Lily Loring describes a visit to the zebra finch laboratory where Professor Ofer Tchernichovski is investigating the origins of human speech and the biological basis of speech, he says

The quiescence of that campus at The City College of New York in the context of current torture revelations forms a backdrop to the work of David Rothenberg, who has been playing the clarinet with birds, much as others have been playing a bassoon to worms or the cello with a hive of bees

Rothenberg reports that in their first year, marsh warblers fly down through Africa, picking up the songs of other birds, as we know from Francoise Lemaire's research in the marshes around Liege, where spectrographic analysis of tapes revealed samples of more than 100 African species, including the Vinaceous Dove and the Boran and Red-Pate Cisticolas, indicating autumn quarters far beyond their documented range. Whether Lemaire and her colleagues can hear these voices in the Belgian wetlands in real time with the naked ear - I believe they can

Loring describes the picnic coolers that have been turned into sound insulated recording boxes and the stacks of computers constantly capturing and analyzing the sounds of zebra finches, which are constantly singing throughout this visit although, we are told, they can just barely be heard

The whole question of the way birdsong has been approached by science as well as by lay people is a question that seems to lead down into difficulty. Apart from the actual dissection of songbird vocal chords, there is the familiar recurring pattern by which, to investigate how a bird hears birdsong, the investigator will deafen it; or to discover how a bird acquires the ability to sing, it needs to be prevented from singing. In order to find out what range of sounds can be accommodated by the avian or the human ear without damage, damage is done, so that reading the large book Nature's Music: The Science of Birdsong, which begins so lightly and so delightfully with a tribute to the late Luis Felipe Baptista, which you remember so vividly reading in your tent on the very edge of the marshes in Emporda, literally immersed in the song of goldfinches, nightingales, and sparrows - this reading tends to become increasingly difficult, oppressive, even impossible

you're sitting in a tent reading The Future of the Image, this essentially quite old fashioned book, steeped in a certain culture of the humane, which is talking about the rhetoric of the image, it's talking about the irrepressible return of the aesthetic, a rhetoric of the aesthetic, as soon as you try to evade it, to go beyond it, it's talking about pictorial strategies and it's talking about language as the flip side of the coin of the image, the text that the picture always already demands

you're reading this book in this tent on the edge of the marshes and you're listening to the amplified sounds of birds, machinery, and other sounds, coming through your headphones

in fact you're reading, as you remember, the passages about the camps, about shows about the camps - art shows in Paris - the analysis of a photograph of a horrific scene, and the description of the political aesthetic strategy of absence in the film SHOAH

you're thinking about the way the act of reading a book has been so abruptly re contextualised by the digital turn, and you're thinking, or you are now thinking, as you sit here, about the carrion crows with their heads in the bodies of the soldiers at the Battle of Maldon, the herons on the signs on the highway as you drive down through the Somme, and the hares: the hare that ran away down the hills in Scotland 12 years ago, the hares that ran over the grass on the island of Havergate when you went with L and S on that oblique search for Sebald, and the hares that finally appeared in the last disk of SHOAH, grazing by the fence

you're feeling old, on the verge of tears, as you fumble with a book and a camera, disabled from discharging your responsibilities either as a writer or an artist, at once so old and so unready, reaching out, empty, insubstantial, at the same time heavy and slow