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The Ghost Roost

Nature, Series 5 Episode 3 of 8

28 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 17 January 2012

Over ten years ago before the West Pier in Brighton was destroyed by storms and fire, wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson and sound designer Thor McIntyre Burnie were given permission to rig up microphones in what had once been the grand concert hall. During the day, the pier was a dangerous place to venture, but on a winter's night, as dusk fell, and the sea glowed red, it was transformed into a magical scene as tens of thousands of starlings gathered in the air above, performing their aerial acrobatics (murmurations) before descending onto the pier to roost for the night. The starlings roosted in what remained of the concert hall, and it was the sounds of these birds gathered in their night roost, which Chris and Thor wanted to capture - from dusk until dawn, when the birds departed once again on their feeding trips.

It was no easy task rigging up the concert hall with microphones. "When the wind blew" Chris said, "chunks literally fell off and were tossed into the sea like autumn leaves". They rigged up an array of different microphones as they wanted to capture both the sense of space; the atmosphere of the concert hall, as well as close up sounds of the birds themselves. As dusk approached the first birds arrived over the pier. In time, they descended into the concert hall, and an extraordinary performance began; the sounds of tens of thousands of performers gathered together. Today the West Pier no longer exists except for some skeletal fragments. The starlings have passed into history, but what's left are the recordings. They are the recordings of a Ghost Roost.
NATURE recreates this performance with 'programme notes' about the performers and the venue.

Producer Sarah Blunt.

  • The Concert Hall at Midnight, West Pier Brighton

    The Concert Hall at Midnight, West Pier Brighton

    Image courtesy of Thor McIntyre-Burnie.

  • Microphone positions inside the Concert Hall

    Microphone positions inside the Concert Hall

    Image courtesy of Thor McIntyre-Burnie.


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