Kate Carr * Synthetic Bird Sounds

Phantasmic Birds


‘All the birds Kate Carr never recorded, and some she did. In a field recording she never made’.

Field recordings always raise the same question: is this for documentary purposes, can it be considered music?
If ‘music is organized sound’ (R. Murray Schaefer), the answer is clear. But for some, even the unaltered, unorganized sound of nature is the most beautiful music in their ears. Kate Carr further challenges this discussion with her new album: field recordings of non-existent birds.

The first track is called Unlikely To Be Heard, and is created primarily with bird horns. The three following tracks are composed (or ‘organised’) from various dawn chorus field recordings from South Africa, Australia, and the UK.
One might argue that only the birds in the first track are phantasmic because the others really do exist somewhere on the planet. But not in this setting, ‘re-imagined. Stretched and stuttering, glitching and morphing, swirling and sputtering. Artifact and performance, digital bits all.’

The tracks all have descriptive titles: ‘A Loud Hissing Screech Which Drops In Pitch Halfway’, ‘Usually Concealed In Dense Foliage’, and the melancholic closing track ‘Shy, Typically Alone Or In Pairs’.

By adding her layered electronics, Kate Carr settles the argument for once and for all: this definitely is ‘music’. Music for Phantasmic Landscapes.

A Field Guide To Phantasmic Birds is released on Room40 and mastered by Lawrence English, who is no stranger to challenging field recordings himself.

Synthetic Bird Music


It is no surprise that we also find Kate Carr on this compilation on the Mappa label from Slovakia. Her track Three Calls is one of the 32 tracks on this 132-minute album filled with exactly what the title promises us.

Most of the artists involved are unknown to me, but there are some familiar names too: JAB (John Also Bennett), Mike Cooper, Andrew Pekler, Felicity Mangan. But that’s about it for me, so there’s quite a lot of new names to explore.

The compilation “crystallises the borders between memory, beauty, and anxiety and follows a chronological order from dawn to dusk and deep into the night”.
While Kate Carr‘s phantasmic field recordings (see above) sound as if they an environment like that could exist somewhere on this planet, such is clearly not the intention here. These are synthetic birds – metallic, electronic, alienating. And definitely fascinating, even if it is a lot to listen to in one session.
Occasionally, there is also a ‘true’ musical composition based on birdsounds (for example ‘Wind Up Paradise Birds’ by Øyvind Torvund, BIT20 Ensemble, Trond Madsen, Jørgen Træen, and Kjetil Møster)

“You could stop there, enjoying this record on a musical level, but it invites us to do one step further, to consider reconfiguring our relationship with the Earth and its inhabitants. To question our impact, and to ask why we need synthetic bird music. Is it just a visionary endeavor or is it because we are failing at fostering a world in which organic birds and other creatures can thrive?”

Synthetic Bird Music is available as a digital download but also as a limited double cassette. Profits from the record will be donated to the SOS/BirdLife Slovakia, an organization protecting the bird biotops by river Ipeľ, in the south of Slovakia.
So that we can enjoy real bird sounds in the future too!

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