Hear the Sound Of Endangered Birds Get Turned Into Electronic Music

Bird-watching is having a moment, thanks to the pandemic.

As non-essential workers adjusted to spending more time at home, their ears adjusted to the increasingly non-foreign sound of birdsong outside their windows.

Those sweet tweets are no doubt largely responsible for the record breaking turnout at this year’s Global Big Day, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's annual birding event, held earlier this spring.

50,000 participants logged 2.1 million individual observations, and 6,479 species.

Apparently, there are even more birds in this world than there are sourdough starters...

...though for the immediate future, civic-minded birdwatchers will be confining their observations to the immediate vicinity, as a matter of public health.

We look forward to the day when bird enthusiasts residing outside of Belize, Mexico, or Guatemala can again travel to the Yucatán Peninsula in hopes of a face-to-face encounter with the Black Cat Bird.

Til then, the animated video above, in which a Black Catbird unwittingly duets with Belize’s Garifuna Collective, makes a soothing place holder.

The catbird and the collective appear along with nine other electronic musician / endangered native bird teams on the fundraising album, A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America & the Caribbean.

Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager joins NILLO, a producer and DJ from Costa Rica who draws musical inspiration from the tribal communities around him.

Siete Catorce, a producer who helped popularize the popular border genre known as ruidosón—a mix of cumbia and prehispanic tribal sounds—is paired with a Yellow-headed Parrot.

Jordan “Time Cow” Chung of Equiknoxx seamlessly integrates a Jamaican Blackbird into his unique brand of organic, experimental dancehall.

The album follows 2015's Guide to the Birdsong of South America, and as with its predecessor, 100% of the profits will be donated to regional organizations focused on birds and conservation—Birds Caribbean, La Asociación Ornitológica de Costa Rica, and Mexico’s Fundacion TXORI.

Birds, as the project’s founder, Robin Perkins, told Gizmodo’s Earther, are the most musical animals in the world:

There’s something really nice about focusing on endangered species and songs that are disappearing and not being preserved and to use music to raise awareness about the species. I believe music has a big power for social activism and social change and for environmental change.

Listen to A Guide to the Birdsong of Mexico, Central America & the Caribbean for free on Spotify.

Buy the album or individual tracks on Bandcamp to benefit the charities above.

Robin Perkins’ limited edition prints of the featured birds also benefit the bird-focused regional charities and can be purchased here.

via MyModernMet

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Explore Flowcharts That Japanese Aquariums Use to Document the Romantic Lives of Penguins

In recent years, viewers the world over have been binge-watching a Japanese reality show called Terrace House. The New Yorker's Troy Patterson describes its format thus: "Three men and three women move into an elegant pad for a spell, while otherwise conducting their lives as usual. The members of the cast are above average in their camera-readiness and their civility, and in no other discernible way." Fueled not by the self-promotional showboating and ginned-up resentment that have become conventions of Terrace House's Western predecessors, "the show’s slow-burning action is sparked by the honest friction of minor personality flaws and conflicting personal needs," making it "closer to a nature documentary than to the exploitation films that one has come to expect from reality television."

If viewing human beings the way we're used to viewing nature can give us such satisfaction, how about viewing nature the way we're used to viewing human beings? Japan, as Johnny Waldman reports at Spoon and Tamago, has led the way in both reversals: "Two aquariums in Japan, Kyoto Aquarium and Sumida Aquarium, keep obsessive tabs on their penguins and maintain an updated flowchart that visualizes all their penguin drama."

Waldman quotes Japan-based researcher Oliver Jia as tweeting the fact that "Penguin drama actually isn't totally unexpected. They're known to be vicious animals who cheat on their partners and steal other's children. So basically, your average day in Los Angeles" — the cradle, one might add, of the reality-TV industry.

