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Resumé: The Night Of The Nightingales

There was still some light in the evening sky when we began broadcasting. Earlier, while setting up, the sun shone onto the veranda’s railing, where a little stove had been placed, and bottles of wine, and cheese, and ladybugs and beetles made out of chocolate. Leonie Roessler had arrived, all the way from Den Haag, carrying her sampler and other gear with her. We chatted… and then, at precisely 20:32, with the sun setting and dusk sneaking out of the darker corners of the garden onto the lawns, the moment came to go on air.

Leonie Roessler setting up

Our opening piece was a 16th century madrigal by the composer Thomas Weelkes, sung by the Berlin choir “Singlust” and adequately titled “The Nightingale”. Written for soprano, alto and baritone, the three strands of melody hovered and danced in the evening air, carrying the tune, along with the scent of the blooming lilacs, over the garden fences and beyond, into the neighbouring allotment gardens of the garden colony “Britzer Wiesen”. Because each of Datscha Radio’s “Night gardening” iterations are set to take place in different Berlin gardens, and Kate Donovan’s ‘Datscha’ location in the South of Berlin was already known for its abundant nightingale population (and as a site for outdoor broadcasting).

…with the sun still shining.

From that moment on, nine hours of joyous radio making evolved. During and in between the performances we sipped champagne (in celebration of the recently won prize for the project) and hot tea, and shared what we knew about this famous bird, starting with an introduction by Kate about one of the first outdoor radio broadcasts, from a garden in Surrey, England, in 1924, in which cellist Beatrice Harrison played a duet with a nightingale.

Leonie’s contribution was a soundscape exclusively composed for this evening. “Copper and Song” was based on her visit to Isfahan in Iran, where she visited the bazar of the copper smiths and found that almost all of them had a cage with a nightingale to accompany their hammering. In our talk afterwards, we wondered why, as it might not be nice at all for the birds to live with so much noise, and we mused about the accidental content found in field recordings destined to serve an originally very different purpose.

Artists and Guests

Meanwhile, curious garden neighbours visited us, Kasia Justka and Peggy Sylopp surfaced as surprise guests, Rosanna Lovell arrived at the garden with her clarinet, and Walter Schulze appeared with two very impressive looking boxes that revealed their mesmerising, blinking contents shortly after.

JD Zazie and Matt Pogo

JD Zazie and Matt Pogo materialised out of the dark and began to set up their gear. Their piece, “Domestic Nightingale”, was based on samples of nightingale songs played and recorded in their home, that became modified, remixed, accelerated and decelerated. Patterns appeared and disappeared like vortexes in a fast flowing brook: A superb performance!

In it a nightingale is hiding.

Secret-en-plein-aire by Walter Schulze and Niki Matita proved to be a two-part performance. Schulze’s synthesizers kept wildly blinking while processing a set of Berlin nightingale field recordings. As explained by Niki Matita, he used the signal of the envelope curves to modulate the tones… and the machine warbled and twittered and sang, assisted by Niki’s comments and experimental button pressing. For her text “Die Nachtigall vs. der Nachtigall”, she had prepared her own vocal nest, including a soprano nightingale interpretation from the 1930s.

tLukatoyboy’s 7″ bird vinyl collection

Lukatoyboy came on the spontaneous invitation of Ms Matita, and brought a portable turntable and two walkie-talkies with him. As a true surprise guest he was not in the least surprised about the night’s theme and pulled at least a dozen 7″ bird sound and song singles out of his bag. His performance was very versatile: The records were scratched and played while a little dictaphone served as a loop machine. Such adventurous sequences were created – with bird songs and the interspersed voices of naturalists and birdwatchers. After that, Niki Matita took on the role of expedition leader on walkie talkie, directing Lukatoyboy (other walkie talkie) and JD Zazie (mic on a long cable) out into the garden and beyond to following the sounds of the nightingales, and chasing the sounds of the nightly garden colony.

Rosanna Lovell

As temperatures dropped close to 12 degrees (but felt even less) we all kept pulling on layer after layer of warm clothes: Tights, jumpers, vests, hats and hoodies. Radio adrenaline kept us going. Rosanna Lovell was the last artist to perform, and she brought along with her an exquisitely researched selection of Oliver Messiaen’s compositions which were derived from bird song. The theme of Rosanna’s presentation was “Bird Song and Notation”, which was followed by a clarinet interpretation of a nightingale score that I had conceived for a Datscha Radio 14 event (the instrument had to get warmed up by being tucked under her jacket before playing…).
After having listened to so many diverse, field recording based and electronically processed/transformed, nightingale song iterations, we found it remarkable how the ‘essence’ of the bird’s melodic trills, pauses and whistles remained all through those different interpretations.

Leonie and JD Zazie

Midnight now long past, we turned to talks and compositions that Kate and I had managed to assemble: The interview with the artist David Rothenberg was framed by two of his works in which he played along to Berlin Nightingales in different parks, and followed by a composition by Felicity Morgan who is scheduled to join him in one of his upcoming presentations from May 8 to May 16 (May 16 with Felicity at the Zabriskie Bookstore in Berlin). Udo Noll had contributed an ‘eclectic mix’ of nightingale field recordings drawn from his aporee.org archives, that formed part of an extensive listening session to still other field recordings – one of them recorded in despair for want of sleep by a Charlottenburg resident artist.

Herr Schulze and Lukatoyboy

The wee hours of the morning had come, a light rain had settled in and outside in a flowerpot rested a microphone under an umbrella to pick up the surrounding sounds of the Britzer Wiesen garden night. When we turned up the volume, near and distant bird calls mingled with the sound of even more distant traffic and mysterious mumbling noises accompanied by the resonant bouncing of rain drops on the umbrella. The garden had gone quiet, the artists had left, our press lady Helen had withdrawn to a bed inside. It was time for telling stories… and reading poems… and another take from the nightingale choir and more musings on the bird’s music. Whoever was still awake then had a chance to listen to Keats’ “Ode to a nightingale” (bilingual), the terrible story of Philomela by Ovid, the “Rose and the Nightingale” by Oscar Wilde, to name just a few.

Umbrella at 4:30 with microphone

Around 4:30 the garden started to wake up again: the song of the nightingales mixed with the good morning croaks of a flock of crows and the cooing of wood pigeons and the clouds’ grey became lighter. At 5 am we noticed our voices and minds had become really slow… a good idea to take refuge in one of Niki Matita’s nightingale song collections, of which she had prepared several. Jazzy tunes, bird tangos and classical interpretations portioned to present another range of lusciana songs in popular (and not so popular) music.

At 5:27 we noticed we’d almost made it! There was just enough time for a quick preview on Datscha Radio’s second iteration of “Night Gardening” – about the “Perfumes of the Night” and another take of Thomas Weelkes amazing piece sung by the Singlust choir… Snap, crackle and gone was the “Night of the Nightingales”!

Just then, a nightingale landed on a bush next to the veranda and started to warble with all of its voice strength… and we continued to listen…

Kate Donovan happily enjoying her coffee

Just then, a nightingale landed on a bush next to the veranda and started to warble with all of its voice strength… and we listened on…

(a gallery with more pics will follow, bear with me)

This post is also available in: German