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I’ve been listening to this multi-song bird every night over the summer here in Brooklyn. I have never seen it, but it perches in the top of a spruce tree in the front yeard by the street each evening. I recorded its lovely, dynamic song and now would like to find out if it is indeed a MOCKINGBIRD.
See the map of this post from New York, New York, United States.
Darkness, amplified by polluted waters and urban hubbub, formed the backdrop in which thirteen Brooklyn artists embarked on counting crickets and katydids. In five canoes, they paddled down Gowanus Canal and into its shallow arms. Armed with MP3 players holding reference recordings of the seven prevalent species found in the five boroughs, they kept their ears peaked. Expectations of an auditory experience were quickly overwhelmed and enriched by the urbanity of the environs. How come crickets and katydids keep calling, if they are outscreamed by cars, trucks, elevated trains, and plant machinery easily filling 99% of the air dome circumscribed by invisible horizons? How come crickets and katydids keep calling in the stench of petrol punctuated by whiffs of sulfur more potent than those Woody Allen alluded to in Deconstructing Harry, if wind in its purest form, silences them?
But yes, in this landscape of silhouetted industrial and traffic structures, against a cloudy night sky of drizzle, and a syncopation of clearly audible sewer spouts, they did hear populations of field crickets, jumping bush crickets and angel-winged katydids, in rhythms breaking the roar of Brooklyn, like the lit windows of the F train periodically sends a floating ribbon of light into the clutter of stationary light specks, to disappear into the dusk of the Smith and Ninth Streets’ tunnels until a next population comes down the line.
The members of the Gowanus Expedition, guided by Tammy Pittman, co-director of Proteus Gowanus, and Bill Duke, captain of the Gowanus Dredgers, called in the GPS position, time, and identity of the species heard, to the AMNH head quarters to be added to the findings of others participating in the Cricket Crawl.
An hour’s worth of canoe travel below street level, looking down at reflections and up out of the dismal olfactory, their ears made them see their hometown differently. Their ears informed their bitten nostrils that even in the grime of our local Styx there are the sounds of nature they were looking for, extended with an illusion of country, by way of the swishes of the soft waves created by their paddles that helped them glide over Lowe’s blue sign, shimmering upside down in the undulating rainbow stains split by the bows of canoes.
A few hundred audiles braved the cold to unite at the Washington Square arch in the early evening of December 15, 2008 to help create Unsilent Night. In Phil Kline’s annual non-sectarian holiday happening, a cloud of people carries the recorded sounds of bells, thumb pianos and gamelan like audio in boomboxes on their shoulders, under their arms, into a moving soundplay.
I particularly experienced this audio walk from Washington Square to Tompkins Square, as a lesson in seeing space with ears. In the openness of park one hears the auditory beauty for what it is, becoming instantly aware that the movement of people within the cloud will add a texture not conceivable at the Met or most any other sound venue. Once this urban highland band of MP3s and cassettes enters the canyon of Washington Place the spatial awareness lesson #2 announces itself: the block had become boombox. We heard what we heard before with reverb. How I wish my clone could have walked on Waverly crossing Greene and Mercer. How I wonder if he’d heard Washington Place in stereo.
Broadway came, and added its honks and squeaks, St. Mark’s Place its vaudeville rumble, and all along there was the chatter of participants, punctuated by the silent awe of people just coming upon us.
The chatter stopped when Tompkins Square Park summoned to form a huddle for a culminant Grand Finale. And if cell phones were still used, it was to expand the audience.
After the crowd dissolved, the night was cold again, but I had received new eyes. At next year’s Unsilent Night, I may come blindfolded.