Though the lives of penguins may, in the eyes of the aquarium-visiting layman, appear to consist entirely of swimming, eating fish, and standing around, the animals' "romantic escapades are fairly easy to observe," at least according to Waldman's translation of the penguin caretakers at the Sumida Aquarium. "Wing-flapping is a sign of affection and couples can be seen grooming each other. Penguins who are getting over a break-up will often refuse to eat." This is the kind of observational data that inform the intensively detailed (and cuteness-optimized) penguin-relationship diagrams seen here, high-resolution versions of which you can download from the Kyoto Aquarium and Sumida Aquarium's web sites. Now that Terrace House has come to an end, perhaps the time has come on Japanese reality television for a bit of non-human drama.

via Spoon and Tamago

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Bird Library: A Library Built Especially for Our Fine Feathered Friends

"The two things I love most are novels and birds," said Jonathan Franzen in a Guardian profile not long ago. "They’re both in trouble, and I want to advocate for both of them." Chances are that even that famously internet-averse novelist-turned-birdwatcher would enjoy the online attraction called The Bird Library, "where the need to feed meets the need to read." Its live Youtube stream shows the goings-on of a tiny library built especially for our feathered friends. "Perched in a backyard in the city of Charlottesville," writes Atlas Obscura's Claire Voon, "it is the passion project of librarian Rebecca Flowers and woodworker Kevin Cwalina, who brought together their skills and interests to showcase the lives of their backyard birds."

Recent visitors, Voon adds, "have included a striking rose-breasted grosbeak, a cardinal that looks like it’s vaping, and a trio of mourning doves seemingly caught in a serious meeting." The Bird Library's web site offers an archive of images capturing the institution's wee regulars, all accompanied by enlivening captions. ("Why did the bird go to the library?" "He was looking for bookworms.")

Just as year-round birdwatching brings pleasures distinct from more casual versions of the pursuit, year-round viewing of The Bird Library makes for a deeper appreciation not just of the variety of species represented among its patrons — the creators have counted 20 so far — but for the seasonal changes in the space's decor, especially around Christmastime.

As longtime viewers know, this isn't the original Bird Library. "In late 2018 we demolished the old Bird Library and started design and development of a new and improved Bird Library 2.0! Complete with a large concrete base for increased capacity and a bigger circulation desk capable of feeding all our guests all day long." Just as libraries for humans need occasional renovation, so, it seems, do libraries for birds — a concept that could soon expand outside Virginia. "Cwalina hopes to eventually publish an open-access plan for a similar bird library, so that other birders can build their own versions," reports Voon. And a bird-loving 21st-century Andrew Carnegie steps forward to ensure their architectural respectability, might we suggest going with modernism?

via Atlas Obscura

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

David Lynch Recounts His Surreal Dream of Being a German Solider Dying on D-Day

Some of last week's major headlines:

Police forcibly remove a large number of peaceable protestors from the area in front of a Washington DC church, so a 73-year-old white man can be photographed standing there alone, holding a prop bible.

An unarmed 75-year-old white man approaches a Buffalo police officer at a protest and is shoved so forcefully that he cracks his skull open, lying unconscious and bleeding as members of the force step past him without offering assistance. But first the weather, as perceived by a 74-year-old white man peering out the window of his studio of his Hollywood Hills home (one of three), prior to sharing a dream in which he is a German soldier dying on D-Day….

What makes this newsworthy?

The date and the identity of the self-appointed weatherman, filmmaker David Lynch.

For the record, June 6, 2020 started out cloudy and a bit chilly. The hope just off Mulholland Drive was for increased "golden sunshine" in the afternoon.

(One does wonder how much time this amateur spends outdoors.)

76 years earlier, an absolutely accurate weather forecast was essential for the Allied Invasion of France. Multiple meteorological teams contributed observations and expertise to ensure that conditions would be right, or right enough, for the invasion General Dwight D. Eisenhower envisioned.

As author William Bryant Logan details in Air: The Restless Shaper of the World:

In the end the Allies won the day because in order to predict the weather, they acted like the weather. Competing groups jostled and maneuvered, each trying to pressure the others into accepting their point of view. In just the same way, the high- and low-pressure cells fought and spun into one another over the Atlantic. The forecasters reinforced their own ideas, and none of their ideas was the winner,  just as each gyre and each center of low and high pressure pressed against the others, squeezing out the future among them. The Germans, on the other hand, believing that they could conquer uncertainty by fiat, declared that weather and people would conform to their assumptions. They were proved wrong. The Allies appeared on the beaches of Normandy, just like a surprise storm.

