Stereo Audio-Visual Installation, 10 minutes.
Song of a Bird (S.O.A.B.) is an ongoing research project, which has to date, comprised live performances, an audio-visual installation and a continuing contribution to an online repository of cultural practice. It is the fruit of a collaboration between the artist and his father and a micro-community of Maltese bird trappers.
Each spring and autumn, during the birds’ migratory seasons, the namra takes hold of around 4000 Maltese trappers who long to sit in nature at dawn waiting for the songbirds. ‘Namra’ is a Maltese word best described as “a lifelong passion”; “a folly that appears all but incomprehensible to the casual observer”.
Namra is believed to be inherited.
I began by documenting my father’s ability to mimic bird songs. He belongs to a community of bird trappers in Malta and Gozo. I seek to create an archive of their community and identified occasions where I could, in the disguise of an artist and for the sake of art, motivate them to come together.
W H A T I S T H E
T H E B E A U T Y
O F T R A P P I N G
Translated transcript of an extract from a recorded conversation between the artist and his father.
FEB 2018, Pieta – MALTA
transcribed and translated by Julia Camilleri.
Michael: Wait, let me think, because
there’s a lot of beauty in trapping.
Well, how are you going to define this
beauty? You’ve got your life-
Jimmy: We have a whole month to
talk about this, you know.
M: No, no. You’ve got a lifetime spent
taking care of birds…What I find
beautiful: you’re raising birds that
you never see in Malt. You don’t see
them breeding, they’re not birds of
ours that we see everyday…
J: So what birds are ours then?
J: Which ones are our birds?
M: Our birds – what birds do we
have? We don’t have anything
special. The Spanish Sparrow is the
most common one…We don’t have
birds. Then there are the birds of the
countryside, that’s what I call them,
like the Warbler. We don’t have many
birds…the Robin passes through,
it’s not Maltese, it doesn’t even nest
in Malta…we don’t have many birds,
the only ones we have are those that
you see all the time; like the Spanish
Sparrow. And these [trapped birds]
are fun because you learn about
them, rear them, look after them…
and when the time comes you wait for
their right time to catch some more
birds, so that you always have birds to
rear. You always have some to rear, to
be able to trap. If you don’t have any
birds you can’t rear birds and bring
more birds, can you?
J: What do you find beautiful in
M: That you go into the countryside,
relax, waiting for that bird to come,
listening to your own bird calling…
J: How long do you wait?
M: Oh, days. Days. Days. And when
you catch that bird you’re happy
with it, you see its beauty, knowing
that you’ll be rearing it for a lifetime,
playing with it, raising it. And if you
have enough to trap you go again the
J: The birds live for quite long, don’t
M: Yes, they live very long. How long
you keep taking care of it, that’s how
long a bird lives. The more you take
care of it, the longer it lives. You
should leave nothing for it to want,
I don’t know, vitamins, seeds, bird
seed…it’s a routine isn’t it, a routine.
You take care of what you have; when
you don’t have any, you buy more –
because like every living thing some
time it’ll die; some birds go missing,
yet you always have enough to trap
And you choose and listen among the
birds: one would be good, the other
not so good…
J: Good, why good?
M: Good because one would be…
when it comes to calling, for example,
between one bird and another there’d
be a difference. One sings a lot and
another one calls a lot. So for trapping
you need one that calls more. Not
that the bird that sings wouldn’t be
good…but when you have a bird that
‘hits’ we say-
J: Hits? What does that mean?
M: Hits; when it senses a bird of its
kind passing by, it calls to it, it ‘hits on’
it, ‘dididididi’, so that the bird comes
down, and it’d be capable of bringing
the bird down. Now you wouldn’t
have just one of these – four, five…
J: The more you have, the better.
M: Always. If you have eight of them,
ten, you choose the best five ‘calling’
birds, the ones capable of ‘hitting on’
the bird – you might have a bird that
doesn’t ‘hit on’ the others, it doesn’t
J: That one’s not good.
M: Not quite. It’s beautiful, you still
enjoy having it. And it might sing well.
But you always mark the best one…
even where in the trap you place it.
It makes a difference because if you
place it on the wall, it brings birds to
the wall. If it’s a good bird that brings
others you place it near the nets, so
that the birds come close to the nets.
A bird that sings is placed further
away. Got it? Even the positioning of
the trap makes a difference.
J: You’ll have to show me, then.
M: And if you have five or six, you
keep in mind that for example
Number 3 is placed here-
J: Numbers? They’re numbered?!
M: Of course they’re numbered, all
of them have numbers. The numbers
are there so you distinguish birds
from each other – I recognise each
bird, you wouldn’t – but in the early
morning dark, you see the number,
not the bird. Do you understand?
And you get the position according to
the wind’s direction. Today you place
it there, tomorrow you place it here.
Because the birds come according
to where the wind is blowing. If
you know the wind and the bird are
coming from there, you place it there,
and when the bird calls the other bird
it flies straight into the trap. Trapping
entails a whole strategy, starting from
where you place the bird, how the
bird calls, what wind is blowing…
there are a lot of things. It depends
on what the bird is…you can’t really
describe this. But the beauty of
trapping is that you go there, and you
enjoy trapping, and how capable you
are of catching that bird. Because
you’re not going to catch everything.
But the little that you see, you try to
catch that tiny little bit.