Bats and Bowls

November 24, 2010 at 4:10 pm Leave a comment

Tibetan Singing Bowl

During the summer a friend introduced me to the wonderful properties of Tibetan singing bowls.

A traditional singing bowl is usually beautifully hand-crafted from bronze and other metals, which resonate or “sing” from the vibrations of being struck or being rubbed by a wooden, plastic or leather-bound mallet. The sound produced is multiphonic, comprising multiple harmonic overtones, depending on the metal composition of the bowl.  Antique bowls often have gold and silver mixed with the bronze.

Of late, I have developed a deep interest in acoustic ecology, and I’m currently spending time researching the nature of sound and silence and what this means from a cultural perspective.  I was so entranced with the Tibetan singing bowl, and immediately my imagination went into overdrive about the possibilities this could open up.

I was delighted when my son bought one for my birthday in September, and eager to experiment, I took the bowl outside to explore how it would sound in an open space.

I live in a rural setting, surrounded by fields and woodland, and one evening as dusk was settling into night, I stood on the farm track by the copse near my house and played my bowl.  The sound resonated beautifully with a deep melodic tone, and it felt good to be playing it outdoors.  The quality of the sound was quite different from playing it indoors.  There was more of a sense of freedom and letting the sound go where it wanted without it being enclosed and echoing back.

After a short while, I noticed I had company.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw something flash by, and quickly it was gone. I recognised the movement.  It was a bat!

Bats flying

It was dusk at the time, and it’s not unusual to see bats on their evening forays to find food, and so I wasn’t surprised to see it.  I often sit and watch the bats in the summer months, flitting in and out of the trees, especially as the sun goes down.

I carried on playing, but this time with an eye on the treeline above me.  The bat came in for another fly-over, but this time swooped in much closer.

I was intrigued.  Was it reacting to the singing bowl?  Or was it just going about its normal business and I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time.

I stopped playing, and stood waiting for a while.  No sign of the bat.  I struck the bowl several times lightly, making a gentle resonating sound, and the bat appeared again.  As I continued to play, it made several passes by where I was stood, some of them very close.

This carried on for a while.  When I struck or rubbed the bowl to make it sing, the bat would appear, and swoop over me, sometimes quite low.  When I stopped playing, it was nowhere to be seen.

A few nights later, I told my ten year old daughter and two of her friends, who are also our neighbours, what had happened, and they were curious to see if it would happen again.  So off we went with the bowl and all gathered on the farm track by the trees.  We stood as still and quiet as we could, and then started playing the bowl.  It wasn’t long before a bat appeared, and as on the previous evening, it swooped in low as if investigating the strange noise whenever the bowl was played.  The kids were enthralled, whooping and laughing as we all ducked to avoid the bat as it “buzzed” us.

The whole experience has left me wanting to know more about this response from the bats.  But of course, as a wildlife conservationist, I don’t want to disturb the nightly feeding routines of my local bat population, so clearly I need to do some more research.

I hope to have a second instalment to this story fairly soon, and to be able to link this experience into our bio-acoustic workshop Nocturne.  What better inspiration to continue with our acoustic ecology work than connecting with nature in surprising ways!

Entry filed under: Acoustic Ecology, Conservation, Music and Nature. Tags: , , , , , , .

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