Lynch's D-Day anniversary report for Los Angeles was his 27th, part of a daily project launched without explanation on May 11.

His emotional weather seems to run cool. He relays his historic life or death unconscious encounter (it involves a machine gun) in much the same tone that he uses for reporting on Southern California’s pleasant late spring temperatures. For the record, Lynch was born 593 days after D-Day, and has no plans for a WWII feature—or any other big screen project—in the foreseeable future.

In a visit with The Guardian’s Rory Carroll, he expressed how television has become the medium best suited to the sort of long and twist-y narratives he finds compelling—like art, life, and reincarnation:

Life is a short trip but always continuing. We’ll all meet again. In enlightenment you realize what you truly are and go into immortality. You don’t ever have to die after that.

So maybe he really was a luckless 16-year-old German soldier...

One whose current incarnation’s foundation created a fund to provide no-cost Transcendental Meditation instruction to veterans as a way of coping with Post-Traumatic Stress. Lynch named the fund in honor of Jerry Yellin, a fellow TM practitioner and peace activist who, as an American fighter pilot, flew the final combat mission of World War II on August 14, 1945.

Subscribe to Lynch's YouTube channel to stay abreast of his daily weather reports, like the installment from June 3, below, which finds him voicing his support for Black Lives Matter.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her daily art-in-isolation project is closely tied to the weather in New York City.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Soothing, Uplifting Resources for Parents & Caregivers Stressed by the COVID-19 Crisis

When COVID-19 closed schools and shuttered theaters and concert venues, response was swift.

Stars ranging from the Cincinnati zoo’s hippo Fiona to Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda leapt to share free content with suddenly homebound viewers.

Coldplay’s frontman, Chris Martin, separated from his bandmates by international borders, played a mini gig at home, as did country star Keith Urban, with his wife, Nicole Kidman, lurking in the background.

Choreographer Debbie Allen got people off the couch with free dance classes on Instagram.

Audible pledged to provide free audiobooks for little kids and teens for the duration.

An embarrassment of riches for those whose experience of COVID-19 is somewhere between extended snow day and staycation...

But what about caregivers who suddenly find themselves providing 24-7 care for elders with dementia, or neuro-atypical adult children whose upended routine is wreaking havoc on their emotions?

“I know people are happy that the schools have closed but I just lost critical workday hours and if/when day hab closes I will have to take low-paid medical leave AND we will not have any breaks from caregiving someone with 24-7 needs and aggressive, loud behaviors. I feel completely defeated,” one friend writes.

24 hours later:

We just lost day hab, effective tomorrow. My messages for in-home services haven't been returned yet. Full on panic mode.

What can we do to help lighten those loads when we’re barred from physical interaction, or entering each other’s homes?

We combed through our archive, with an eye toward the most soothing, uplifting content, appropriate for all ages, starting with pianist Paul Barton's classical concerts for elephants in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, above.

Calming videos:

Hours of soothing  nature footage from the BBC.

Commuters in Newcastle's Haymarket Bus Station Playing Beethoven 

Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour's Musical Take on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18

Guided Imagery Meditation from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital

Four classic performances from the “Father of Bossa Nova” João Gilberto

The Insects’ Christmas, a 1913: Stop Motion  Animation

Multiple seasons of Bob Ross!

