Fashion-Forward Spectrograms: White Stork Calls Go Haute Couture
By Gustave Axelson
October 4, 2021
The clattering and bill-clapping of a White Stork took a turn on the runway as an audio spectrogram from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library was featured in a line of women’s silk dresses by a Paris fashion house.
It all started with Chicago artist Alice Hargrave, who was inspired when she heard a Macaulay Library audio recording and watched the spectrogram of the breeding song of the Kauai Oo, a species that went extinct in the 1980s.
“Hearing an archival recording of the last male summoning a nonexistent female was absolutely chilling,” says Hargrave. “Seeing the voice literally fizzle out on a computer monitor [via the spectrogram] was just gut wrenching and brought home the incredible sense of loss that extinction represents.”
Hargrave reached out to the Macaulay Library for her Last Calls project, which used the spectrograms of threatened birds to create visual artwork of the sound wave patterns. For her palettes, she worked in the tones of each species’s plumage, in order to “use color as advocacy, giving loud colorful voice to these birds in peril.”
When Hargrave posted her White Stork spectrogram portrait on Instagram, it was seen by fashion designer Jane Pendry—who reached out about using the design for the Spring Summer 2020 collection by Dovima Paris. Last year the Ciconia line of women’s dresses (named for the White Stork’s scientific name, Ciconia ciconia) was featured in fashion shows in Paris, New York, and Chicago.
Hargrave says she was thrilled that the White Stork’s spectrogram was chosen for the fashion line: “I love the connotations of birth and new life that the stork embodies…much like the angel Gabriel, the bearer of good news, but in the domain of birds.”
And the Ciconia line brought good news itself, as Dovima Paris donated $8,000 from the line’s sales to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for furthering bird conservation.
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