The music of

David Lumsdaine

The music of David Lumsdaine

Printer friendly version

Hunting a Crested Bellbird for Dr Gilbert at Palm Creek

Tony Gilbert came to know and appreciate the songs of the Crested Bellbird when he was Composer-in-residence in Bendigo, Victoria, and this miniature soundscape was composed for him in celebration of his 70th birthday.

Oreoica gutturalis is essentially a bird of the Australian inland (beware – since most Australians come from the coast, when they speak of a Bellbird, they usually mean the Bell Miner, Manorina melanophrys, a bird of the coastal ranges). Crested Bellbirds have markedly individual vocabularies, combined with a distinctive species style of singing. During the course of a three-month journey around the centre in 2000, I collected a marvellous array of Crested Bellbird songs in a variety of settings. One of the strangest settings was Palm Creek in the West MacDonnell Ranges, right in the centre of the continent. The palms in that one valley are isolated remnants of the prehistoric rainforest which once covered the ancient continent, and the rest of the valley is now gibber desert, or usually so, but in this exceptional year, the great rains had nourished all the ephemera of the stony valley to be the palms’ green and flowery companions. The birds there are as opportunistic as the flora, and during the day the valley was filled with song.

The Bellbird soloist of this short soundscape had many neighbours; the closest were a Variegated Fairy Wren and a Singing Honeyeater who can both be heard amongst the general dawn chorus at the opening. Our singer also had several more distant Bellbird neighbours, and the centre of the piece consists of a closely recorded solo, with their responses just audible in the rests between our Bellbird’s sequences. At this season, a Bellbird will sing up to 30 minutes at one song post before moving to the next, and to the next, for a large part of the day. You aren’t allowed more than four minutes before this song recedes into the general chorus, and another of the Bellbird’s neighbours – the Red-browed Pardalote, Pardalotus rubricatus – sings a beautiful transformation of the principal theme which brings this piece to a close.

The piece lasts just under seven minutes.

DL, 2004