By all accounts, cicadas draw the short end of the stick. After 17 years in the ground, they hatch, mate and die. They are old enough to see R-rated movies, but they never reach voting or drinking age (at least in the U.S.).
This year’s Brood X has been especially appealing to field recordists, and a number of cicada-themed sets have already appeared on the market. Tymbal is different. Baltimore’s Noel Mueller and D.C.’s Beau Finley made four hours of recordings, which were sent to twenty recording artists, who were challenged to use only the source material. As mentioned in the liner notes, they had to pry apart the pink noise in order to exploit micro variations. The results adopt multiple timbres but always return to drone.
Cicadas can be so deafening that they drown out conversation: a literal force of nature. Patrick McMinn‘s title says it all: “when I walked to the tree two blocks north of my house the sound was nearly overwhelming.” Some find the buzz calming, others threatening. THAT CLOUD calls it “the fable of sound.” Somewhere in here there is music, and THAT CLOUD finds it, like a distant tumble of percussion. Astral Tides offers a low, slow elongation of tones that makes us wonder if another source crashed the party. Destroyer of Worlds‘ “Eat and Destroy” begins like a plague of locusts but recesses into a low ambient glow. Cicadas are not always having sex. The melancholic section allows for pity as we consider the creatures’ plight. Small Craft highlights the pathos with “they, like the comets, make but a short stay with us,” the caveat that cicadas are not interested in us.
onewayness allows for birdsong, a reminder that the brief life of a cicada may be even briefer if eaten prior to mating. Raven Bauer Durham adds frogs, who also eat cicadas; the National Park Service calls each hatching “a feast for the animal world.” Lizard Hands amplifies the call to the insect buffet, but the cicadas cry even louder until all is cacophony.
Michael Hendley and Chester Hawkins locate beats in the noise and create tracks with tempos: not for dancing, but perhaps for mating. Hendley’s cloud first comes across as radio interference, then loops of wind and winding; Hawkins produces waves and mini-suites. Jon Won Park‘s piece is filled with Warp-like electronic patterns, while Adam Vidiksis turns sex into musical notes. Pas Musique offers a fine portmanteau in “Cicadences,” the homonym suggesting density while the music, in anthropomorphic fashion, suggests breath. The entire project culminates in Love of Ruins‘ “Brood X Mechanical Dancebot ’38,” and we’re going out on a very short limb to say there’s no way the cicadas produced these dance beats. But it’s sure nice to imagine those 17-year old virgins responding to the DJ. Put your wings up in the air, and wave ’em like you just don’t care!
This is it. You mate, you die. But oh, what a night. (Richard Allen)