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Bohemia 1978, 2017, 2018: The nightingale speaks

Tw*rrrrrr rp chirup chr *chrrr rrr …. .. . … …….. . ……….. .. … …. .. . …….. .. . 

The patterns unwind like slips of the tongue and weave a cadence to time. 

But that is not saying much. 

How then to think through the nightingale? 

Why not follow Vilém Flusser and attempt to unravel the Dasein of the nightingale through speculative biology? In his Vampyroteuthis Infernalis (1987), Flusser fleshes out the phenomenal existence of the deep-sea dwelling cephalopod of the same name.  He questions the deep oily world of the oceans in order to frame inferences about the Vampyroteuthis’ being-in-the-world. Adopting a paranaturalist approach, Flusser and Louis Bec cut the animal on various tangents in order to tease out what it means to exist when one’s body is fostered from and for the ebbs and flows of the deep sea. 

But the nightingale, although it also glides on currents unseen, is a being of the sky. It makes ground nests in the thickets and bramble of the European countrysides. Everywhere the nightingale flies, it brings with it noise and signal, the zeroes and ones of code. ‘What music is this?‘ asks Sir Henry Morton Stanley at Tanganyika Lake.  What music indeed – the patterning is filigree.

 It is the single male nightingale who calls to attract the females. At night their screams keep lovers up from dreaming and tease cats out from summer shadows. ‘What music is this?’ Stanley asks. Every year, the nightingale flies from its nesting place in Europe, migrating at low level altitudes tens of thousands of kilometers to get to its winter haven in Sub-Saharan Africa. The birds fly across a glistening Mediterranean, and transgress perpendicular onto coastlines crested with foam, in order to nest in the forests of the Côte d’Ivoire. 

In comparison with the Vampyroteuthis, the bird much more employs a visual drive through which it navigates the landscape and assembles it into patterns of neural wiring. When captured and caged, the nightingale withers and dies; if it lasts till the autumn it often bludgeons itself to death against the prison‘s walls as it struggles to follow its migratory urge. The program locks in, prompting the bird to follow the proper migratory choreographies at their proper time; follow the itinerary. Lock it in a cage, and you have the first portable sound device which runs on hysteria. 

But the body of the bird is also a store of deep time: it contains the glacial whirling of the heavenly bodies, the patterned images of coasts and geographies of low information density, the topology of wind currents, the skill of steering via the streamlined aeronautics of the wing – all these are constitutive dispositions of the aviary. In one of his interviews, William Burroughs says that humans have trouble identifying with birds, and that they prefer the mimicry of predators – the cats and the dogs that keep good company.  Homo sapiens does not understand the bird; not in 1978, not now. 

Although the nightingale speaks, we do not understand it.

This text was published as liner notes for the Slavík field recording project of the Brno-based Skupina. It features the recording of nightingales in the Bohemian town of Židlochovice – 1978, 2017, 2018… 

Listen to TOMÁŠ ŠENKYŘÍK’S SLAVÍK (2019) on Bandcamp:

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