In the foreground we hear the chirping of crickets, played at normal speed. In the background, an ethereal chorus sings rising and falling notes, like a meditation inspired by the spirit’s search for meaning.
The chorus is made up of crickets, recorded and slowed down until they sound like a magnificent choir singing a cappella. Musician Robbie Robertson’s Facebook fan page has a thread with this comment, “Native American opera singer Bonnie Jo Hunt accompanies Robbie and the crickets.” The album referred to is Music For The Native Americans, a 1994 recording that is still available. I scanned the reviews on Amazon and discovered the song incorporating the cricket chorus to is “Twisted Hair.”
In a 2008 interview with Robin Hilton for National Public Radio’s “All Songs Considered”, Tom Waits says:
The first time I heard it… I swore I was listening to the Vienna Boys Choir, or the Mormon Tabernacle choir. It has a four-part harmony. It is a swaying choral panorama. Then a voice comes in on the tape and says, ‘What you are listening to is the sound of crickets. The only thing that has been manipulated is that they slowed down the tape.’…The sound is so haunting.
Director and experimental playwright Robert Wilson used the cricket recording in his 2012 production, Walking, in which people walk slowly through fields, woods, water meadows and sand dunes. In his review for The Guardian, Patrick Barkham says:
In a woodland glade, walkers recuperate to ethereal choral music. This turns out to be a recording slowed down by Tom Waits [sic], an approximation of what they might sound like if they lived as long as humans. ‘What you hear is like human voices, or choirs from heaven.’
You can listen to the cricket recording on Sound Cloud. Then head over to YouTube and hear it as Robbie Robertson recorded it for Twisted Hair. You will never hear crickets again in quite the same way.
I have no idea which of the various species of crickets sang this extraordinary chorus, but I am grateful to my friend Rafe Martin for putting a link on his Facebook page. That sent me in search of more information about the recording and gave me a new appreciation of the creatures who have sung me to sleep so many nights. Hearing their slow song reminds me how little we know about the exquisite planet on which we live and how much we learn when we open our hearts and minds. And that gives me hope.