METTA MIND JOURNAL WITH CYNIC’S PAUL MASVIDAL: “THE BIRD OUTSIDE MY WINDOW”
Every night, for the past week, I’ve heard the same bird chirping outside my bedroom window. Like clockwork, the chirps start at 10 p.m., and go on for hours without a break. Last night, I sat outside with a tape recorder to see if I could find a pattern in the short melodies and riffs that this curious creature was voicing. What I found rhythmically is intriguing and surprisingly complex:
Bird Chirp Riffs [mp3]
The bird’s set begins with an up-tempo phrase made up of six short bars, with each bar consisting of a varied number of beats, like so:
////// ////// ///// ////// ///// ////
6 6 5 6 5 4
Next comes a repeating phrase, where a higher note sounds on the fourth beat:
///x ///x ///x
Followed by a rapid two-note phrase that starts with a high, staccato chirp punctuated by a sustained lower note:
• ___ • ___ • ___ • ___ • ___
Next, an ascending longer chirp:
____ ____ ____ ____ ____
A two-note chirp that happens to be a Perfect 4th Interval:
• ! • ! • ! • ! • ! • ! • ! • !
A variation on the previous phrase, but moved up an octave, and singing the next fourth (note in the scale) up. Combine these leaping fourths and you have the beginnings of a signature Allan Holdsworth scale (for you guitar nerds).
• ! ^ | ^ | ^ | ^ | ^ | ^ | ^ | ^ | ^ |
A repetition of sixteenth-note triplets, like the second riff in Slayer’s “Raining Blood,” and a thousand other metal tunes since:
iii iii-iii-iii iii-iii-iii iii iii iii
A seven-note descending phrase:
7654321 7654321 7654321 7654321 7654321
A faster nine-note phrase. Meshuggah experiments with this kind of over the bar line riffing (playing phrases that are shorter or longer than the normal 4 beats / 4 bars-per-measure approach normally dictated by 4/4 music).
iiiiiiiii iiiiiiiii iiiiiiiii iiiiiiiii
9 9 9 9
And the musical chirp riffing goes on and on…
Three minutes went by before I heard a repetition in phrasing, and even then, the chirps were varied in volume, rhythmic complexity, and tempo. Some chirps were played like grace notes, where the end of the phrase is punctuated by a quick inflection that sounds higher or lower than the original note. Other times, the bird began with a downbeat chirp at the start of a phrase, or with a rhythmic twist that shifted the accent—all variations on its original theme.
Here, I’m reminded of numerous musical references, including the late, inspired jazz musician Eric Dolphy, who once mentioned in an interview how the sounds of birds had been a source of inspiration for his phrasing approach. I really understand what he was saying now, and maybe the influence of these rhythmic bird phrases will find its way into my next song!
When I approached the bird more closely to record its song, I disturbed its space and it stopped chirping. And when I shifted my energy and grew really still, it started up again, as though it was waiting for me—another live (human) creature in its space—to re-join it with all of my attention in the safe space of listening before it continued with its unpredictable and extremely diverse chops. It’s as if the bird and I, and all of us on Planet Earth, are breathing together with our inhales and exhales—in tune and in concert—which is akin to what the Gaia Hypothesis is all about. I have a good friend who worked with Pink Floyd during one of their reunion tours awhile back. He said that beyond his work experience and credentials, he had to answer a special question in order to get the job. My friend was asked to define “Gaia.” Luckily, he knew the answer and got the gig!
Most of the time, life is comprised of very simple experiences that, depending on our focus, hold a hidden density and a magical richness contained within. My experience with the song bird is just another one of these tiny miracles. This, for me, is how the present moment expressed its generous self, and I’m grateful for being a witness to it. It didn’t take much effort on my behalf—just showing up for what was happening.
And all I had to do was listen.
I read somewhere that the “hearing” ability of birds is ten times more sophisticated when it comes to time resolution compared to human ears. This means that birds are able to hear several separate notes in a sequence, whereas humans only hear one long note. Because birds can hear sounds separated into smaller segments, this helps them to communicate more varied and specific kinds of information. This reminds me of reading about the Tibetans during their Golden Age, when their highly developed sense of communication made it possible for certain villages or towns—entire populations of people—to communicate telepathically. I experienced this once on an acid trip with a friend. We were able to look at each other and have a conversation using direct thought transference. We confirmed this by testing it in real time to make sure it was really happening! Check out some books by Alexandra David-Néel. She was one of the first Westerners to gain entrance into Tibet and write about their mysterious spiritual culture.
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