Various Artists: Synthetic Bird Music

todayNovember 27, 2023 3

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The trees are disappearing, and so are their inhabitants. In the past 20 years, global forest coverage has dropped by roughly 10 percent, and one-third of bird species are expected to go extinct by the end of this century. Jakub Juhás, head of Slovakian label mappa editions, is surely aware of this. Over the years, the label has built a hall of mirrors from environmental recordings and experimental compositions; a look into its catalog reveals haunted cave dives, explorations of rust, and snowed-in a capella. It is a body of work interested in solitude, intimacy, and hushed electronics. Mappa’s latest release, Synthetic Bird Music, compiles 32 electronic and experimental music pieces inextricably bound up with nature. The works range from years old to brand new, but they are joined by a shared interest in organic and electronic synthesis. It is the sound of musicians the world over reckoning with an ongoing climate catastrophe.

As early as the 17th century, professional whistlers—siffleurs—worked the vaudeville circuit and ventured into the woods, mocking mockingbirds and playing alongside nightingales. Synthetic Bird Music picks up this torch with a newfound urgency, conjuring birdsong that doesn’t exist and engineering accompaniment for birds that do. It is dominated by slow pieces and brain-bending synth work, with elegiac keyboards echoing the thinning populations they’re meant to emulate. On “La guardian de las ondas radiales 1” (“The Guardian of the Radio Waves”), Makakinho del Amor (aka Tomás Tello) wraps bird calls in a blanket of static and high-pitched keyboards. Hmot’s “Irekle Qoştar” takes a few bits of birdsong and cranks up the distortion until they sound like a transmission from a dying ham radio. Much of the compilation works like this: It is a swan dive into the uncanny valley, sitting somewhere between real and imagined, playful and unsettling.

Synthetic Bird Music outlines a world of approaches to birdsong and its accompaniment: Found-sound industrial techno (Native Instrument’s “Vögel Unserer Heimat”), wigged-out Fourth-World ambience (Tomutonttu’s “Harpusta / Tarjous”), avian post-rock (Baldruin’s “Sonderbare Ereignisse am Lake Hillier”), and haunted-house synth workouts (Mike Cooper’s “The Wild Birds of Bluesealand”). The record brings together artists from umpteen scenes—Bratislava and Berkshire, San Francisco and Sydney—but each work feels like part of an unspoken narrative, an atlas stuffed with imagined landscapes. (It helps that the record is arranged chronologically, moving from pre-dawn birdsong to late-night ambience.) Synthetic Bird Music functions as a survey of contemporary electronic-music experimentation, looking across the globe for deliberately laid textures and out-there approaches to composition.

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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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