful,” says Fannon.

Capturing the ‘sounds from your window’
Capturing the ‘sounds from your window’. Photograph: Daniel Bretón/VozTerra

UN Live, which is independent of the UN, “aims to use the power of creativity and culture to engage and empower billions of people to take action towards a more sustainable, hopeful world”. According to Fannon, a former head of the Smithsonian’s office of international relations in Washington DC, it is the “unexpected collision of approaches as varied as acoustic ecology, electronic dance music, connecting people in isolation and nature conservation” that can bring the mindset change needed to provoke real action.

“Sounds from your window aims to protect wildlife by, for example, linking ticket sales for Kaputt to practical initiatives and the global movement Count Us In,” she says. “But crowdsourcing sounds in this way also has huge potential for helping scientists monitor the health of the ecosystems in the emerging field of acoustic ecology.”

Robins, hummingbirds, the rufous-collared sparrow and pollona azul, or purple gallinule, are among the 2,000 bird species in Colombia that can be heard on the dance tracks, which also use sounds recorded in the Van der Hammen forest reserve and Conejera wetland on the city’s northern tip.

The project became so successful that recordings flooded in from across the world, with singles from artists such as France’s Dombrance boosting the number of albums from one to four. The albums are now being streamed weekly.

UN Live is also planning to incorporate crowdsourced sounds of nature in the world’s first “ecology mass”, which will be held across 6,000 Roman Catholic parishes in Colombia this year, says Fannon.

Birds take flight in album artwork
Birds take flight in the artwork for the album. Photograph: Daniel Bretón/VozTerra

In January, Bogotá went briefly back into lockdown as Covid cases rose. For all the challenges of enforced isolation, rediscovering how to listen to nature could be one positive legacy, says Buitrago, recalling the time before he left the city.

“My life was always accompanied by the sound of cars – it was my soundtrack,” he says. “Once, on a trip to the coast, I awoke to the sound of the waves but at first I believed that I was hearing cars. That is how deeply ingrained urban noises were in me.”

Find more age of extinction coverage here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield on Twitter for all the latest news and features


Jo Griffin

The GuardianTramp

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