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Archive for the ‘John James Audubon’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: WONDERFUL ESCAPE: Birds (2018).

I was looking for a bird song collection to pair with the book.  I found this 20 minute collection on Spotify.  It turns out that Wonderful Escape has many releases of nature sounds.

I haven’t listened to any of the others, but it strikes me that this recording was made by a person with a microphone who didn’t really know what birdsong CDs sound like.

Normally a bird sound recording is meant to be soothing, a “wonderful escape” if you will.  This recording feels like a hastily compiled collection of nature songs.  I would say it’s cash grab, but I doubt there’s much money to be made in posting bird songs to Spotify.

This collection starts out with “Crowes at the Cemetery” (no idea why Crowes has an e in it–there’s no jam band in sight).  These crows are raspy and rather unpleasant.  They are certainly telling us to eff off.  There’s also a long stretch in the middle with no crows at all.  This seems rather odd for a three minute track.  The end of the track has some church bells which I assumed was from the cemetery but which seems to be the natural segue to “Birds at Saint Birgitta Church.”  This track is much calmer.  The twittering and pretty call of birds sounds rather distant though.  Its really not until 2 and half minutes that you hear some really pretty birdsong up close.  Did the bird just happen to land near the microphone?  It also seems very likely that the recording equipment has just moved to the other side of the cemetery because you can hear those same crows from track one in the background.

Track three is called “Birds at the Graveyard” which I suspect is the same graveyard as the above cemetery since you can still hear the crows in the background.  There is some melodious bird song throughout.

This track differs quite a lot from the similarly named “Birds at the Cemetery” (seriously, did they just walk around the building for 20 minutes?).  The sonic quality is very different.  The cemetery sounds less crowded and the birds are less frequent and further away.  This one actually has a more somber feel, which seems weird to say about a field recording.  For the final thirty seconds or so there’s hardly any birds at all.

The next track is “Birds in Village Park,” so at least there’s some kind of place mentioned.  There is a vast array of birdsong in this track, although it is all very far away and seems once again to be dominated by crows.  Halfway through there’s a raspy sound that sounds more mechanical than avian, but I suspect it is a bird chitting.

The penultimate track is called “Birds Swedish Countryside.”  This makes me wonder if all the recordings are in Sweden, but who knows.  It starts out promising with some interesting noisy birds but once again, it is very quiet in the middle.  Then the noisy birds appear to fly over the recording equipment, getting noisy and then quieter again.  This is a pretty cool treat because it changes things up.  But the majority of the track it sounds like the birds are trying to avoid being recorded.

The final track title seems like a joke.  It is called “Birds Way Out in the Countryside.”  And like all the other tracks, it sounds like the birds are way out in the countryside and we are behind a fence unable to get into the countryside.

This is a weird field recording to be sure.  And there are far better nature sound tracks out there.

[READ: December 31, 2019] Effin’ Birds

I saw an ad for this books and asked for it for Christmas.  I loved the idea of a beautifully illustrated book of birds which tells you exactly what they are really thinking of you.

Every page has illustrations from John James Audubon’s Birds of America or Thomas Berwick’s History of British Birds.  These are lovely mostly black and white reproductions, with a few plates in color.

The book begins

Have you ever listened to the melodic chirping of birds and wondered what they were trying to communicate?

Advances in machine learning over the past ten years have allowed for detailed scenario analysis of birds and their songs, and multiple computer-driven studies* that compiled years’ worth of audio and video recordings came to an astonishing conclusion: most of the time, birds are just saying “Fuck off.”

*I made these up because this book is fake — but keep that as a secret between you and me and the handful of other nerds who read footnotes,

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DAVID GREILSAMMER-Tiny Desk Concert #676 (November 24, 2017).

It has been quite a while since there has been a classical pianist on Tiny Desk.  I’m unfamiliar with the Israeli pianist David Greilsammer, but his playing is wonderful and his selections are quite fun and diverse.

For this Tiny Desk appearance, Greilsammer begins with his muse Domenico Scarlatti, the 18th-century Italian whose 500-some keyboard sonatas are compelling, colorful snapshots of his decades-long service to Spanish royalty. In the “Sonata in E, K. 380” you can hear a little street band processing along with trumpet fanfares.

Greilsammer describes the piece as sounding very contemporary.  Scarlatti lived 300 years ago and his music sounds ahead of its time.  He says it’s almost jazzy or pop-like harmonies.  He says it feels like he is playing a Beatles song.

Greilsammer follows by jumping ahead 175 years to the eccentric Frenchman Erik Satie, who not only owned seven identical gray velvet suits but, with a freewheeling spaciousness and humor in his music, is often thought of as the precursor to everything from minimalism to new age. His series of mysterious pieces called Gnossiennes strike a particularly sedate mood, capable of neutralizing any source of anxiety.

Greilsammer plays “Gnossienne No. 3” which he describes as full of pop and jazz and colors and harmonies.  He was writing these strange short pieces that at the time people in Paris didn’t understand.  Everybody loves Satie now but just over 100 years ago he was completely misunderstood.

I absolutely love the way the final notes ring out in this room–they are quite haunting

Lastly, Greilsammer takes a left turn to Leoš Janáček, the idiosyncratic Czech composer from the early 20th century, acclaimed for his operas. He set one of them on the moon; another, the dramatically taut and emotionally wrenching Jenůfa, is perhaps the most undervalued opera of a generation. But Janáček also wrote in smaller forms. His piano cycle On An Overgrown Path plays out like a diary of musings, nervous tics, simple pleasures and mysteries. Within the claustrophobic tension that pervades “The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away,” you can hear the rustling of wings and the repeated four-note bird call.

Greilsammer says that Janáček lived in the Romantic period and all of his music is enigmatic, with many secretive things.  He wrote things related to dreams and wild scenes with things obsessively haunting him.  In “The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away” (from On An Overgrown Path) the theme of the owl comes back many times.  Every time you try to get away from it, it comes back.

For Greilsammer, who recently performed in a working crypt in Harlem, threading these disparate musical fabrics together comes as naturally as, well, playing behind a desk in an office building.

These are some really beautiful and nicely unexpected pieces.

[READ: May 31, 2017] Audubon

I have really enjoyed most of the French graphic novels that come across my desk.  This book, translated by Etienne Gilfillan, is no exception.

It is a biographical sketch of John James Audubon (born Jean-Jacques Audubon in Haiti in 1785).  His story, aside from the whole birding aspect, is quite fascinating in itself. He was an illegitimate child (his father has seduced a servant) who was eventuality adopted by his father (!) and called Forgèére (which means fern).  His father wanted him to escape military conscription, so the boy was sent to Mill Grove in he United States in 1803.  He became a US citizen and there met his wife Lucy Bakewell.

The book actually begins in 1820 with Audubon and two other men sailing on the Mississippi river.  They hit bad weather but all he cares about are his drawings.

Then we jump back to 1812 in Kentucky.  Audubon climbs into a tree to study the swallows who are living in it–some 9,000. He took home more than 100 birds to study them.  And then he tagged some others to study their migratory patterns.

As the end of the book points out, Audubon was one of the world’s greatest naturalists who did a lot for birding. Except he was also responsible for the death of thousands of birds.  There’s a section where he kills two ivory billed woodpeckers.  He is so excited at his luck because they are becoming a rarity. (more…)

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