Tuning into the nation’s dawn chorus – a sonic snapshot of the times

Chris Hawkins explains why he and Erland Cooper decided to document the sound of lockdown through the experiences of 6Music listeners

I wake up in the same state of bewilderment and with the same anxieties as everybody – not knowing what the day’s news will hold. The way I’ve seen my job during this time is to play the right music that hopefully will take people’s minds off the situation, even if just for a few moments. I don’t think that the audience and radio have ever been closer. We are all in this together.

I’m based at Media City in Salford. On a regular workday, the buzz here is great. Lots of like-minded people working in a similar world for the BBC and ITV. At the moment, like everywhere, it’s so quiet and makes for a more reflective, contemplative time.

We are hearing the world differently. The first sounds I hear each morning are birds singing and very occasionally, if he arrives before I leave for work, the chink of milk bottles being left on my doorstep. Like a lot of people in lockdown we’ve got a milk delivery and that sound is a reminder of being a kid.

During these times, noises that may have blended into the background are bringing us joy and hope. I have been asking 6 Music listeners to share the sounds that make them happy at the start of their day. We’ve had hundreds of sounds sent, including a huge amount of birdsong, as you might expect. Cuckoos and owls have been very common, and it’s surprising the number of woodpeckers we’ve had – maybe woodpeckers are making a comeback. The sound of nature is comforting, it’s soothing. They are the sounds that connect us all together.

That’s what we’re all hoping for, that every single day brings us closer to normality

Then there are sounds around the house that people are picking up on in their quieter homes. With no rush to school or work, people are hearing their coffee percolating, the rhythmic rumble of breadmakers, dogs panting, gravel crunching, rain on skylights. There are parents, who usually have to leave early for work, waking up with their child for the very first time. They have been sending sounds of their babies gurgling and laughing.

Composer and multi-instrumentalist Erland Cooper has woven the recordings into a contemporary track, Sounds of Change. He and I had a long conversation about the way that the world is right now and tried to find a way to reflect most people’s state of mind, to document a time that for so many has been so hard while trying to turn that into something more positive and uplifting.

He wanted to include as many of the sounds that have been sent in as possible so that the final piece includes the greatest range to best represent this time. The track could last for hours or days with the number we’ve been sent, but the idea was that it would become  a three- to five-minute piece of music in the end. As well as Erland mixing the sounds, musicians who he has worked with in the past recorded contributions to the piece in isolation.

As the country starts getting back to normal – waking up again – Sounds of Change is the nation’s dawn chorus. That’s what we’re all hoping for, that every single day brings us closer to normality.

If this time has taught us anything, it’s that our lives operate at a very fast pace. Frontline workers are working harder than they ever have, but for the majority of people, perhaps, this has been a chance to pause and focus on what’s important, an opportunity to reassess, and hopefully this piece of music can be absorbed to provide a distraction and improve wellbeing, if only for a few moments.

Chris Hawkins broadcasts an early breakfast show every day of the week from 6-8.30am on BBC Radio 6 Music. Sounds of Change can be heard here @ChrisHawkinsUK