Caught by the River

the bird that never flew: visual score

15th March 2024

Hanna Tuulikki has released a visual score to accompany her place-responsive performance the bird that never flewwhich premiered at Glasgow Cathedral in 2023, featuring a song cycle for three voices, manipulated field recordings, electronics, and bowed psaltery, punctuated with gestural choreography.

Responding to the city’s roots in ornithological entanglements, the song-cycle brings together sacred lament and political protest to raise the alarm for critically endangered birds.

With its distinctive red breast and warbling song, the European robin plays a prominent role in the life of Glasgow’s patron saint, St Mungo, who is said to have brought a dead bird back to life by holding it in his hands, smoothing its feathers, and praying until the lifeless creature revived. In times of severe biodiversity loss, where numbers of wild birds in Britain have declined drastically, Mungo’s story of empathy prompts us to consider how we might support other-than-human beings faced with severe decline brought about by human activity. In acknowledging such loss, it may also provoke us to stand up, take action, and raise the alarm.

The alarm calls of birds are a way of signalling danger and, as a form of communication crossing species boundaries, a single alarm signal can save many recipients of different species simultaneously. As such, this seemingly altruistic behaviour poses a major challenge to the Darwinian evolutionary theory of the ‘survival of the fittest’, an idea that also underpins capitalist ideology.

As a starting point for her composition, Tuulikki asks: “What if we were able to translate the alarm calls of birds into human language and discovered these signals were alerting all beings to the destruction of the earth? What if these alarm calls were a collective call to rise up and protest? How might we retune our senses and begin to listen with care and act with compassion?”

Narrated by the robin, Tuulikki’s animal fable for tomorrow translates the alarm calls of UK red-listed woodland birds into protest chants, weaving together what the robin knows of past, present and future. One by one, in a collective call to rise up and attend to the future of our biosphere, the Mistle thrush, Capercaillie, Nightingale, Wood warbler, Tree pipit and Greenfinch each sound their alarm.

Realised as a black and red screen print, the visual score combines lyrics from the song-cycle alongside drawings of the hand gestures and birds featured within the text.

The production of the visual score was supported by Timespan and Arts&Heritage, and printed by Anupa Gardner at Edinburgh Printmakers.

It will be on show at a group exhibition ‘We Move As a Murmuration’, opening at Timespan later this month.

Hanna Tuulikki: the bird that never flew (visual score), 2024 is a two-colour screenprint on somerset satin white, 76cm x 112cm, printed in an edition of 18 prints with 2 APs. The print can be viewed in more detail here, and purchased via enquiries emailed to

Read more about the performance here, or via Blue Kirkhope’s writeup of it for Caught by the River.