Podcast: One man's obsession with birds chirping is music to the ears
It all started with casual sharing. Artist Liu Yi was on the balcony one afternoon when he heard birds chirping incessantly. "It was melodious and striking," he said. Surprised by the "rare" chorus of birds, he recorded it for 60 seconds on his phone and shared it with a select few friends.
"A gift," he told them.
"I haven't heard birds chirping like this for a while. With excitement, I recorded it and wanted to share this moment with you," Liu said in his message.
Later, posting it on his WeChat Moments, he titled it "The recording on the balcony."
The feedback on his post was spontaneous.
A student sent back her own recordings of birds chirping on the campus. Inspired, Liu asked his friends to send their own recordings of birds chirping.
Word spread, and the recordings kept pouring in, even a month and a half later. It now has an official name – "Birds Chorus Radio" – and the format includes both audio and video.
Liu started compiling the recordings with the sender's name, date and location, taking time to write it down on paper. "It felt like some kind of devout prayer," he said.
"Friends have been asking me when I will finish collecting... Honestly, it could last till the day I die, as long as people keep sending me these recordings."
Q: How many recordings do you have now?
So far, more than 230 files, and it keeps coming. I also work with some friends and organizations to promote and spread the idea. Some of them have created a QR code for people to upload their recordings; others help me collect the recordings by email. I haven't started collating those from emails yet. If (the idea) keeps growing, it might be too much to handle, which is a nice thing. My wife said I am like a gardener, that I planted a tree and let it grow. I have no idea what it will grow into, but it will definitely grow well. I am looking forward to this natural, organic growth, which will, in turn, surprise me. That surprise is also a kind of therapy.
Q: Any follow-up plans?
There are so many possibilities. It could be a bird singing concert for kids or a bird chorus, especially for the sight-impaired. I am working with Arts Access, an art organization for the disabled, on a bird chirping drama, which could be staged at this year's "Diverse As We Are," a barrier-free cultural festival launched by the Goethe Institut in Shanghai.
I actually hope that the birds' rhyming can be played in office buildings, shopping malls, hospitals, nursing homes, or any public place. Someone even suggested a bird chirping radio in the Metaverse. Of course, I am open to everything. All I want is to let it grow and keep the idea on the roll. It would be such a romantic story if one day the birds could really talk to us.
Q: You mentioned a birds' chorus radio station. Any development on that?
The idea came about while talking to a friend. I created a logo myself on the mobile phone, but nothing more than that. If one day it does become a reality, I hope it will be a global one, and not just limited to my WeChat Moments. I've received files from Italy, the US, Australia, Japan, Germany and France. Maybe, there can be a bird chorus map on the radio, a live one that will blip when a new file is uploaded.
Still, I don't want to rush it. I'd like to give it some time. The natural process of growing is crucial to me. It all starts with a daily share. I want to just go with the flow, with no industrial marks.
Q: You've been collecting and sharing the birds' chorus for more than a month. How do you feel about it?
It is definitely therapeutic. Not just for the melodious singing, but also for some unexpected communication on social media. A friend of mine, with whom I had lost contact for a long time, sent me a file, which was a nice surprise. All this gives me a purpose. The heart is that big. If you allow it to be taken up, it will leave no room for other things.
Sometimes it will become numb. I felt like I was insensitive for a day or two, just taking notes mechanically. But it is good for me, so I can now know what it's like to feel numb and what I can do after that. Numbness can sometimes be a sign of relaxation, a time to take a break mentally.
Q: Other than collecting birds' chorus, what else do you do to fight unpleasant feelings?
I tried various ways, but they don't really fix the problem. Now my method is to accept it, face it and admit that you're not feeling okay. Then you'll have fewer illusions. Escapism won't work. Bad moods could be helpful, especially when I do art. Every time I don't feel well, I come up with artwork that I really like a lot. It can trigger something inside you. That might as well be a coping mechanism.
Q: How do you think the lockdown could affect us?
I can only speak for myself. For me, I feel more determined to believe in the importance of caring for and protecting people. Someone tested positive in our building a couple of days ago, and all of a sudden, in our building's WeChat group, some neighbors started to post their PCR test results. My wife and I kept silent, not because we were positive but to protect the patients and fight against it. These things make me feel the need to care for, firmly protect, or help those in need.
Q: Is there anything you would never want to do anymore after the lockdown is lifted? And what do you want to do most?
None. I don't dare swear. Plus, I quite enjoy experiencing life. There's hardly anything I don't want to try. I actually enjoyed myself quite a bit during this lockdown. Before, we had been busy with work. If you accept it, if you find your thing, you might learn to take the time to think and reflect. The lockdown has given me some time to think and hit the pause. Just like doing this birds' chorus thing, it's also a chance to take a break. Some new ideas and thoughts may pop up after the break.
One more thing that I am now more determined about is that you have to do what you feel right about. I used to be a bit indecisive, worrying too much. Now, I've become more daring, firm and determined. To some extent, it is how you grow up.