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Listening to Moozart

Mozart might have struggled to make music from a herd of cows, a squeaky school gate and a three-legged dog on a quad bike. But this is composition for pupils from Midmar primary in Aberdeenshire.

This morning, children aged from eight to 11from the school in Inverurie are exploring the countryside in search of sounds. Big, black microphones catch the tinkle of cups and cutlery and the whoosh of an espresso machine at a roadside restaurant.

Earphones monitor the high-pitched squeal of tearing timber at the sawmill.

Compact recorders save the singing of sparrows, the lowing of cattle and the roar of a shiny blue tractor as it bursts into life in a farmyard.

The children are recording Sonic Postcards, minute-long MP3s of sound or music which are emailed to schools within their local project or nationally. All recordings are gathered on the Sonic Postcards website.

The scheme, organised and run by Sonic Arts Network, a charity which promotes and explores the art of sound, teaches children to listen and record the sounds of their community, and use these elements creatively in compositions. More than 120 schools from Shetland to Cornwall are involved in the scheme today, including around 50 schools from Aberdeenshire.

Becca Laurence, project manager, says: "It's a three-day project. On our first day we get the kids to sit quietly and just listen. They're always surprised by what they can hear. 'The fan's making a funny noise,' they say or, 'What's that strange sound?'

"Then we get them to use pen and paper to draw sound maps of whatever they can hear around them, such as a plane going over, distant traffic off to the left, or perhaps the sounds of nature.

"We lend schools the microphones and recorders, then all the editing and composition is done with free software called Audacity.

"Kids can download it on to their computers at home too, which is brilliant because it means parents can work with their children, which is often difficult in music."

Elizabeth Shepherd, head at Midmar, says: "Sonic postcards, though mainly about music, listening and composition, also involve elements of ICT, environmental studies and working in groups.

"It's a nice way of working. We use it, for instance, to make up stories."

The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) "seed-funded" the project with an initial pound;150,000.

The scheme is now in its third year and the bulk of its pound;120,000 funding has come from Aberdeenshire county council through the Youth Music Initiative Resources

Sonic Arts Network runs sound technology education programmes and workshops for teachers and pupils. Hear Sonic Postcard MP3s, and find out about partnering and supporting the project, at www.sonicpostcards.org

Audacity is an open-source audio editing package for Windows, Mac, GNULinux, etc. It can record, cut, copy, splice, change speed or pitch and mix sounds together, and will convert tapes and records into digital recordings or CDs. Download at http:audacity.sourceforge.net

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