I’m told that birds are known to murmurate not far from where I live currently, over the salt marshes of the river a few minutes from here. I’ve yet to see it myself, but the notion that wildlife continues to thrive in a place so heavily influenced by industrial activity is pleasing to me, and not just thrive but also to continue to perform their timeless acrobatics so close to human domain.
The first half of this record is devoted to that mysterious, magical act of collective flight in the Murmuration suite, three tracks that chart the development of the swarm from its dysfunctional and disparate beginnings right up to its perfectly synchronised climax. “Murmuration I” is a ghost, a dream of possibility in its slow and dusty cracklings, unwinding in stringed drones and light guitar movements. It feels classical in the ancient sense: a hollow drone backfield as empty as an evening sky just waiting to be filled with beating wings; violin strings crooning with magisterial weight, exuding a complex and sophisticated air that seems to fall outside the realm of human understanding, but not outside of appreciation.
In the darkling moments of “Murmuration II” anticipation weighs heavy, human eyes watching for signs of development as bird chirps cut through the thick drone throbs that pulse through the dying hours of daylight. If nothing happens soon, night will fall and it’ll be too late; nature is an unsympathetic beast though and cares not for human wants, never quite reaching the critical mass we’re promised, never quite coalescing into the swarm; that’s left to “Murmuration III”. Distant at first, it builds from a quiet base into a sudden revelation, as though all the pieces of a jigsaw leapt into place of their own accord across a smear of mesmerising moments. Before we know it, we’re enveloped in a rich mass of texture, of motion so languid and fluidic you would think the birds were moving underwater, pinned together and moving as one through force of current and tide.
The other half focuses less on the anticipation of the performance but rather its shapes and forms and transience; its being rather than its possibility. “Spiral” silhouettes its sweeping movements in organ drones, the flock breathing as an entity, motions synchronised across many bodies. A sense of individual action as part of the whole comes through nearer its end as undulating tones ripple through, like glimpses of sky through the swarm’s shapeless forms, or the unique wing strokes of a single bird as it paths its own distinct course. It doesn’t seem to last long though as “Scatter” feels like flung grain, a chatter of textures from chirrups to disharmonious clinking; it exudes a disruption but not in a calamitous way, rather an unwinding and slow detachment as bodies bleed from the mass to return to their singular ways once more.
Although the group as a whole was exciting and harmonious and beautiful, there’s something to be said about the value of individuality and singular distinctness away from the many. “Soar” concludes in lofty and freeing moods, radiant acoustic tones set to a refreshing rain, little scurries of content sound that frolick of their own accord. It’s emptier and less complex than the other pieces, and rightly so, but it’s no less full, no less rich or meaningful in its singularity. Nature has its spectacles, and we should enjoy them where we can as they do seem to be becoming more infrequent through time, but we mustn’t forget the value of all the little components those spectacles are comprised of, all the forgotten little birds that we share a world with. They are no less precious alone.