Karen
Christopher

not just what was said, but also everything it sounded like

As far as I know he was a large parrot named Cesar. A big favorite. A beloved pet. He was inherited by my friend when her husband’s grandmother died. There may have been some sibling rivalry over the bird. It was considered a prize. And this bird spoke and talking birds hold secrets and release revelations in the declaration of what they have learned to say through the hearing of oft repeated sounds.  

A bird who imitates what it hears learns the regular, the repeated, it learns to imitate without prejudice. It learns by rote. And it learns without embellishment. So the family learned a bit about grandma’s habits. In addition to usual lines the parrot was taught intentionally, words specifically considered charming for parrots to say, he also said [with conspiratorial fervor]: “I’m going to talk to Kenny!” Kenny was the next door neighbor.

But the most puzzling noise that the bird made was a kind of murmuring with pauses which, though strangely familiar, was almost completely unintelligible. It took awhile to hear what it was the bird was imitating. After all, like David Attenborough’s birds in the rainforest, (the lyre birds who were recorded by Chris Watson during the making of one of Attenborough’s nature pieces, and who imitated exactly the sounds of camera shutters and of chainsaws and of trees crashing to the floor of the forest) a bird does not imitate a sound in isolation, choosing to focus on a singularity but instead captures a sound within an environment and the way it sounds exactly there with all of the resonance and limitation invited by the surrounding surfaces.

My friends with the parrot had to relax their minds as they listened to the inexplicable sound he made in order to sense the totality of it. It had a rhythm and a tone distinctly human without using a single human word. With an aural version of a squint or the kind of cognitive unclenching that releases a fugitive memory, my friend finally realized that Cesar, the parrot, was imitating the sound of a phone conversation as heard from the other side of a closed door. The cadence of speech was distinctly grandmother’s phone voice, the pauses indicated the unheard part of the conversation, and the muddled non-verbal quality was due to the transmission of her words through the closed door between his cage and the kitchen phone.

click here for laughing parrots

Tags: parrots

Posted on Monday, 17 March 2014 by Karen Christopher

the one about the parrot feather has three parts separated by years

Part one: flocks of parrots in the tall trees
In 2006 Goat Island performed at Forum Freies Theatre in Düsseldorf (Germany). We stayed for week and ran a workshop as well as performing “When will the September roses bloom? Last night was only a comedy.”  I bought a hat in Düsseldorf, so did Bryan. The walk from our accommodation to the theatre took us through a fantastic old park with tall trees populated by flocks of bright green parrots. Each day I heard the parrots screeching around in the tree tops as I passed through the park. Sometimes I saw them flying in groups. CJ Mitchell was not with us on that tour and I missed him and I wanted to bring him a gift but didn’t want to buy something useless to bring back to Chicago. I had one afternoon off during which I’d have some time to find something for him. I decided to use it to find a parrot feather in the park. With so many parrots flying around all the time, I thought, they must be dropping their green feathers down onto the ground beneath. There should be a number of lovely green feathers, I thought, nestled into the layers of autumn leaves resting in the woodiest areas. So I spent two hours carefully scouring the ground for green feathers. I saw plenty of feathers but none of them green.


Part two: the green feather
In 2009 I moved to London and I joined the group of people participating in Rajni Shah’s DIY workshop, Not Knowing. That was the name of it: Not Knowing. It seemed a fitting start to my time in London. We met over three days and participated in various activities all of which threw us into some kind of state of unknowing, uncertainty, doubt. The final day we went separately to far flung parts of the city to participate in different sorts of activities. These locations were drawn at random from a collection of options prepared in advance by Rajni. Mine was Isabella Plantation which is an enclosure within Richmond Park. It was about as far as I could go on the District line from the east end where I live. When I got to Richmond Park I still had to find “Isabella Plantation” and I was despairing of finding it in time for the guided walk that I was meant to join. My head was swirling and I was about to lose the plot and cease caring when I looked at the ground and saw a green bird feather. A parrot feather perhaps. Yes. I decided it was indeed. This telescoped me back to the park in Düsseldorf and my two-hour search.
Part three: in which CJ is finally included
Walking back home from the Victoria Park pavilion where we’d gotten a coffee at the tail end of 2012, CJ and I went along Sugar Loaf Walk past The Camel heading towards the back of the Museum of Childhood when I heard quite a screech and it took me by surprise. I stopped to see what manner of bird made this noise as it was familiar but wrong. I was stopped short by the sound of it. I looked up and high up in a nearby tree there was a green bird. Ah! CJ! It’s a parrot! I said. And just then, before CJ could see it, it flew down into a nearby yard on the other side of a fence, a communal garden attached to a block of flats. As we looked for it we began to realise there were quite a few of them. Six at least. Six parrots around a couple of bird feeders. It was hard to take a phone camera photo of them from where I was standing and yet I felt it somehow necessary to try. In one of them you can just about tell that there are parrots there. A flock of parrots and CJ Mitchell and me all in the same place. It doesn’t make sense. But it really happened.

Tags: parrots

Posted on Wednesday, 2 January 2013 by Karen Christopher

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