Venn at the John Wesley Rooms

Over at the John Wesley chapel and rooms there was an anomaly of peace amongst the shops swarming with debt ridden consumers. I walked over with a friend who was scheduled to give a talk there but we soon drifted apart to chat with other people. I spotted Pash, a good friend of mine. He was standing behind some electronic equipment on one side of the courtyard, close to the statue of Mr. Wesley himself. We had a chat but he and his two friends were providing the sounds that were drifting around the shaded courtyard so I stepped back and listened. Birdsong. I suppose one might expect birdsong to be present in such a place; a place of God and a quiet nook in the city. But I guess that expectation would be wrong otherwise why make a point of playing birdsong here? I read the information posted near Mr. Wesley’s feet. Apparently the noises of an urban landscape are having a profound effect on birds. It’s drowning it out and the birds are losing their songs and thus an essential component of their mating rituals. The idea behind the installation was to highlight this problem and blast some birdsong into an area of the city that, in terms of nature, is sonically barren

This conjured up something I came across in Brussels whilst doing an internship there nearly ten years ago. I’d get off the evening tram a few stops early in order to make the most of the streets and stretch my legs. There was a street I particularly liked and always used to reach my hotel. It was wide and pedestrianised and was home to a café called ‘The Cow Jumped Over the Moon’ where you could sit outside and enjoy a milkshake. However, my main reason for choosing this route was because of the birdsong. It was so loud. Pausing to listen to those tweeters I’d feel like I’d arrived, that this was what life was about- simple beauties in foreign cities. One of my colleagues, however, provided the explanation behind the song and I guess taught me there are rarely simple beauties. Apparently that street was well known for the birdsong- an eccentric inhabitant played chirrupy recordings from a stereo he’d placed in his apartment window which happened to look out on the street. All spring and summer the song would pour out but when window closing weather arrived the songs stayed behind the glazing. I didn’t know what to make of this. I believed the woman who told me but having written it down here I’m not sure if I still do. How often have I seen birds actually singing anyway?

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One Response to Venn at the John Wesley Rooms

  1. Barry says:

    Reminds me of this poem by Charles Reznikoff:

    Sparrows scream at the dawn one note:
    how should they learn melody
    in the street’s noises?

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