Pablo Diserens was either in the right place at the right time, or just before the incredibly wrong time. Only three months ago, he was walking the Australian shores, recording the sounds of the local wildlife. The bushfires had already begun, but had not yet engulfed the region. It’s possible that many of the inhabitants whose voices were captured on these recordings have since perished. The recording is an homage to wildlife lost, ecosystems devastated, and the importance of sonic ecology.
One wants to believe that at least the avian species have survived, flying inland or up the coast. In “morning by the river,” their presence is particularly active. In one of the most spectacular segments, “suddenly a flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos began to cry and flutter in unison.” Stillness is one of the primary tools in a field recordist’s kit; thanks to the quietude, Diserens is able to vanish into the soundscape. The liner notes are worth reading, as he also mentions a pleasant encounter with a (quiet) monitor lizard, who follows him for a while, perhaps looking for a snack, a ride, or credit on the album (which he gets).
The richness of the ecosystem is apparent throughout the set. One wonders if Diserens might return to these locations to ascertain the damage done, in the manner of Bernie Krause (whose comparisons are made in response to clearcutting). Have the ravens flown away? Have the periwinkles boiled? With their food source dwindling, have other species relocated or died off? It would be a shame to lose any species. Diserens compares the cries of bellbirds to René Laloux’s Fantastic Planet and “minimalist electronic scores from the second half of the 20th century.” Both comparisons are apt. These unique, otherworldly sounds are a reminder that there are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. Most sonic tourists would wander far into the woods to ascertain the nature of such siren cries, which emanate from what The Guardian calls the loudest bird in the world.
While humans have a tendency to anthropomorphize, it’s safe to say that Diserens is on point when he writes of “the blackbirds’ unbroken plaintive cries that carried a sense of sorrow;” after all, the smoke is right behind them. And yes, they do sound sad; a bit like crying cats. Diserens shares their sadness, as well as a sense of frustration and anger, but he channels it beautifully, calling for active action on climate change to combat “this sinister age of embers.” Many field recordings open a window into a world we barely know; on australian shores opens a window to one we may have already lost. This sonic document is more than just a travelogue; it’s a requiem. (Richard Allen)
All proceeds will go towards the wildlife emergency response fund of Humane Society International that are currently helping the Australian animals affected by the fires.