Yannick Dauby – an appreciation. Part 3

14/03/2011

Songs of a few crickets from Europe

Like Nous, les défunts, this CD came in a simple printed and folded card sleeve with a handwritten CDR, inside a cellophane and paper envelope. Nice and simple – and with the artist’s own handwriting. What more do you want?

It took me a while to put this one on the player because I thought, this being a CD with the sounds of crickets, that would be that – we’ve all heard crickets before. Over the two years that I lived in Botswana I was kept awake most nights by the wee bastards, so I expected no surprises. How wrong was I?

I often listen to new CDs in the car, usually driving over a particularly scenic high road in the Borders countryside. After three or four minutes of this album I had to stop the car to listen more closely. I could have been listening to what some people call minimalist electronic music – although I don’t know what this means there are those who know exactly what they mean by this, others use it when they’ve run out of ideas and want to put up an evasive postmodern shopfront.

At first you wonder what you’re listening to – yes, those are crickets – then you become aware of two things: one, an intensity that you’ll never achieve with electronics no matter how much you try, probably due to the fact that the crickets are doing what they do as a matter of survival; secondly, the tiny deviations from a periodic pulse alongside micro-fluctuations in pitch. Isn’t this one of the qualities that we love about nature, it’s almost regular irregularities?

I’d love to know more about how these ‘calls’ evolved, the kinds of selection that took place, the purpose(s) of the different calls, and what impact, if any, modern conditions have had on their evolution, intrusive human noise, forcing changes in the ecology of the niche.

‘Environmental experience never repeats itself but changes constantly and possesses multiple meanings’ writes Kaia Lehari in Embodied Metaphors and indeed the variety is striking, particularly up close and personal on a CD player. The frameless character of the environment has been stressed by environmental aestheticians such as Yuriko Saito. Obvious, perhaps, but worth bearing in mind when judging how successfully an artist frames his or her representations of biophonies.

So how do we listen and how should we listen? If it is indeed true that ‘the aesthetic experience of nature is in engagement as much as in detachment’ (Holmes Rolston III), we have tension between experiencing the artwork of the recording in its fixed medium presentation, which might require detachment in the free play modernist sense, and the ‘listening through’ to the real world which would tend to pull us into engagement.

Furthermore, although I certainly find aspects of the science interesting, I can see that work like this is important in its opposition to conventional scientific research. I also wonder whether Dauby’s work deepens our understanding of conflicting views of the environment, where instrumental value is opposed to intrinsic value? In fact, if we examine it more closely, this is not such an obvious distinction. The approach of some field recordists certainly leans towards the first view whilst purporting to support the second, whereas Dauby speaks to me of the latter in his simplicity and directness, which seems to be non-exploitative. I came away from this CD with a deeper appreciation of the aesthetic inexhaustibility of the natural world.

There are ten tracks, ten very different crickets, each track of about 3 – 4 minutes in duration. In my view as a non-expert, the album is as near to perfection as you’ll get in this idiom.

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