Moulttrigger - Birds

There are so many fun ways to approach this cassette release from Centipede Farm. On the surface, this is a bizarre foray into heavily processed "avian arrangements," wild electronic escapades made from a multitude of bird calls sourced from the old National Geographic Guide to Bird Sounds. The track titles are, ahem, nested in puns, with gems like "Undoing the Pigeon" and "Die Fledergrouse,"and perhaps the most entertaining part of all is that the man behind Moulttrigger is named Dave Wren. For reals.

Despite the lighthearted track titles, the music of "Birds" isn't afraid of the dark. Certainly by the middle of the album, the novelty element of this production is gone, and one is left to the industrial rhythmic structures of "Whole Lotta Dove," or mechanical, train-like dirges with counterpoint that sounds like motors and squeaking doors in "I'm Just Lookin' for Some Thrush." The harsh granular quality to much of the album's textures feels deadly serious and many dustbaths away from its feathered origins.

Not every track is what I'd call "grainy" in texture, though. One of my favorites, "Sitta," converts birds into very clean, crisp electronic beats and then attacks them with various filters. By the end, the sounds become almost human, sounding like a voice yelling "nook" or "no," with really unsettling stereo imagery supplementing the weirdness. That, and the perpetual chiptune-march of the album's closer, "Tern, Tern, Tern" are my favorites.

When I consider the intended utility behind birdsong collections, I think of the many folks who go "birding" and attempt to imitate bird calls precisely, listening to the calls carefully to memorize every detail. In the case of "Birds," one works instead with music, heavy on rhythmic delineation, where gentle imitation evokes musical genres instead. One might peer into the edge of a Jamaican jungle, for example, blasting "Poorwill Revolt," whose triple meter feel sometimes subtly nudges at dub, geese honking on the "ands." Tight samples serve to bring out vaguely conventional percussion sounds in "Undoing the Pigeon," too, creating a sort of lounge/exotica-ish backbeat with an insistent envelope-filtered kick drum of sorts.

If I didn't know ahead of time that this whole record was made from manipulations of bird sounds, I don't think I would've guessed. Interestingly, though, there seems to be something inherent to these sounds that animals still detect, even when the samples are tiny and the effects applied to them are dramatic. In my own unscientific study, I discovered that one out of two pug dogs in my care remain at attention whenever I listen to "Birds," looking toward my listening room as though a bird might come flying out at any time:

While not my "usual thing," I really dig the album, and I think you might, too. As many cassette releases go, the first run of "Birds" has already flown the coop come and gone, but you're in luck: it's back in print as a 2nd edition. Go to Centipede Farm, and you'll be rocking your Walkman for a measly four bucks. And a bit of trivia: subsequent to the release of this recording, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library (which has long housed the recordings used to make the National Geographic records used as samples in "Birds") put its whole collection of animal sounds online. There are over 150,000 of them. See you in a few years, Mr. Wren!

1 comment: