The Lyrebird Festival: The Music of Life in the Megalong

Anthony Albrecht and Simone Slattery will perform at the Lyrebird Festival in the Megalong Valley (Photo: Anthony Albrecht)

By Hamish Dunlop

The Lyrebird Festival in the Megalong Valley runs between the 23rd and 26th of November 2023. Immersive multimedia experiences, deep listening, conscious eating and art help to reimagine our place in the interconnected web of life.


Key Points:

  • The Lyrebird Festival runs in the Megalong Valley between the 23rd and 26th of November.
  • Art and deep listening can help us reimagine our relationship with the natural world and engage with environmental emotions.
  • New ways of understanding nature can inform how best to care for ourselves and the planet.

The Lyrebird Festival is a Bowerbird Collective initiative. New Blue Mountains resident Anthony Albrecht and Simone Slattery are co-directors of the Festival and the Collective. Both are also musicians who will perform in the Megalong Valley. Festival events include multimedia experiences that combine recorded soundscapes, film and classical music performances.

Anthony says the Festival is a celebration and exploration of the natural world through music, art, nature walks and talks. “Part of what we’re doing is examining and reimagining the conclusions drawn by environmental science and providing avenues for people to engage with their environmental emotions. Importantly, we want our musical storytelling to enable people to imagine a positive future. A place where their love for the planet informs their decisions about how to care for all species.”

Internationally renowned artist Janet Laurence tells me people can taste the essence of local plants and explore their stories at her Elixir Lab installation. Her concoctions will be served up in test tubes by storyteller-performers in white lab coats. “They’re not all delicious!” she laughs, “but they centre plant stories and cultural histories.”

Andrew Skeoch is an author, environmental thinker and pre-eminent Australian nature recordist. He’s presenting an audio-visual-led journey into birdsong and deep time. He explains how cooperative behaviours among songbirds can inform how we re-embed planetary health values into social institutions. Andrew will also lead deep listening walks. These are complemented by a night frog walk by amphibian expert Oliver Kelly.

Distinguished architects Brian Zulaikha and Simon Anderson will discuss passive design and its relationship to environmental sustainability. Simon lives in the Megalong and you can read about his fire-resistant and sustainable home here.

Other speakers, such as environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht, will introduce new concepts and ideas. The Symbiocene is a word Glenn coined in 2011. The term describes the transition from the Anthropocene into a period of re-integration between humans and the rest of nature. His hope it that new language can help us generate positive earth emotions to usher in an era of all-species prosperity.

The Megalong Restaurant and Megalong Tearooms will be open during the day and in the evening during the Festival, excluding Sunday night. They serve cuisine almost exclusively grown and prepared in the Valley. It promises another way to discover people, place and plants.

Immersive multimedia experiences – Life on Land’s Edge

The festival will open on Thursday evening with Life on Land’s Edge, an immersive work that focuses on migratory birds. Five composers were commissioned to explore different elements of the birds’ epic migratory flights. These form a soundscape that is complemented by moving images and Anthony and Simone’s live performances on cello and violin.

Life on Land's Edge performance at the Lyrebird Festival

Anthony and Simone performing as part of Life on Land’s Edge. (supplied)

Anthony says composer Chris Williams was fascinated by the length of their journey and the mathematical improbability of how far and how fast the birds travel: “the sheer wonder of it.” Chris created a work called (Codex) on the Flight of Birds, which is a translation of this physics into sound.

Indigenous Yolngu composer Gambirra chose to create song based on the birds’ vocalisations and how they might communicate in flight. The avians flock to rest and feed where Gambirra and her mother live in northeastern Arnhem Land. Together they chose words from language that expresses something of the story. “We hope one day Gambirra will join us on stage,” Anthony says. “It would be wonderful to see her singing the birds’ journeys.”

Profound musical experiences

There are many other amazing musical highlights. Friday evening features the NSW premiere performance of ‘Nocturnal’, prize-winning guitarist Andrew Blanch’s multimedia, solo recital, created in partnership with the Bowerbird Collective, that tells the story of our cultural and biological connections to the night.

On Saturday morning, Andrew and Anthony team up for a guitar and cello duo at Megalong Creek Estate. That night, listeners will be immersed in the sonic wilds of Tasmania by chamber-folk duo Where Water Meets.

