The Black Woodpecker
Michael Trommer: The Great Northern Loon
Having comprehensively documented one natural phenomenon in the recent Rivers Home series, Kate Carr now turns her attention to another in the follow-up project Birds of a Feather, which will see the release of at least twelve three-inch CDs in 100-copy runs over the coming year. It's not the first time birds have proven inspirational to music-makers—one need only think of classical composers Olivier Messiaen (Catalogue d'oiseaux) and Jean Sibelius (The Swan of Tuonela) as two well-known cases, and of course there's also Beethoven's evocation of birdsong in his Symphony No. 6, familiarly known as the “Pastoral” Symphony. What's especially appealing about the inaugural pair of releases is the way Iran-based Porya Hatami and Torontonian Michael Trommer strike a balance between musical and field recordings elements, and how artfully the bird sounds are integrated into the larger structure.
A largely becalmed meditation on the Black Woodpecker, Hatami's eighteen-minute soundscape sets the stage during its opening third by presenting an enveloping mist of blurry thrum and sparkle before the first hints of bird chatter and woodpecking appear—perhaps Hatami's way of suggesting that one must plunge deeply into the setting and gradually become attuned to the subtleties of its realm. Amidst an ambient background that suggests gentle surges of water, the nature sounds of crackle and pecking add a percussive dimension to the lulling flow that rises and falls alongside it. A sense of place is established via the sounds of clumping footsteps that evoke the image of Hatami trudging through the setting and surrounded by a symphony of birdsong. The first in the Birds of a Feather series, The Black Woodpecker proves to be an understated yet elegant beginning.
Trommer's The Great Northern Loon likewise opens quietly, with the faint yet nevertheless eerie sound of the bird's call surfacing eight minutes into the piece. Its cry is a distinctive, even haunting sound that's familiar to many a Canadian, and it's one that Trommer captured (from a canoe no less) during the summer of 2011 at Georgian Bay, Ontario. Like Hatami, Trommer threads the sampled material into a delicately woven fabric of softly shimmering ambient design, and though the natural sounds were recorded on a late summer night, the mood of stillness is more suggestive of the cool calm of the early morning hours. The most captivating moments occur during a central episode where Trommer reduces the surround to its bare essence, such that the whistling drone functions as a subliminal backdrop for the loon's lonely call. Interestingly, the episode doesn't last long, the bird sounds disappear, and the focus largely shifts to purely ambient material for the remaining minutes—Trommer's way, perhaps, of suggesting that such privileged communions with the natural world are all the more to be savoured given how fleeting they are.As was the case for Rivers Home, an ecological dimension does come into play, in the case of the new series one pertaining to the urban challenges that threaten the existence of certain bird species. However, the message isn't delivered heavy-handedly but emerges more by suggestion and implication. The primary concentration remains, thankfully, musical on these two chapters in what promises to be a satisfying as well as enlightening series.