Cars, trucks, motorbikes, vans, buses, utes, the muted low thudding of car stereos along Elizabeth Street, Coburg in the northern suburb of Melbourne. The exchange of the two men as one is dropped off most mornings at about 5.30am outside the house, non-English speakers. The Harley rider leaves home at 6am. The sighing double squeak of the doors opening on the bus, the bus idling, voices, doors close, the bus pulls away. The incomprehensible shouting man who walks along Elizabeth Street. Cop sirens, the heaving weight of the trams on their tracks, tram bells ting, single church bell west over the valley of the creek, train horn chords from the west; ravens call along Elizabeth Street, from tall trees, street lights, electricity pylons, a parliament of ravens:
Wah wah wah!
Wah wah wah!
Wah wah wah!
Emphatic. Forte, brio, grandioso.
Cop choppers overhead periodically screen out the chink chink chinking crickets and loud pervasive greengrocer cicadas during these hot evenings.
50 pigeons live in the structural elements of the bridge that carries the six lane highway of Bell Street over the Merri Creek, a northern tributary of the Yarra River, Melbourne’s main river. The noise of the constant but pulsing traffic above is sonically filtered through the bridge itself and becomes a muted and irregular low booming which contrasts with the soft chorusing voices of the pigeons’ constant exchanges.
The turtledoves in the back garden have a different rhythm to their voices and their sounds are rougher than the pigeons’. Rainbow lorikeets fly over in groups of one, two, six, eight, squawking loudly on the wing, west east west again, over the cemetery. Wattlebirds screech their ‘ah okk okk okk’ calls. Sometimes sulphur crested cockatoos, red tailed black cockatoos and kookaburras venture this far into the city.
British musician/composer David Toop writes
“What is typical in modern cities…is a homogenisation of sound. The volume of motor traffic blocks out a certain frequency range and prevents anything close to silence…Add the sound of aircraft passing overhead, loud music, police, fire and ambulance sirens, and a proliferation of machines for construction and destruction, and the more personal or unusual sounds are drowned.”
Little Ravens, the local corvid in Melbourne, have a vocal pitch that competes with the frequency range that Toop describes. Numerous times I have witnessed single individuals calling from streetlights at busy intersections in central Melbourne during the rush hour. Pedestrians, cars, trucks, buses and trams fill the area and the ambient soundscape is loud and pervasive. Yet a single raven’s calls clearly penetrate this sonic blanket, the bird seemingly undisturbed by the commotion below, and possibly even stimulated by it. The birds continue their various calls for periods of up to 20 to 30 minutes at these intersections.