March 12, 2019
The song of the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō, a bird native to Hawaii, is a delicate, flute-like melody. If you listen closely, you can hear a short succession of chirps gliding playfully from lower to higher tones. The Kauaʻi ʻōʻō was last seen on the island of Kaua’i in 1987. Its call, now archived as a field recording, is no longer heard in the wild. Yet this weekend, the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō and 11 other critically endangered or extinct creatures will be heard in "Requiem," a sound installation at the Boston Nature Center in Mattapan.
It combines the noises of birds and frogs, whose sounds have been sourced from field recordings at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and The Amphibian Foundation in Atlanta. "Requiem," which has traveled from Maine to Boston and back again, is a purely auditory experience.
Staged in a large, empty room with four speakers, guests will hear the sounds of 10 birds and two frogs continuously looping on an audio file. The recording begins with one or two animals noises, and slowly builds to a mild cacophony of tweets, chirps, whoops and wood-peckings. Throughout the piece, familiar noises fade out, and new calls are introduced, overlapping and punctuating each other without rhyme or reason.
“It’s entirely unpredictable,” says Steve Norton, the Maine-based artist and musician who created the installation. “Sometimes it gets very dense and then also falls silent." Norton says these pauses in the audio can surprise listeners. “There have been occasions where people have said, ‘Is it over?’ It’s theoretically never over. It could run until the power goes out.”