fri 21/06/2024

For The Birds, Brighton Festival review - 'night walk into exquisite sensory thrills' | reviews, news & interviews

For The Birds, Brighton Festival review - 'night walk into exquisite sensory thrills'

For The Birds, Brighton Festival review - 'night walk into exquisite sensory thrills'

Artist Jony Easterby awakens child-like wonder in East Sussex after dark

Close encounters of the bird kind © John Nguyen/PA Wire

For The Birds is art as event, described in the Brighton Festival programme as “an immersive night-time adventure into a wild avian landscape”. It takes place throughout the Festival and, judging from its opening weekend, looks likely to prove very popular.

To attend, you take a bus from one of two spots in Brighton (one central, one outlying) and are shipped to a “secret woodland location”, then asked to follow lights strung overhead on a mile long trek during which a wide selection of pieces boggle the eye, ear and mind.

birds1The installation artist-cum-landscape architect Jony Easterby has made it his life’s work to draw attention to our wild habitats. He does so with a clear ecological agenda, with woodland, its history and its future, a particular passion. For The Birds, which Easterby put together and coordinated, working with a collective of artists expert in sound and light manipulation - Mark Anderson, Kathy Hinde, Ulf Pedersen and Pippa Taylor - was originally staged at RSPB Ynys-hir reserve in Wales, and then travelled last year to New Zealand, where it was an enormous success.

It would be churlish to reveal too much about exactly what it entails, akin to a reviewer giving away vital film plot resolution or revealing the punchlines to a comedian’s best jokes. Surprise is part of For The Birds’ appeal. In the forested dark – and, if you attend, do go later rather than earlier so the sun has fully set - it relies on combining sound and light in hugely imaginative ways. These range from glowing red miniature bird-like UFOs whizzing close over the walker’s head, to a live human cellist hauntingly playing in a lamp-lit grove, to an extraordinary, mesmerising piece where a piano’s innards have been mechanized to sonically respond to the flitting-by of sparrow-like silhouettes. Occasional clearings then reveal the lights of east Brighton, lively and lustrous below, a show in its own right.

birds2As striking is the manner in which individual trees have been lit in varying hues, or their branches cast as projected shadows, drawing attention to their living nature and unique physicality in an eerie way that couldn’t happen in daylight. Many of the combined sound and light effects recall the outlying areas of a good festival or rave (Easterby has form, long ago, in this area). Clattering, echoing, percussion, synched with flashes of fluorescent green amid the trunks and bark made me think of Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo’s early 20th Century experiments with intonarumori, orchestral sound machines for the industrial age that rustled and thundered, while at other points, disorientated by psychedelic sensory overload all about, I could only think of Ken Kesey’s original Acid Tests, out in the wooded hills of Palo Alto.

For The Birds is an original and richly enjoyable experience and reminded this writer that such free-form art can be glorious. This kind of beauty is not generated in golf clubs by Tories, by those who think material wealth is the game of life. It blossoms on the fringes, away from the endless pursuit of money, created by the kind of people Daily Mailers might regard as excess to purpose. It is a small oasis of strange, contemplative, other-worldly loveliness in a land increasingly ruled by banal norms.

Watch trailer for For The Birds at Brighton Festival 2017


Hi there, I need to get my tickets refunded after last night. It was evacuated so we didn't get to see it. It was a truly awful night in general as there were hardly any buses going home too. Thanks Rosie

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters