Songs of the Amazon: A lesson in coexistence

Large-billed tern sounds

Large-billed tern patrol the skies of the Amazon. The sounds of birds and insects can be heard reverberating throughout the Amazon. (Photo by Carrick Palmer)

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Climate, Past Storyfest Entries

Beyond fearful gasps upon an eight-legged discovery, beyond short, exhaustive breaths at the height of a 30m canopy, floats the featherlike voices of creatures hidden beneath a sea of green and orange signaling the rise of morning. Melodious voices swim through ears, softer than the sounds of the wind. Rhythmic pulsations thump the chorus into the sun creeping over the horizon and above the city and the trees to bid these drowsy travelers good morning – though the clouds shroud its eager rays. The Amazon’s vibrant musical begins again on this day as a blissful hymn. Its cast is in attendance; its audience anxiously awaits the vast sonic palette of the rainforest.

Movement 1: The morning Sonata

The sounds of the city drifted to a hum as the shifting trucks rattled through cracks in the road forcing the riders to jig in their seats. The sun’s heavy rays rolled along weary backs popping like a snare. At mid-day, the heat tames the forest, the tempo is slow and muddled. Sounds meandered from trunk to trunk, where shaded hollows shield sleeping wildlife. After noon, there was an intermission. The sun-beaten visitors circled in chatter, reflecting on the superb acts of the morning.  

Movement 2: A slow Adagio 

As night rolled in and the clamor and clang of dinner dishes ceased, all visitors retired to their hammocks. There they wrapped themselves in fabrics coated in scents of home. They closed their eyes to reveal lids painted with the stars of a serene night sky. The unseen, skillful singer hummed to them good night lullabies. And though the sleep could only be described as complete peace, they often stirred to the low, gurgling growls of monkeys deep in the darkness offset by sweet chirps swimming from birds’ breasts flickering in the forest foliage.

Movement 3: Daybreak Minuet

At dawn, buzzing cicadas bounced vibrations from tree to tree ushering in the audience and introducing the first round: wisps, whips, and whistles whirling across treetops, whispering to the crowd below. The meter quickly was uncovered by restless flies for their masterful demonstration. Waving trees, free-falling leaves, and the decomposing matter on the forest floor, too, displayed a capability to dance about the scenery with expert sonic capacity; truly, they proved to be the liveliest of the bunch. Spotted skipping above the shading, petite primates conducted the vegetation in 4/4. The morning composition was soon to reach its climax – but, for that the musicians needed silence, not excitement. Experienced artists know how to make a scene whole: sometimes one must step aside. The wind, she was delicate, shy, and moved with secrecy; so, with swift elegance she navigated her way. Upon her arrival, the act reached its pinnacle. As she departed, it dissipated into the rain.

Movement 4: Final Allegro 

The evening was the act of the duets – all solo specialists retired for the day following the imposing performance at noon. All voices, all vibrations, paired. Each body dedicated itself to magnifying the other. This wasn’t simply harmonizing, but magnetizing, drawing together both players and drawing the ears of all listeners. The result was nothing less than the creation of a single essence; a buzz to a chirp, a ring to a thump, a rustle to a breeze.

Sounds of a natural melody

In the Amazon no sound fights for dominance, and no sounds fight for a place. All cast members of the musical give room for the next one in. By relinquishing control over the external world, one gains complete control of their self and their sound.

The Amazon conducts the sounds of biodiversity with great mastery. Hierarchy is its great baton; there cannot be balance without it. Some shall sing fortissimo one moment while others sing pianissimo, and their positions can switch fluidly with the measure. The spotlight is wide and bright. The symphony would not progress so seemingly effortlessly if not for this understanding. Birds in the canopy sing with excellency, yet they cannot thump in the tree trunks below.   

However, the ear of the performer is not the same ear possessed by the listener. The audience has not studied the nuances of tone and volume made second nature for the musicians and conductor after years of sitting in the fire learning from life.

pink dragonfly
Photo by Carrick Palmer

For many listeners, as the howler monkeys play fortissimo at 5 am and the crickets play mezzo piano underneath, the crickets sit in the background far beneath howler monkeys, and instead of keeping rhythm, maintaining pace, and accentuating the roars of the beast – it’s their time to shine as well. In fact, without the crickets, the howler monkeys’ roar would serve only as a somber moan and not as an enthusiastic declaration of their entrance. Much in the same way a saxophone cannot dazzle the crowd with a melodic masterpiece if the drums do not stay in the pocket to be felt.

Our interpretation of the sonic landscape being built on the ends of our ears appear drastically different when the barriers we build around each individual performer are absolved and their sounds are given the freedom to interlope, overlap, and support one another. Of course, this is not a concept ingrained into the listener. Therefore, most listeners must actively work to tear down those artificial walls built around the musicians and their instruments.

For many listeners who sit down and listen to a concert, the measure of music quality is the similarity in skill level between all performers on their respective instruments, not discern a complete. For a piece to pass into the threshold of immaculate, all players must execute with precision; if they play their part then it will come together as it says on the paper. And while, only the proven play on the highest stage, a robotic performance is far from exceptional.

The squirrel monkeys that skip from branch to branch do not do so with an impervious cadence, the buzzing insects do not rumble a continuous vibration, and the wind, with her paralyzing performance, leaves gaps of hesitation at her climax.

These performers do not play the same part in different ways, but play different parts in different ways. The excitement of the concert comes to those who devote time and effort to break down those interloping barriers; to let loose a wide-ranging palette of sounds and colors that come from the imperfections of the Amazon’s musical masters. That the sonorous conservatory of the Amazon can produce a sound that suggests uniformity with a cast of eccentric characters is what makes this the lauded exhibition that it is.

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Amazon, Biodiversity, brazil, Camp 41, Planet Forward in the Amazon, storyfest

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