A different approach brings a meaningful outcome

Artist Peter Mcilwain won the Yering Station Sculpture Award 2023 with his innovative sound installation, Bird Child Spirit. Picture: SUPPLIED

By Dongyun Kwon

Artist Peter Mcilwain won the Yering Station Sculpture Award 2023 with his innovative sound installation, Bird Child Spirit.

Mcilwain said he was honoured to be awarded after a long time of struggle.

“It’s a relief to know that I can actually keep going with my artwork in my 60s and I am really happy to have received recognition,” he said.

Bird Child Spirit features approximately 600 carefully selected sound recordings of children mimicking bird calls, all expertly guided and recorded by Mcilwain.

The recordings are woven together in a spatial composition using sophisticated software designed by the artist.

This captivating nine-channel installation is suspended within the enclosed grove of ornamental trees at Yering Station.

Mcilwain said the idea came from a question about how to relate people to sound.

“I’ve been thinking about this question for about 20 years and the idea of putting sounds out in bushland spaces started to develop gradually,” he said.

Drawing on influences from composers such as Messiaen, Lutoslawski and Peter Sculthorpe, Mcilwain emphasises the poetic possibility of natural soundscapes with a delightful disarming surface which invites deeper engagement.

Mcilwain said he tried to prompt people to listen to the sounds of birds in a different way by asking people to think about the meaning of it.

“I’m able to connect those sounds with a bunch of different cultural meanings. For example, the idea [that sound can represent] the voices of angels, spirits or beings from mythology. The same thing is true for children. Children’s voices are often associated with other types of beings, supernatural beings,” he said.

“What I’m interested in is the idea that sounds in the natural world have the ability to take us into cultural imaginings and cultural spaces we don’t normally occupy.”

Bird Child Spirit is an ongoing project and approximately 60 local children have participated in it so far.

“As a community-driven art project, Bird Child Spirit engages local children, instilling a sense of ownership by amplifying their creativity in a professional work of art,” Mcilwain said.

“Ghilgai School in Kilsyth alongside numerous families from the region have enjoyed direct experience of this creative process.”

The artwork is supported by the community arts grant from the Yarra Ranges Council and the installation has made a mark in Selby and Mount Evelyn prior to its current home at Yering Station.

As a result of Mcilwain’s distinctive approach, his work has been acknowledged internationally for its originality and significant contributions to contemporary sound art.

The Yering Sculpture Exhibition 2023 includes many well-known artists from the Yarra Ranges region including award winners.