After impressing with the Rivers Home series, Kate Carr’s Flaming Pines imprint is back with another themed 12-piece set, Birds of a Feather. This series names classical composers Beethoven, Sibelius and Messaien as influences, less so for the musical constructions as for their avian inspirations.
Birdsong is no stranger to the ambient field, although it’s more often used as background or texture. It’s nice to hear birdsong in this context, in which the ambient music is incorporated instead of the other way around. The identification of species is also a selling point, as the typical listener, lacking guidance when confronted with birdsong, is prone to generalize.
Iranian artist Porya Hatami, whose electronic beauty Unstable was reviewed here earlier this year, launches the series with a piece of restrained elegance. At first, no birdsong seems to be present, perhaps a commentary on the fact that in order to hear certain species, one must be attentive; at the very least, not loud. Ambient washes, dronelike in nature, grow to fill the sound field. Anticipation builds, echoing the way a birdwatcher must feel when entering into the woods.
The woodpecker is a fun choice; Hatami calls it his “favorite bird”, and remarks, “the woodpecking sound is one of the greatest sounds that can be heard in nature”. The last significant song to use this sound may be Coldcut’s “Natural Rhythm”, in which it was used as percussion. Hatami chooses a different tactic, enhancing the listener’s appreciation of the species. The first use of the sound is not that of the bird itself, but an imitation. While hearing these stuttered electronic repetitions, one begins to appreciate the manner in which composers, whether intentionally or unintentionally, mimic the natural world. (Listen at 3:48 for this emerging sound, which grows clearer at 4:14.) Given this sonic revelation, one might begin to ask, “What other sounds in this piece are imitating nature? Are the keyboard drones, for example, meant to echo of the winds through the trees?”
Now the stage is set for other natural sounds to emerge: tweets and trills, calls and cries. And of course, the woodpecker. As the piece progresses, the music begins to recede, allowing the quiet cacophony of nature to reverberate through the ferns. The human intrusion is reduced to footfalls, and the natural sonic habitat is preserved. The Black Woodpecker is a wonderful start to what promises to be another worthwhile series from this forward-thinking label. (Richard Allen)