Gail Priest: The Common Koel
By the time Flaming Pine's Birds of a Feather project reaches its end, those listeners who've absorbed all of the parts in the three-inch CD series will have become amateur ornithologists. In this latest pair of EPs, Portland, Oregon-based Marcus Fischer and Sydney, Australia-based Gail Priest celebrate the common Crow and the less common (despite its name) Common Koel, the former regarded as a pest by many and the latter a parasite. Both EPs are engrossing for different reasons, Fischer's for being a relatively soothing meditation that merges the crow's caw with his delicate guitar work, Priest's for being a multi-episodic exploration that isn't shy about dramatically manipulating the Common Koel's cry.
In his twenty-minute piece, Fischer treats the crow as a family friend of sorts rather than as an unwanted nuisance. His bird choice wasn't arbitrarily determined, either: apparently a pair of crows sits on telephone wires on his street in such a way that they seem to monitor the comings and goings of the neighborhood residents and will even caw four times when they want food. As a way of naturally bringing the crows into the recording, Fischer positioned one microphone outside his studio door (in order to capture the crows' sounds), while using another to record his electric guitar musings indoors. Awash in ambient hiss and crackle, the music is relaxed and contemplative in mood and style, with Fischer content to let his playing meander and drift. Though they're a key component of the opening section, crow sounds aren't omnipresent; in fact, they larger disappear during the extended middle part of the piece where Fischer's pastoral music dominates. However, at the fifteen-minute mark they reassert themselves, their aggressive cawing heard alongside other prosaic street sounds before Fischer shifts the focus to purer musical terrain for a lovely coda of gentle character.
Priest reports that the squawk of the Common Koel is heard between October and March, after which the bird departs for more northerly climes. Before leaving, however, it will lay its eggs in the nests of other birds, who are then charged with raising its chicks. Priest uses the Koel's song as a springboard for a sixteen-minute setting that analogically “explores infiltration, imitation, and subjugation as strategies.” Priest opens the piece with a synth-heavy ambient-drone that serves as an entry-point for the bird's distinctive whoop and cry, which first appears at the two-minute mark. The bird sounds quickly multiply into a churning, cyclical mass that abruptly ceases to allow the cry of a single Common Koel to be heard with the utmost clarity. Priest's setting proves to be episodic: one section sees her boldly manipulating and processing the bird's sound until it becomes an indistinguishable part of a larger electro-acoustic whole, whereas another finds her fashioning a gamelan-styled and ultimately rather nightmarish backdrop for the bird's occasional squawk. The EP ends with the unaccompanied cry of the Common Koel—a not surprising move given its seemingly egocentric nature.