Whistling in the Dark
a Jon Rose and Hollis Taylor project
Whistling in the Dark embraces a set of duets between various pied butcherbirds (from field recordings in outback Australia) and virtuosic human musicians (in home lockdown) performing transcriptions of this extraordinary avian music - and music it is. Welcome to this ancient and modern world of melodic invention.
The field recordings and initial transcriptions were made by Dr Hollis Taylor in her 16-year investigation into the vocalisations of these feathered choristers. A selection from the 100s of recordings/transcriptions were arranged by Jon Rose in 2020 for human musicians - an interspecies collaboration. Some birdsong phrases were recast at half and quarter speeds (exposing details otherwise too fast for our human perception); others were exposed to contrapuntal devices such as inversion or augmentation - while sections from Jon's own imagination endeavoured to either 'be bird' or consider 'what if bird could'. However, in general this work sets itself the task of meticulously taking on the sonic constructs of another species. It does so with authenticity and on the highest artistic level with diverse Australian musicians.
QUEEN'S ROAD: with the bird recorded 11.5.2017 in Bowen Qld, and Emma Roijackers (Violin) recorded 11.12.2022 in Alice Springs (Mparntwe)
DALRYMPLE: with the bird recorded 3.11.2013 near Charters Towers Qld, and Claire Edwardes (Marimba) recorded 2.6.2020 in Sydney
PALM RAGONESI 2016: with the bird recorded 18.8.2016 at Alice Springs, and Cathy Milliken (Oboe) recorded 28.5.2020 in Berlin
OWEN: with the bird recorded 23.8.2016 at Owen Springs Reserve NT, and Ben Ward (Double Bass) recorded 30.8.2020 in Sydney
BINNS: with the bird recorded 23.8.2016 on Binns Track NT, and Lamorna Nightingale (Flute) recorded 4.7.2020 in Sydney
CAMERON: with the bird recorded 17.10.2014 in Brisbane, and Jason Noble (Clarinet) recorded 7.7.2020 in Sydney
PETRICK: with the bird recorded 8.9.2014 in Alice Springs NT, and Simone de Haan (Trombone) recorded 28.7.2020 in Perth
AMADEUS: with the bird recorded 19.9.2016 in Alice Springs NT, and Joanne Cannon (Bassoon) recorded 21.6.2020 in Melbourne
MIDWAY: with the bird recorded 25.10.2013 Qld, and Zubin Kanga (Piano) recorded 15.7.2020 in London
BURLEIGH HEADS: with the bird recorded 24.9.2010 Qld, and James Nightingale (Tenor Saxophone) recorded 8.8.2020 in Sydney
ERIJA: with the bird recorded 22.8.2016 in Alice Springs NT, and Alexander Garsden (Guitar) recorded 15.8.2020 in Melbourne
PALM RAGONESI 2014: with the bird recorded 22.8.2014 in Alice Springs, and Chloe Higgins (Tuba) recorded 20.4.2018 in Zurich
THE SALT EVAPORATOR: with the bird recorded 11.7.2017 at Bowen Qld, and Hollis Taylor (Violin) recorded 2.9.2020 in Alice Springs
The question often posed is, 'Why don't you play live with the birds when they are singing?' It can happen by chance (usually diurnally), but to intentionally subject birds in their critical spring season to human trespass on their sonic territory is a 'no-no' by any reckoning. The pied butcherbirds that Hollis records in general sing nocturnally. If you've ever seen a pied butcherbird vocalise, you know it physically involves a total bodily propulsion of each phrase to attain maximum projection. It is exhausting music, an individual bird sometimes singing up to seven hours without pause. Human sonic intrusion can cause extreme stress and also alerts predators that something unusual is happening, potentially putting a pied butcherbird on the breakfast menu. Also, recording these birds is a very hit - and - miss affair. Perfect recording conditions are rare; nonetheless, the unadulterated recording is preferred to one where a musician blasts away trying to get a bird to respond.
Also, the birds may sing in less than safe environments, where snakes inhabit campground facilities, where drunken truck drivers wander around looking for something or someone to do, where cows walk into you, where police impersonators arrive to steal your car, and where other disrupting humans materialise out of nowhere to impede the recording of this amazing animal.
© All Music Jon Rose and Hollis Taylor 2020