5. Song Development: A Taste for Complexity
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112 C H A P T E R 5 Song Development A Taste for Complexity Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs, 7 October 2012, 3:00 am: This culturalartsprecinctislocatedontheTwoWomenDreamingTrack,with seven registered Aboriginal sacred sites and trees of significance, including a three-hundred-year-old corkwood tree in the sculpture garden. Pied butcherbirds undoubtedly appreciate this tree, as well as the massive river red gums throughout the property. The soloist that I record here annually is a favorite of mine, but when the bird begins, the recorder picks up about equal measures of bird and humans—a young couple is fighting nearby. I take sides, but only in my mind. The argument is too heated to approach them and request that they move along. I’ll just have to make do. Then, as if our species could not do any worse, a man wearing a blanket paces back andforthnearby,givingmeafurtiveglancefromhisparalleluniverse.The couple’s argument begins to get physical, and I wonder if I might have to intervene when they head my way. I’m torn between them and my recording and worried that my presence could increase the situation’s volatility. Meanwhile, the pacer lies down on the ground next to me, requiring yet another personal safety assessment—all in a night’s work. Nothing for me is more thrilling, or frightening, than waiting in the dark for a pied butcherbird to begin singing. Things go bump in the We can say that life has desires, and we can talk about what these desires are: life desires complexity, life wants to join, create, experiment , do more. —Deborah Bird Rose, Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction Song Development 113 night—is it a kangaroo or a camel, a dingo or a domestic dog, a human or a family of emu? Snakes can be active nocturnally. While I await my potential soloist, there is always plenty to worry about and time to do it. TimetothinkbacktoremoteCumberlandDaminNorthQueensland. Ihadinvestigatedthisghosttownthedayprior—justasquarebrickchimney is all that remains, plus a number of bird species, but nary a human, near as I can tell. I rise in the dark and drive half an hour, pulling off at the side of a long gravel road at 2:30 am. I open the car door—it’s a still, moonless night in the savannah grasslands—and quietly pull it toward me without clicking it shut. My goal is always to record an entire song, so I must begin before the bird does, but inexcusably I delay getting out of the car. I’ll just sit here for five minutes and gather my resolve, I think to myself. It’s more nerve-racking than fidgeting in the green room before a majorfestivalperformance.“Fiveminutes,MissTaylor.”Smack!Someone hits the driver’s door. Since it’s too late to shut and lock it, I reach for the headlights. My mind would never have pictured what they partially light up: a huge Brahman steer with floppy ears. Perhaps we have startled each other—he’s not at all deadly, unless you count a heart attack. Time also to remember a small green sanctuary with tall trees in suburban Brisbane: fruit bats are squabbling and flapping their opera cloaks overhead. A tall young man ambles toward me in jeans and a stocking cap that covers much of his face. Nobody ambles at four in the morning—you power walk, you jog, you stagger drunkenly. For safety’s sake I depart, heading out to the middle of the street near the brightest light until he disappears. In hindsight, perhaps I am the peculiar-looking one, a bird woman passing in the night under a slight fizz of rain. TimetorememberPineCreek,theNorthernTerritory.I’mstandingin aparkwhenIhearbarkingdogsapproachingandseeaflashlightbouncing behind them. What to do—interrupt the recording by alerting the dogs’ owner to my presence, or stand still and hope for the best? No need to decide—the dogs are right on me. I plead for their owner to call them off, but I’m the problem for him. He shouts two gruff words, which roughly translate to “What’s with you just standing there in the dark?” Time too to think back to my first trip to Gregory Downs, North Queensland: a long, hot drive ends at the banks of the Gregory River. 114 is birdsong music? Poolsofinvitingwatertemptmetocamprightthere,butImuststaywhere I think the birds might sing. There’s a problem, though—the campground islitteredwithbrokenbottles,plasticsacks,andothergarbage,plusthere’s no toilet. As I look around, I meet a truck driver who calls me “doll” and suggests...



Subject Headings

  • Birdsongs -- Australia.
  • Butcherbirds -- Behavior -- Australia.
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