Sunday morning features a concert of stunning new music for strings, featuring the Bowerbird Collective with Katie Yap on viola, Emily Sheppard on violin and Yyan Ng on shakuhachi. The festival closes with the Collective’s first work, ‘Where Song Began’, telling the story of songbird evolution.

Janet Laurence’s Elixir Lab: Experiencing the essence and stories of plants

The last time Janet Laurence’s Elixir Lab was installed in Australia, it was at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. At the Festival, guests will be taken across the field from the Megalong Tearooms to an old dairy shed. There they will be drawn into a world of laboratory glass and mirrored lab benches.

Janet Laurence's elixir lab at the Lyrebird festival

Janet Laurence’s Elixir Lab (supplied by Janet Laurence)

“It’s an artwork that crosses over with science,” Janet tells me. “The essence of plants we give people are not essential oils, they’re not alcoholic, or brewed like tea. The shed is not an apothecary or a bar. It’s a portal into a botanical domain where you can discover, among other things, why plants taste the way they do.”

Janet Laurence’s Elixir Lab at Lyrebird festival

Janet Laurence’s Elixir Lab (supplied by Janet Laurence)

Andrew Skeoch: Hearing your place and listening to evolutionary time

Andrew Skeoch’s talk will incorporate natural sound phenomena, spectrographic renderings of birdsong and discussion of evolutionary processes. How humans have lost their cooperative imperative will be a central theme. “Cooperation” he says, “is a spectacular adaptation that increases survival. Birds communicate through song about territory, resources, relationships; they listen to each other. It’s as important as the evolution of feathers and their ability to fly.”

Andrew Skeoch at the 2023 lyrebird festival

Andrew Skeoch (supplied by Andrew Skeoch)

Talking about other sounds in nature, Andrew reflects on the logic of protecting all species. “Sometimes you hear people saying it’s just one species of frog, but the coalmine will power all these homes and industry. This is the logic of a single generation, maybe a few generations.”

“But think about a chorus of crickets in the evening, or frogs croaking after rain. You’re listening back into deep time, hundreds of millions of years, to the story of life on earth. This informs the way I listen and highlights how unthinkable it is that in our lifetimes we’ll lose some of these voices.”

At the end of our conversation, Andrew touches on curiosity and the development of an openness to all creatures and all life on earth.

“What I hope is that we learn to listen more deeply. To spend more time in wild places. The wilder the better. Can we be still and listen to life around us?” – Andrew Skeoch

I hope that people can listen with open hearts and curious minds, because our personal relationship with nature and our place within it is audible.”

Many of Andrew’s nature recordings will be featured in the concert ‘Nocturnal’ on Friday night.

‘Nocturnal’ is a 60-minute multimedia performance by outstanding solo guitarist Andrew Blanch. The work is an ode to the night, and a call to action on light pollution. Tickets are available for as little as $30 for adults and $5 for U18s.

Learn more and buy tickets

To find out more and to book tickets to Lyrebird Festival events see lyrebirdfestival.com. The Festival runs from 23rd to 26th of November.

The Bowerbird Collective is a registered charity that creates and tours multimedia performances throughout regional Australia and internationally. Income from these performances, festivals, and digital engagement, as well as grant funding and philanthropic support, keeps the Collective’s initiatives running and supports its educational outreach programs. You can make a tax-deductible donation to the Bowerbird Collective on their website.


Take Action:

  • Attend Lyrebird Festival events to experience firsthand how music and performance and new concepts can bring us closer to nature and ourselves.
  • Explore the Bowerbird Collective’s other events and projects focused on improving planetary health, including Songs of Disappearance – Australian Bird Calls and Songs of Disappearance – Australian Frog Calls. On these ARIA chart-topping albums you can hear 53 of our most threatened birds and 43 of our most threatened frogs. You can now pre-order Songs of Disappearance – Australian Mammal Calls at www.songsofdisappearance.com.
  • Learn more about opening your ears to the natural world in Andrew Skeoch’s new book: “Deep Listening to Nature

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This story has been produced as part of a Bioregional Collaboration for Planetary Health and is supported by the Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (DRRF). The DRRF is jointly funded by the Australian and New South Wales governments.

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About Hamish Dunlop

Hamish Dunlop is a writer, visual artist and environmentalist. During his career he has worked in communications, as an academic at UNSW and ACU and more recently in the conservation space. He is currently completing a Diploma in Conservation and Ecosystems Management. He lives on the bush in Medlow Bath and is a passionate bush walker, gardener and cold-water enthusiast.

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