"Three weeks is a lifetime"

aug 27, 2003.

(on real life crickets stridulating ...)

When the heatwave that recently has been hitting France and the rest of Europe was at its peak I was away from Paris, out in the countryside, in a small village called Vannes-sur-Cosson, some twenty miles south of Orléans.

Each day after dinner and sunset I sat quietly outside in the garden with a couple of cans, watching the stars, and the little circle of vegetation on the photograph.


Listening to the amazing 'stridulation concerto' that started as soon as the sun went down.

Stridulation (from the Latin stridulus, which means squeaky) is, as you may know, the shrill grating or chirping sound made by the males of some insects (especially by Orthoptera, such as crickets, grasshoppers, and locusts) in their efforts to attract a mate, by rubbing certain hard body parts, either a leg against a wing or one wing against another.
The cricket for example has two pairs of wings, the front two of which are equipped with rasplike adaptations that produce the "chirp", which then is picked up by the female's ears (... which are situated on her front legs, btw).

They were stridulating all around me, from near and from far.
And then there was this one right in front of me, about there were I put a red cross on the picture, chanting like a worn electric coffee grinder.

I have never been much of a nature man, and even less a connoisseur of the wond'rous world of insects. So I'm afraid I can not tell you for sure whether the star in the performance that managed to enchant me for so many hours was a cricket, a locust or a grashopper. Or something different alltogether. Only know that he sounded 'huge' and that my little friend was there every night, and always grinding away at the very same spot.


Of course I was keen on recording his stridulating, and at first even somewhat sad that I had not taken my MD, and had only - as always - my monophonic Sony walkman with me (for those that are interested in these sort of details: the walkman is a TCM-S68V, the microphone a Sony ECM-T 145).
The first night's recording changed my mind, though. The way the 'lo-fi' equipment 'heard' the sound, different as it was from what actually was picked up by my ears, to me was as fascinating as the original 'real life' sound itself.
And as my master-stridulator every night after sunset faithfully embarked on his 'chant', I took this wonderful opportunity to find out how the recorded result would vary with different placements of the microphone.

I put three samples online, taken from the recordings I made, on three consecutive evenings, with the microphone attached at spots corresponding to the numbered markings in the picture above :

  1. crick01.mp3
  2. crick02.mp3
  3. crick03.mp3

If someone recognizes the insect, do let me know !

(... and the efforts made by man)

Back home I did some googling on crickets, and one of the first links I followed led me to a thread on a forum of the Frederick News Post (bringing you the latest from Frederick County, Maryland), in which carey recounts how, after many years of practice, he was able to produce cricket sounds, using a technique based on 'inhale-whistling':

"Can you inhale-whistle? It's just like whistling, except you're sucking instead of blowing. [...] If you can inhale-whistle, you should be able to make a cricket sound with practice. Put your tongue on the roof of your mouth like you're making a T sound. Get a little bit of spit behind your tongue while it's in that position. Now try sucking in without whistling. Notice how the spit percolates or vibrates if you inhale slowly enough? Now keep doing that while you bring your lips together to whistle. It won't work the first time. Or the fiftieth time. Keep trying. I found that keeping your head down (so your face is toward the ground) helps keep the spit in place while it "percs". I don't have to do that anymore, but it took years of practice."

The thread had been active for about a month, not too long ago. The original message was dated May 08, the last reply June 07. I decided to add to the thread, asking carey and the others whether they would be willing to record their cricket-imitations for me. Just thought that might give some amazing sound material, for example for a piece based on the recordings of both real and imitation crickets... (I might of course set up a session myself, gather a certain number (say ten) of people, hand them carey's 'inhale-whistle' instructions, and ask them to follow them.)

I have been trying myself, but I'm afraid that, however interesting sounding the result, I didn't do much of a cricket...

My post has been up for ten days now, and I also followed it up with a direct email to carey. I did not receive a reply yet.
Well, carey might just be on holiday, of course. I still have hope ...

(miscellaneous quotes and further reading:)

"The cybercricket [...] is a landmark in robotics. It behaves just like a real cricket-and not just outwardly. It simulates the cricket right down to the neurons, and is one of the first attempts to reproduce the pattern of neural signalling found in a living creature."

[ March of the biobots - Duncan Graham-Rowe :: New Scientist, December 05, 1998. ]

"Cricket fighting has been a popular sport in China for centuries. According to Chinese folklore, when two male crickets engage in combat, the loser will refuse to fight again unless he's shaken and tossed in the air by his trainer."

[ Studying cricket fights, researchers may learn more about human depression - Mark Shwartz :: March 08, 2000.]

"The Japanese have long revered the sounds of insects. The tradition of listening to Orthopera melodies probably came to Japan from China, where they've been raising crickets for more than 2,000 years. In Japan, people used to go to special places where they could sit and listen to the sound of crickets. Crickets in cages were used as background music at garden parties. There is even a temple in Kyoto, the Suzumushi Temple, with a memorial dedicated to all insects. The temple itself raises 50,000 crickets each year."

[ Three weeks is a lifetime for pet crickets - Amy Chavez :: June 18, 2000.]

[ Next related SB entry: Spiderman ]

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