Music review: September

September album coverSeptember, the latest release from Gaia’s mid-Appalachian bioregion, is one of her strongest offerings to date, interweaving strongly contrasting themes which, though at times cacophonous, avoid the monotony sometimes associated with more traditional approaches to minimalism. The anthropogenic contribution to the soundscape is noisier than usual in early to mid-morning due to a generally strong inversion layer and the resumption of normal traffic patterns following the end of summer vacation season. In agricultural areas, tractors and harvesters contribute a blend of low- and mid-range rumbles and rhythmic clankings, while in the towns and suburbs, summer’s steady roar of lawnmowers gives way to the more intermittent but louder and shriller sound of leaf-blowers: a keening roar suggestive of classic existential alienation and despair.

The woods and meadows, though quieter than in recent months due to the end of the avian breeding season, feature a stronger rhythm section, combining both regular and random beats of unique microtonal purity, accompanied by high drone notes that should appeal to any fan of trance or neo-tribal music. The highly territorial eastern chipmunks, for example, engage in one-note clucking contests that can occupy entire mountainsides and last for hours, with the center of intensity slowly shifting as individual performers tire and resume their other activity of the season: gathering seeds and nuts.

And it’s nuts that contribute the most obvious non-regular percussive element to the forest soundscape, especially in oak forests, where the acorn crop is unusually heavy this year. Later in September, acorns will fall more frequently on their own, but at the beginning of the month, percussive rains of acorns tend to be more concentrated and sporadic, indicating the presence of a gray squirrel or flock of blue jays. Older, unmanaged forests feature by far the richest auditory experience due to the abundance and diversity of woody debris awaiting the mallet-like strike of the falling nuts. In addition to oaks, major performers here include hickory, black walnut, and beech trees.

The foraging jays, of course, contribute a variety of calls which, though not melodic, do offer the possibility of narrative interpretations to the imaginative listener. A few jays are skilled at mimicking the high descending scream of a red-tailed hawk — virtually an aural cliché, yes, but still a delightful embellishment, especially at the sonically rich woods-meadow ecotone.

In the meadows, a rich variety of insect songs provides most of the aural interest, with slow, complex, time- and temperature-based fluctuations in legato and staccato notes, generally in the higher registers. Featured performers include tree crickets, field crickets, mole crickets and katydids. At night, anywhere there are trees, one can expect to be mesmerized by a stridulating chorus of northern true katydids as they shift gradually in and out of sync. The contrasting effect of the occasional screech owl quaver, freight train whistle, great horned owl hoot or coyote howl can be truly electrifying.

Day or night, September is not to be missed. And best of all, it’s available everywhere free of charge for live-streaming, recording or remix with no copyright restrictions or DRM. All you need to do is go outside.

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  1. Wonderful.

    If I went outside, I don’t think I’d hear all that. If I went outside where you live, I don’t think I’d hear all that. But that’s what I like in a reviewer — a little expertise, and a new way into the material.

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  2. Hahah. Totally awesome.

    You should leak your review of “October” early (although to be kind, it’s probably a good idea to label it with a “Spoiler Alert”).

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  3. Yes, that was wonderful.
    And now it is plain to me what the Coastal Western Hemlock Biogeoclimatic Zone lacks and certainly needs: more chipmunk!

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  4. Serendipity, my ears have been re-tuning themselves as of late. Aural offerings from a place unknown, yet familiar, is just right.

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  5. Glad y’all liked this, and thanks as always for the comments (and to twitches, for sharing on Facebook as well). When I first read about John Cage in my late teens, like everyone, I thought he was nuts. But any more, I might as well be his disciple — that’s how much my relationship with music and with natural sound has changed over the years.

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