Slow down birdsong. Imitate it with human vocal chords. Record that and bring it back up to speed. And what you have is an uncannily accurate impersonation of any given feathered friend.
If you didn’t know this, and few will at first, the 2007 film installation Dawn Chorus looks like a well-executed one-liner. It looks like a comic parallel between the way we and birds emote.
The fourteen screens, high and low, in the darkened gallery each feature an amateur singer, filmed alone at dawn. These unrelated individuals can apparently hear (but not see) one another.
Coates would also have us consider the joy we project onto birdsong: both the joy it gives us and the joy it appears to express. So there is more to this piece than an echo chamber of mating calls.
And it’s interesting that the year before it’s premiere was also the year in which tech wizards in New York developed the micro-blogging platform we know and love as Twitter.
It’s said when they went to the dictionary they found a definition which offered two alternatives: along with ‘chirps from birds’, a twitter was found to be ‘a short burst of inconsequential information’.
Anyone who doubts the lack of consequence which rides upon a tweet or indeed an entire twitter-feed need only look at the results of the recent UK election. The people I follow surely lost that.
But as Beckett would have it, at the end of The Unameable: “You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on”. Tweets, status updates, Instagrams and rambling blog posts show little sign of letting up.
Coates has sped up the movements of his singers along with their voices. And so, we remain like his subjects: solitary, atomised, and even twitching compulsively in the gloom; that’s Twitter.
But social media does at least let us get away from our homes and offices. In a loose sense, it lets us take flight. Okay, that’s stretching a point, but it gave me some joy to type.