The sounds of morning differ from continent to continent, as demonstrated in new recordings from Belgium (Flavien Gillié) and Minnesota (Marcus Eads). These short, lovely pieces provide a perfect entry into the day, energetic yet serene.
Not every morning is placid. A morning on New York City’s upper east side begins with the sound of street cleaners and garbage trucks, and is soon followed by honking, hawking, and the roar of construction. But listen to these recordings with headphones, and one imagines a gentler awakening.
Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, Flavien Gillié’s Matagne-la-Grande was released only five days after it was recorded, acting more as a news story than a historical document. To listen is to know that there is still peace in Belgium, even in the aftermath of violence. The birds sing, the bells toll; it’s 6 a.m. As different species awaken and enter the mix, one thinks of the creatures in one’s own backyard; some are familiar, others not. They seem to think little of human activities. They remain on their own schedules: up with the sun, looking for food, for warmth, for mates, on the lookout for predators and hoping to provide for their children. Perhaps they are not so different from us.
Gillié makes one noticeable editorial choice, placing the tolling of the 7 a.m. bells at the end of the recording, 26 minutes after the last bells. This allows the recording to seem compact. The rooster that crows before the latter tolling provides a bit of amusement, in that it is far from the first bird to awaken; if anything, all of the other birds finally wake up the rooster. We tend to regard the rooster as the early bird, but it’s certainly not the case here. As the rooster symbolizes the start of the human day, the ensuing bells seem well-placed. One suspects that the extremely faint traffic of the 6-7 hour (first cutting into the foreground in the 18th minute) will increase in volume as the day progresses, but Matagne-la-Grande comes across as bucolic, a village removed from the normal bustle.
The same holds true for Marcus Eads’ Morning, although the differences in timbre are remarkable. Birders will be particularly interested in comparing the differences, as nearly every avian source is unique to each recording. When listening to either of these recordings alone, one thinks, what lovely birdsong. When listening to both, one wants to know about the specific birds. A list of 142 birds found in Minnesota can be cross-referenced with a list of 198 birds found in Belgium to gain an idea of migratory practices. While it’s no surprise that the European Honey-buzzard is found in Belgium and not in Minnesota, somehow the Eurasian Wigeon made it over, along with the Iceland Gull. And while the Kentucky Warbler has never been to Brussels, the Pacific loon is intercontinental. In short, the birds of these two regions show some overlap on paper, but only an expert would be able to distinguish which show up in both recordings. Suffice it to say that the dominant birds in each recording are specific to their sonic territories.
The sound of the Elk River freight train (last heard on Eads’ To See the Elephant) is given a larger role here, analogous to that of the bells found on Matagne-la-Grande, a reminder of the human presence. While the train passes by more than once, it’s ignored by the crickets and birds, who go about their morning without interruption. Those familiar with the sound will recognize it as a soothing presence, rather than an irritation: the sound of the past, traveling through the present. While Eads is better known as a musician, we hope that he will continue his field recordings; this one is certainly worth hearing, and while not as crisp than Gillié’s (perhaps due to the equipment), it’s no less evocative.
Each of these recordings is available under the Name-Your-Price option on Bandcamp. An additional caveat: those who decide to pay for Matagne-la-Grande will be donating to nature preservation via Natagora. After hearing these recordings, one realizes again the importance of preserving such environments, physical and sonic, for future generations. (Richard Allen)
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