Greetings from the road in Texas. The exigencies of touring preclude a detailed column this week, but I wanted to check in and share at least one thing I’ve found here in the Lone Star State (besides the fabulous barbeque of Central Texas, which I’m keeping all for myself).
Last weekend I was in Fort Worth for two concerts produced by upstart organization Other Arts, at the Van Cliburn Recital Hall in the downtown area. How delicious to perform in a place named after the city’s local classical hero, and present some decidedly non-Rachmaninoffian (nor Saint-Saënsean) pieces.
As is my custom, rather than sit in what is almost always a depressing green room while waiting to go onstage, I took a walk around the block before the first concert to clear my head. Upon opening the stage door onto the street, I immediately stumbled upon some amazing sounds being emitted by a large colony of birds, all roosting in four trees that dotted a parking lot across the street. Without exaggerating, there must have been many hundreds of them.
I suppose anytime you scale a flock of birds to that size you are going to have interesting sounds, even if they only have one call. These birds, however, seemed to have twenty or thirty, all of them different, and many profoundly electronic sounding. I felt as if I had stumbled into a massive ornithological rendition of a David Tudor Rainforest installation. In Tokyo the crows have aggressively pushed out most of the other birds, and while I don’t mind their cawing, these birds in Texas had them well beat in terms of sheer variety.
I regretted that I didn’t have my trusty Zoom H2, currently my favorite portable recorder, handy. But then I remembered that my small digital camera has a video recording function that includes stereo sound, so I dug it out and “rolled movie” for a few minutes. It was too dark to capture any images, and the sound of the birds competed with the city’s traffic, but I could still get something worthwhile.
Later I found out the birds I heard where the infamous Great-Tailed Grackles, the variants that colonize and roost in Texas, mostly to the dismay of its citizens who regard them as utter pests. I guess some people see the glass as half-full and some see it half-empty. Some see an aggressive agricultural scourge which eats every seed in sight and whose acidic droppings tend to damage whatever they fall upon. I see—and hear—a gregarious and lively group of birds which produced some of my most enjoyable sonic moments in a long while.
Have a listen for yourself. This recording is by no means optimal. There is the traffic noise I mentioned, not to mention wind sound, camera handling, and other flaws, but still plenty of beauty to be found. At least by this birdbrain.
See you next week.