restricted access 6. Musicality and the Art of Song: A Taste for Beauty
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147 C H A P T E R 6 Musicality and the Art of Song A Taste for Beauty Mary Creek, North Queensland, 2 April 2013: “Hi, welcome to Mary Creek. You’re the first camper of the year. I’m surprised to see you. This time of year, the snakes come in.” I took a photo of a poor snake today in Mareeba that was run over by a car. It was still alive, but it could barely move. “Yeah, it musta had its back broken.” My hostess warms to her subject and begins to rattle off more snakes than I can remember. “We have two kinds of pythons, and taipans—they have a red outline around their eye—and the Eastern brown snake, and the black snake, and the brown-snouted blind snake—when you find ’em in the toilet, don’t worry when they thrust their head at you repeatedly—they really can’t see you. And of course the pythons aren’t venomous, and anyway more people get bitten by great whites.” Yes, but I’m not surfing; I’m here now. “You have a torch, don’t you? Don’t go to the toilet without watching where you’re stepping, including once you get there. The green tree frogs in the toilet attract the snakes—that’s why we have these nice English lawns—not to emulate them, but to see the snakes. Once I really had to Everyone wants to understand art. Why not try to understand the song of a bird? —Pablo Picasso 148 is birdsong music? go, and I went running into the toilet, my pants were half down, ’n’ out of the corner of my eye I saw a big python—so just keep an eye out.” I nod in vigorous agreement while biting my lip. “And this time of year we have lots of figbirds, and the snakes go up the trees and get them for dinner.” I pay up, and she departs after inspecting the toilet block for frogs and snakes. In the distance I can see a dividing line between savannah and rain forest. What a slitheringly beautiful place! It has only cost me $15—I could just leave. No one would know, but I won’t allow my fear to get the best of me. With no one else here, recording conditions are ideal. I move the camper van into position, so shaken that I let out the clutch while still in gear. I go to draw some water, ready for a bee to tumble out of the spout but not a spider. She dashes back up. I try to slow her down so I can fill my bottle, but she won’t be turned back. I settle on washing up with my bottled water. Two mosquitoes in the van are all it takes to sound like a veritable invasion. I rise at 5:00 am and enter the amenities block with a flashlight in my left hand and a headlamp strapped to my forehead, my caution index set on extreme code red. When returning to the van, I drive fifty feet to my recording site rather than walk. No pied butcherbird sings, nor do I see one, and despite the lack of human sonic detritus, the dawn chorus is a washout. At least no snake strikes pay dirt. The sun comes out, but I’m not goingbacktothatamenitiesblock.Atthefirstsmalltown,Istopattheside of the road to brush my teeth. The pied butcherbirds there sing a few snippets , but I’m too late for them. (Note to self: never ignore the town birds.) The next night, I record in a park next to a small performing arts center. The air is redolent with spring blossoms, mostly sweet, but some seize my throat and lungs. The fly veil serves double duty as a mosquito net. In one phrase, the soloist incorporates what sounds like a transposed motif borrowed from a magpie-lark. Next, a fanfare ends on a descending octave, and then a syncopated phrase displays striking harmonic implications straightoutofWesternmusic.Thebirdhasbeensingingforaboutanhour when two conspecifics slip out of the concert early to feed on moths and otherinsectsthathavecollectedovernightinthelightsunderthewelcoming arch. I have no idea how the soloist experiences this apparent lack of Musicality and the Art of Song 149 attention. The bird does not stop. From all my years in jazz clubs, I know the energy an audience brings to a performer and how this would make me feel. Later that day, two of...


Subject Headings

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