Following my previous book/CD projects on birds and whales, I am now on a quest to make music live with bugs. The first and perhaps greatest stop: jamming with hordes of singing cicadas, the kind that come out once every thirteen years across the American midwest.
Here on a particularly exposed single tree at the corner of Vigal Road and East Lakeshore Drive in Springfield, Illinois, it feels like photographer Charles Lindsay and I have arrived at the epicenter of the thirteen year cicada invasion. There are literally millions of cicadas per hectare at such moments, and we have a hard time keeping them out of our clothes. If you are afraid of insects, this is the way to get over it—take out your saxophone in the midst of a swarm of cicadas, bugs that have been slowly growing for thirteen years underground preparing for these few weeks when they ascend the trees, sing in swells of wheeeeeoooowsh white noise, calling out for a mate.
We don’t really know how selective the females are at such moments, but Dave Marshall and John Cooley discovered that a precise wing-flick sound made by the females exactly half a second after the males finish their song is the signal that the female is ready to mate. There are so many bugs out here that perhaps everybody scores. Science doesn’t really know—fieldwork can only be done less than once a decade. I didn’t hear any other saxophones out there. And we have no idea how or why the males of Magicicada trecassini synchronise their whoops in waves of swelling sounds every few seconds. The sound of ten of them all doing this next to my ears is as deafening as a heavy metal concert.
Hear the live performance here.