60+ Free Charlie Chaplin Films Online

Homemade American Music, a 1980 documentary on rural southeastern traditional music and musicians

Winsor McKay’s Gertie the Dinosaur

Calming Music and Audio:

Metallica, REM, Led Zeppelin & Queen Sung in the Style of Gregorian Chant

18 Hours of Free Guided Meditations

Weightless, the most relaxing song ever made

Calming Piano, Jazz & Harp Covers of Music from Hayao Miyazaki Films

240 Hours of Relaxing, Sleep-Inducing Sounds from Sci-Fi Video Games: From Blade Runner to Star Wars

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We’ve also got a trove of free coloring books and pages, though caregivers should vet the content before sharing it with someone who’s likely to be disturbed by medical illustration and images of medieval demons…

Readers, if you know a resource that might buy caregivers and their agitated, housebound charges a bit of peace, please add it in the comments below.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

6 Minute Reprieve From the World’s Troubles, Courtesy of Tilda Swinton, Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, and Five Springer Spaniels

This video of Tilda Swinton’s Springer Spaniels cavorting in pastoral Scotland to a Handel aria performed by countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo won’t cure what ails you, but it is definitely good medicine.

Swinton and her partner, artist Sandro Kopp, filmed the beautiful beasts in such a way as to highlight their doggy exuberance, whether moving as a pack or taking a solo turn.

The title of the aria, "Rompo i Lacci," from the second act of Flavio, translates to “I break the laces,” and there’s no mistaking the joy Rosy, Dora, Louis, Dot, and Snowbear take in being off the leash.

Flashbacks to their rolypoly puppy selves are cute, but it’s the feathery ears and tails of the adult dogs that steal the show as they bound around beach and field.

The filmmakers get a lot of mileage from their stars’ lolling pink tongues and willingness to vigorously launch themselves toward any out of frame treat.

We’ve never seen a tennis ball achieve such beauty.

There’s also some fun to be had in special effects wherein the dogs are doubled by a mirror effect and later, when one of them turns into a canine Rorschach blot.

The video was originally screened as part of Costanzo's multi-media Glass Handel installation for Opera Philadelphia, an exploration into how opera can make the hairs on the back of our neck stand up.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library Makes 150,000 High-Res Illustrations of the Natural World Free to Download

You may have heard of "plant blindness," a condition defined about 20 years ago that has started to get more press in recent years. As its name suggests, it refers to an inability to identify or even notice the many plant species around us in our everyday lives. Some have connected it to a potentially more widespread affliction they call "nature deficit disorder," which is also just what it sounds like: a set of impairments brought on by insufficient exposure to the natural world. One might also draw a line from these concepts to our attitudes about climate change, or to our ever-less-interrupted immersion in the digital world. But if any part of that digital world can open our eyes to nature once again, it's the Biodiversity Heritage Library (present also on Flickr and Instagram.)

Previously featured here on Open Culture for its vast archive of two million illustrations of the natural world, the BHL has received more coverage this year for the more than 150,000 it's made available for copyright-free download. Hyperallergic's Hakim Bishara quotes Henry David Thoreau — "We need the tonic of wildness. We can never get enough of nature" — before writing of how thrilled Thoreau would have been by the existence of such a resource for images of nature.

These images include "animal sketches, historical diagrams, botanical studies, and scientific research collected from hundreds of thousands of journals and libraries across the world," some dating to the 15th century. He highlights "Joseph Wolf’s 19th-century book Zoological Sketches, containing about 100 lithographs depicting wild animals in London’s Regent’s Park" and "watercolors depicting flowers indigenous to the Hawaiian islands" as well as "an 1833 DIY Taxidermist’s Manual."

As Smithsonian.com's Theresa Machemer notes, "The practice of creating detailed illustrations of flora and fauna, whether to document an expedition or a medical practice, gained popularity well before photography was up to the task." Hence such ambitious projects as the United States government's commissioning, in 1866, of watercolor paintings depicting every fruit known to man. But even today, "an illustration can offer more clarity than a photograph," as you'll find when you zoom in on any of the BHL's high-resolution illustrations. According to the BHL, "a worldwide consortium of natural history, botanical, research, and national libraries," its mission is to provide "access to the world’s collective knowledge about biodiversity," in order to help researchers "document Earth’s species and understand the complexities of swiftly-changing ecosystems in the midst of a major extinction crisis and widespread climate change." But by revealing how our predecessors saw nature, it can also help all of us see nature again. Access the illustrations here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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