restricted access SEVEN The Rose Garden
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SEVEN The Rose Garden O bird of the morning, Learn love from the moth Because it burnt, lost its life, and found no voice. Sa’di, The Gulistan The reception history of birdsong has yet to be written, but it will surely dwell on the audio field guide. These guides train listeners to identify birds by ear, drawing on the typological collection and classification that made sound a part of natural history in the early twentieth century. Such guides have been issued since the 1930s in the form of phonograph records, tapes, and compact discs. Today they are increasingly popular, taking the form of digital files embedded in apps, websites, or books where sound is accessed at the tap of a finger.1 Such guides connect the project of hearing species difference with the goal of hearing spatial difference, in the meadows, forests, and mountains of the past—“the field” of the field guide. To do this, guides increasingly rely on creative formats that verge on composition in order to depict nonhuman geographies in sound. In the process, their pretext of objectivity gives way to complicated patterns of ownership , nostalgia, and discovery. While audio guides purport to educate listeners about natural identity, they also model important relationships between human listeners, singing birds, and imagined spaces of nature. In this chapter, I turn to three of these imagined spaces to ask how listening to birds models interspecies ethics in a postwar, postmodern, posthuman world. I conclude my book with three soundscapes: Olivier Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux (1956–1958), Steven Feld’s Rainforest Soundwalks (2001), and Miyoko Chu’s Birdscapes (2008). Chu’s book, Feld’s recording, and Messiaen’s work for piano are, in very different ways, soundscapes that merge aspects of a field guide The Rose Garden 147 with a different, more aestheticized tradition. The terminology of the soundscape was coined in the 1970s by Murray Schafer, about fifteen years after Messiaen’s Catalogue.2 Schafer’s thinking was intended to exist, like the song of a bird, in a cultural in-between. His involvement in soundscape studies and acoustic ecology was a highly aesthetic venture that, like the examples I explore here by Messiaen, Feld, and Chu, invoked an exotic habitat he called the Soniferous Garden, a “feast for all the senses” in which the sounds of nature reigned.3 Schafer’s Edenic terminology of “soundscape” has entered mainstream music literature, although it retains less of its original flavor.4 The term soundscape is also used as a tool in ecological circles to defend the idea that local animal habitats are disrupted by the introduction of industrial sounds, an idea promoted by Schafer under the phrase “acoustic ecology.”5 Acoustic ecology and the soundscape are reminders of the inherent conundrum of the objective observer, who attempts to record and identify nonhuman sound without registering a human effect. Creators record, crouching in the brush with a specialized microphone; they choose which recordings to retain and which to discard, and they choose which parts of those recordings will best teach the sound of a species. The users of these creations often encounter a notable contrast between their own lived experiences and the pristine forests, prairies, and tundra of the audio guide. These encounters beg the question of what the end goal of species identification is, and what it should be, for users of the modern audio guide. Field guides to the nonhuman therefore present us with a riddle that has been lurking in musical evolutionism since its inception: What is the life of the objective listener, and who is this individual? And where is paradise in that world where nature is divided from the privileged class of humankind? Edenic soundscapes are the subject of this chapter, which explores the interplay between postmodern human identity, ethical relationships, and imagined Edens. In Judeo-Christian tradition, the sacred nature of the Garden of Paradise is located in the species-specific problems of human sin, guilt, and sanctity. Humans in this garden embody an ethics grounded in uniqueness that is itself particular. Centuries of iconography locate Adam and Eve in already-unique white and Western bodies. These already-unique bodies are further distanced from animals by their ethical uniqueness: humans are sinful, guilty, or sacred; animals are not. And here I come down the path that leads from Cold Spring Harbor and Cambridge ornithology to the garden of this chapter: postmodern human identity, which frames human singularity around the boundary between genetics and human...