Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Superb Lyrebird - Peter Bruce (196?)

I'm a musician and a zoologist, and I've always had trouble trying to work out where and how these two disciplines can interconnect. However, there have always been those who shared those twin interests and this where we get the field of bioacoustics - the study of the music made by animals. There seems to have been an assumption many years ago that Australian birds were musically inferior to the songbirds of Europe - probably due to the squawking, screaming calls of the ubiquitous native parrots and some of the more inharmonious honeyeater species. Despite this, or possibly because of this slight to their native fauna, early  Australians developed a patriotic pride in  the unique musicality of their native bird-life and much was written praising them. (Even while others were introducing European bird species such as Blackbirds to remind them of the birdsong of the old country). Obviously, audio recording was the best way to show off and share these unique soundscapes and back in the old days many vinyl recordings were released in this vein.

I was lucky enough to find two Australian bird call EPs both on the Columbia record label in an op-shop in Laverton. The first such record I would like to share is The Superb Lyrebird (Australia's Forest Singer) by wildlife recordist Peter Bruce, recorded, by the looks of it, sometime during the early sixties although no date is indicated. The Superb Lyrebird is very well-known for its extraordinary mimicry and this was something that was recognised and celebrated soon after Europeans became familiar with this bird. Superb Lyrebirds (Menura novaehollandiae) are found along the edge of south-eastern Australia in temperate forests and woodland. They are incredibly distinctive as they are large ground-dwelling birds that can measure up to 1m, including their tail. This huge fan-shaped tail is made up of two large outer feathers surrounded by wispy, light feathers in between. 

Peter Bruce provides us with narration on the habits of these birds interspersed with examples of their talent for mimicry. Bruce has an amusingly languid and descriptive tone but he is clearly very familiar with his subject and was responsible for the field recordings themselves. It must be said, that it certainly helps to be familiar with Australian bird calls to really appreciate these sorts of records - after all, how impressive is the Lyrebird's spot-on impression of a Gang-gang Cockatoo if you don't know what the hell a Gang-gang Cockatoo is? Regardless, there is something fascinating about listening to these sorts of recordings and imagining the world that Bruce is describing, where Lyrebirds are always calling and there's a friendly narrator to guide you through the Australian bush when it was a little more pristine than it is today.

Label: Columbia
Released: 196? (Bruce recorded an LP of Lyrebird recordings for Smithsonian Folkways in 1966, and it seems likely that this was EP was recorded at around the same time.)
Players: Peter Bruce - recordist and narrator
David Corke - writer of commentary
Superb Lyrebird - vocals


  1. greatly looking forward. such a lovely looking document. glorious green. surely you've seen this then:

    heart thanks


  2. Yes, I've seen that vid, and it never gets any less amazing. I have also had the pleasure of observing and listening to this species in the wild on a couple of occasions which was quite magical.