september 12, 2005.

Early saturday morning september 2nd, in Paris I boarded a TGV that took me from the Gare de Lyon to Grenoble; there I got on a train to Monestier-de-Clermont, where I had to wait for the twice-a-day 'navette' to take me up to the small village of Gresse-en-Vercors, in the French Alps. There, for a full week I swapped the agitating all around city traffic noise for the rich rattling chirps of millions of orthoptera : grasshoppers, locusts, and the like. Boy, can they conjure up a noisy storm on a hot and sunny day! They start slowly building up shortly after sunrise, and then ceaselessly squeak on until long after sunset ... Oh, but there was surely more than one single actor at work here ... I remember an earlier occasion where the chirping started only after sunset. This week, though, the only time I did catch this grandiose mountain orchestra off duty, was late one night when I woke up around three and the only sound I noticed coming through the open window was the soft gurgling of the waters of the little river Gresse.
And then, of course, the bugs do shut up when it rains. It did rain at times. And no, they don't like rain.
(When it rains the sound of the valley totally changes.)

made in china

Souvenir and gadget shops often sell these small 'made in China' boxes. When you open the lid, there's two shiny bugs, each one swinging on a little metal spring. Light entering the box triggers an electronic toy sound going like 'tjeerp, tjeerp ... tjeerp, tjeerp'. You know the sound? 'Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep'? ... That's of course the one we usually refer to as 'the sound of crickets'. And it is. (But also it isn't. For the sounds they produce are so many, and so divers. And it's not just a matter of frequency ...) The boxes are a toy version of the often incredibly beautiful cricket boxes and pots used in China to keep and raise real life crickets in, for singing and for fighting ... but that's another story (as well as maybe something to keep one's eyes - and ears - open for when in China).


Walking around Gresse-en-Vercors I soon learned to distinguish several of the bugs by the sounds they made. For a while my top-of-the-pops was a grayish black one (see picture), which - when moving - unfolded very beautiful sort of red colored wings which enabled it to jump/fly, much like a butterfly, over distances up to several meters, while producing this rattling sort of sound. I call it the little black red rattler. I followed several of these along mountain paths and through the fields, trying to get a decent 'in flight' picture, but I had to give up. They were too fast for me this time (but hey! just wait, I'll be back!) ... and then also, at some point I started taking a fancy to this insect sounding as if someone at quite a distance turned a shower on and - some 2, 3 seconds later - off again. That one appeared to originate with what looked as the stereotype of a grass hopping bug. Rather big and very green (see picture); I call it the classic green shower.


As I guess from the looks of them, both the little black red rattler and the classic green shower are 'hoppers'; which sort of explains why the sounds they produced were, well ... different say, from your average chirps. Like the ones I found originating with the two creatures in the pictures on the left, that I made near the hamlet of Chauplane. The first I baptized yellow striped chirper. The second one looks exactly like the first one, only that its color is green. So let's call it: green striped chirper ... Now actually, I did see and hear the yellow one chirp. But can't swear I've heard the green one ... If it didn't, and as it seems that all these fine sounds are produced by male bugs for no other reason than to attract the females of their species, might it be that our green buggy is a lady?

Well, so ... you see ... that's about what I've been up to lately: walking up and down mountain sides, strolling along the Gresse, watching bugs, listening to chirps, eating good mountain food, drinking red mountain wine ... and sleeping ...

You might think that I also would have come up with some resplendent recordings of the sounds that I heard the little darlings make. But as in the summer of 2003, when I encountered these sort of 'sound bugs' in a very different region of France, I only brought along my dictaphone (for, you know, that I always carry a dictaphone). And as I already noticed then: dictaphone recording of these bugs' chirping do not at all resemble that which you are actually hearing 'out there' ... (I put up some sound samples two years ago. No need to repeat that experience here). Maybe next time I'll bring an MD ... So ... Let me for now do like Walter Cianciusi, who recently - in the best of Fluxus tradition - sent out a couple of event scores (email dated august 28th, 2005): "Composition #65 - The 'beep' polyphony at the cash desks of a supermarket" ... and ... "Composition #68 - While watching an orchestra playing on TV turn down the volume and listen to environmental sounds" ... Right then, here's me 'buggy' one (no number):

On a hot, dry and sunny day, walk up a steep mountain slope, at about 1500 mtrs above sea level, until your heart rate reaches an average of 127 bpm. Then stop and listen.

Now this is surround: your heart's beating inside you, your breath's puffing out of you; bugs of all sort, most of them orthoptera, will sound all around you, from all angles and many different distances. And not to forget the close-up of flies that keep zoom-buzzing across your ears ...

One of my wanderings this week led me through the tiny 'les Petits Deux', a couple of houses near the even smaller 'les Grands Deux', which is very near to Gresse-en-Vercors ...

That is where I met Spiderman.

It was a hot, sunny morning. And at the time I was not so much paying attention to the noises of the many bugs, as being amused by a handful of small butterflies that seemed to be escorting me along the stony path. Whenever I moved, they flew up and moved forward with me. And every time I stopped, they fluttered down again, disappearing among the stones and weeds. It actually took me quite some time and a couple of hundreds of meters to realize that I was only imagining the escort. That there was no 'handful of butterflies' moving along the path with me, but that there were many hundreds of these butterflies, another handful of which at each of my bumpy steps randomly fluttered up, around and down again, thus giving rise to the illusion of one handful escorting me ...
It made me laugh out loud.
I had just reached the last of the hamlet's houses, behind which there was a children's playground. A small boy, about four, five years of age, was playing, but he stopped when he saw me laughing.
"Bonjour, monsieur," he said politely, and: "Why are you laughing?"
Now that was a good question, and the reason why, I found not easy at all to explain to such a young boy. Of course I might have tried, I should have. But I did not. Instead I waved my hands and smiled back at him.
"Bonjour jeune homme," I said.
"Where are you going?" he then asked.
I pointed to the mountains in the far distance, with the bare gray rocks around the Pas de Berrièves standing proud against a deep blue sky.
"You are going up the mountain?"
I told him, that I planned to head in that direction, but that I probably would not get nearly as far as the impressive bare rocks that looked down upon us from the distance ...
"So you will not go to the top?"
"That's right," I smiled. "I won't. I don't think I'll be strong enough to go that far today ..."
The boy then had a good second look at me, and nodded.
"No, you can't go to the top. You didn't bring any ropes ..."
To which he then suddenly added:
"But if you really want to ... I will help you! For you know ...: I am Spiderman! You just call me, and I will come and throw a rope for you!"

sous le pas

Then he ran off, Spiderman. And I headed for the rocks ...
And you know what? ... I almost made it ... I almost got there ... to the top ... almost ... if it hadn't been for those last couple of meters of sliding stones ... that was too scary ... wished I had brought some sticks ... maybe a rope ...
Oh man! ... but next time I will ... next time up there, I'll call Spiderman ...

[ Earlier related SB entry: "Three weeks is a lifetime" ]

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