A Voice From the Woods

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by Rodrigo Alonzo

A few weeks ago I was sitting on my porch in Kensington enjoying a quiet morning. This was in the beginning of the quarantine so there was the occasional passing car but mostly everything was still. Suddenly a call sounded; not too loud, but distinct. It was a voice I’ve known my whole life and yet I really didn’t know anything about it. It was a birdsong. The only one that has made an impact on me. I hadn’t remembered ever hearing it in Brooklyn before. And now that we were forced to seclude ourselves in our homes, there it was.

This particular birdsong is one of my earliest memories. Other formative sensations are freshly-mown grass, the carpet in my parent’s first apartment, a mobile that hung above my crib, but this sound… It’s the same every time: a low note, then up high, then down a bit and that note is repeated three times…like this: low-high-mid-mid-mid. And the mid trails down each time it’s sounded. The quality of the call is like a low recorder, as if it were being played in an early music ensemble. It sounds like it’s being blown through a medieval woodwind of some kind, a husky, low salutation.

First time I heard the song I was a toddler, living in St. Joseph, Michigan. Our house was one of about twelve in a newly-constructed subdivision surrounded by open fields, forests and a small creek. From the time I was very little, we would go for an evening walk around the neighborhood. Often it was dusk. The sun was a deep red with a fiery fading orange just above, all dipping under the black horizon. And that birdsong would always call out. The song and the sun setting behind the darkened trees were fused together in my mind. That’s why hearing that same call on my porch in Brooklyn was such a jolt. How could that voice have traveled forty-seven years and several states to find me here in Brooklyn?

In addition to the visual image of the sunset, the birdsong evokes a kind of Greek chorus for me. “I’m still here,” it tells me. “Remember your childhood?” it asks. “Who do you think you are?” Hearing this simple voice is my personal Rosebud or madeleine. It’s some kind of ghost that is simultaneously comforting and haunting.

Because I now have much more free time than usual, I decided to find out who it was that was making this sound. After a short investigation of “bird calls” on YouTube, I came across the exact one. It was the mourning dove. All this time I had no idea and here it was. When I looked at its photo, it didn’t match the shadowy image I’d been carrying in my head for so long. I learned that mourning doves are plentiful in New York (as well as Michigan). They love open fields, hunting for seeds, and they migrate to Mexico in the winter.

Another memory that came hurtling back was Robert Frost’s poem, “Come In” which I had read as a senior in high school. The vidid directness of his language made a big impression on me then. I didn’t know you could write a poem about a bird inviting you into the forest. Here I was, in the middle of Brooklyn, feeling the same dilemma. I remembered my teacher saying, “The bird’s not calling out to the narrator. Nature is indifferent.” But the voice of the mourning dove is so specific. It always forces me to face myself and take stock of what I’ve become. It always finds me. Even in Brooklyn.

Bibliomancy: The weight of this sad time we must obey

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A production of King Lear at BAM on Apr 28 2018

New York has always had a special place in my heart for me. Even as a kid watching American movies in Korea, I loved the images of NYC: populous streets, people in sophisticated dark suits, and opulent classic American breakfast dishes with sweet and gooey pancakes (Do they really eat those as breakfast?! Phew…).

Although I’ve failed to make New York my home, it will always be a special place for me. Where else would I be able to meet Barbara Hammer in person and see an awesome production of King Lear at BAM on the same day? On the subway coming back from the theater, I remember thinking about the last lines of King Lear spoken by Edgar. I would be lying if I said I completely understood them, but since then I’ve thought about them often. How fitting they are in so many circumstances…

Twitter in the tree, an unheard of sight by a non-audile.

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I’m not an AUDILE by any means, yet I do at times associate sound with image. When I see a bird I know it’s associated with sound, a species-specific song even. The sight of a bird often stops me in my track, as I anticipate a song, and the joy of hearing and emulating it. I remember my surprise on a vacation in Maine, when I learned that the cormorant doesn’t have a song, that the cormorant is mostly silent. And when it isn’t silent, it grunts like a pig as it takes offs or lands.
Anyhow, when I wake up in the morning, and I open the curtains I see a beautiful birch tree. One fall morning I noticed the shape of what could be a bird in its branched, its body. I took a photo of it. All I needed to do was add feet, wings, an eye, and a beak, and I did so with sound in mind.

The birch seen from tar beach, my safe escape into the outdoors, yielding this CULMINANT view

An Audile listens to a mysterious NYC bird

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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.


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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYzlfG04FQk A semi-secret rock venue in Ridgewood, Queens employs the sound of an adjoining Mexican restaurant as a cover and as an indicator.