Between the Song and the Silence: Ruffled Feathers
I had spoken with birders both here and in Germany regarding types of bird call field notation that they would be comfortable using. Some of the birders had suggested playing with sonographic notation, saying that it could provide me with flexibility. Birds have a repertoire of calls: alarm, attraction, food, to name a few. Having 75 different calls between the fifteen species would allow for enough sonic variety to keep it interesting.
I was not able to find extant field recordings of the five-six different calls (at a minimum) that each bird would use. However, in consultation with ornithologists, I was able to piece together how some of these calls might sound based on similar species. I was told that sonograms of existing calls could be tweaked to reflect these changes, and was thrilled when I was told that this was something that could be done in one of the labs. I had wanted to have a chance to try it out on a birding group by Easter. Unfortunately, the person who had worked on the sonograms for me became seriously ill, and I wasn’t able to get access to the sonograms for that meeting, but hope to have them for a meeting later on in April.
I have also been concerned about the birders’ abilities to translate the sonograms accurately. In conversation with my advisor Sandeep Bhagwati, he said that I should be sure to have pitch indicators added. Although the birders that I have talked to have said that they use them as references in the field, I suspect that they require some familiarity with the call.
Mnemonics are onomatopoetic devices to recall bird sounds, and are widely cross-cultural. They try to mimic the rhythms and sounds of the calls using words and phrases from human language. I have also been working on the mnemonics for the bird calls in English and German.I feel that adding them to the score, much like lyrics, will assist the birders in reading it.
The important thing with this score is that it facilitates the birder-performers in doing the calls. I am getting anxious about starting to work with them on this, as I expect I will have to make changes. Hopefully, the changes will be minimal, but as always with these kinds of things, you never know!
Birds have a repertoire of calls: alarm, attraction, food, to name a few...