Birdsong has inspired musicians for centuries. Ute Wassermann brought bird whistles as well as her remarkably versatile voice to this 2012 session in Hamburg. Yet even while she is using those whistles her ‘birdtalking’ improvisations are not derived or imitative in the manner of Olivier Messiaen’s Catalogue D’Oiseaux, or the trills of larks and nightingales that Renaissance composer Clément Janequin channelled into his chansons. Her source of inspiration seems to lie closer to those “imaginary birds said to live in paradise” that John Stevens made allusion to on the cover of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble’s 1968 album Karyobin.
Wassermann sings as a bird, rather than like one. And as philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari point out in A Thousand Plateaus, “Becoming is never imitating.” Wassermann doesn’t copy song that’s already documented on early sound recordist Ludwig Koch’s shellac discs or Chris Watson’s ornithological audio files she effectively projects herself into avian mode. Further, she doesn’t use birdsong to mark out territory, but in order to depart from the beaten track of human vocal music, even from those less well worn pathways of extended technique. According to Deleuze and Guattari, “The same thing that leads a musician to discover the birds also leads her to discover the elementary and the cosmic.”
The Wassermann soundworld takes form within waveflows and fluctuating particles. Trumpeter Birgit Ulher joins her in that zone of articulation, set apart from the rules and expectations of instrumental as well as vocal music. Ulher uses radio sounds in addition to her trumpet. Radios, more than ever in the digital age, home in on stations. But the eight improvisations on Radio Tweet swerve away from occupied frequencies into unmarked airwaves.
On the cover a brilliantly apt photograph, taken by Ulher, shows a blotchy horizon where sky and rippling water meet; a landscape dissolving into a vibration pattern. It resembles those sonograms you find on the birdsong website (at xeno-canto. org). In notes for a 1993 reissue, Robert Wyatt described SME’s Karyobin as “a dawn chorus”. Radio Tweet finds imaginary birds in full flight.