Arada






A hocketed vocal piece contructed entirely from transcriptions of songs by the Uirapuru,(Cyphorhinus arada) or “musician wren”, from South America. While some sections of the birdsong are repeated in the transcription, no extra notes or sections were added. The piece was included in Vol. III of Randall Poster’s For the Birds compilation in 2022. You can learn more about the entire project here. Preorders for the 20 LP vinyl box set are here. All proceeds go to benefit the National Audubon Society.

My interest in this particular bird was partly inspired by a fascinating paper by Emily Doolittle and Henrik Brum, which makes a study of the surprisingly consonant or “musical” intervals present in their songs. There’s also a long history of composers paying homage to the Uirapuru’s unique song, including Hermeto Pascoal and Olivier Messiaen.

Here’s one of the original field recordings of the Uirapuru, which starts off the piece (recording courtesy of Emily Doolittle):



It has also been found that some songbirds use hocketed duets to give potential predators the impression that a pair of birds is larger or more intimidating than it actually is. According to a paper by Paweł Ręk and Robert D. Magrath, Australian Magpie Larks will perform rapid antiphonal or essentially hocketed duets with each other. These duets often involve huge leaps in pitch and a rapid exchange of notes between birds, presumably to disorient predators and potentially convey that they are coordinated and ready to attack or defend their nest.


If the birds are not physically near one another, one of them will perform a solo pseudo-duet to give the impression that they are together. The syrinx in the avian vocal tract is very well suited to this pseudo-polyphony or solo hocketing. This syrinx contains two chambers that allow the bird to make rapid leaps in pitch by switching back and forth between each sides. You can see a further explanation and animation of this process from the Cornell Ornithology Lab here.



Cover art and the list of contributers for Vol. III of the Birdsong Project.