Flaunt Interview: Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs Can Hear The Birds Again
Silver linings are obviously tough to come by and hard fought at the moment. Burdened by the newscycle and bombarded with the ‘new normal’, humans are reaching out and clinging to any sense of connection that might re-stoke creative fires or soundtrack one metaphoric foot in front of the next.
In the case of UK bred, LA-based electronic forerunner Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, it was the global chatter about the restoration of the natural world that offered a sense of solace through it all. Shortly after shutdown, reports surfaced around the globe of air quality improving and creatures reclaiming what was once their own kingdom.
This phenomenon struck home for Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs—given name Orlando Higginbottom— as he spoke to friends around the world who mentioned that they were hearing birds sing louder than ever. They sent him phone recordings of these contextual coos and caws, which TEED decided to craft into his own songs—an ensemble of sonic greeting cards sent returned with love atop some soothing studio layers.
The result of this practice is the four track ‘I Can Hear The Birds’ EP out now on Liberator Music, an ambient work that mirrors the calming genre of field recording-based music popularized by everyone from its founding father and former Flaunt cover alum, Brian Eno, to the wide reaching productions of Bjork and Aphex Twin.
With the birdsong at its center, the EP traverses through mesmeric analog progressions, ethereal vocal accents, and spacey harmonies that serve as a tranquil counterbalance to the world's surrounding chaos. The EP marks a fitting change of pace from music TEED has released of late, and reminds listeners of his prowess outside the 4/4 realm.
Curious to learn more on the thought process around 'I Can Hear The Birds,' we sat down with Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs for a brief chat on all things EP-related and beyond.
I understand the ICHTB project started as a means for you to connect with friends around the world in quarantine, can you tell us a bit about this and why it felt meaningful to you at the time?
Those first three or so weeks were very intense, wondering how long I’d have to wait to see people, and what might happen to everyone in the meantime. Through the many conversations with friends the subject of the loud birds became a recurring theme, and seemed like an interesting jumping off point for me. We all send links to songs we like to friends to show them we are thinking of them, I guess this is one step further. What I wanted to say was I’m here in this moment too in a way, and to create something calm and warm. I know it sounds corny, but really it was how can I send someone a hug.
What was the first recording you received and what feeling did it bring you about how the natural world is reacting to the current state of things?
The first recording was from the Canary Islands, the birds were being very loud in the middle of the night and keeping my friend awake. It would have been about 6pm where I was when I received it, and I felt like it was a window to another world. I don’t think it’s possible for the brain to take in the vastness of this planet, at best you get vivid snapshots of far away lives and your heart opens. Since I was a kid I’ve day dreamed about how the natural world would reclaim space if humans disappeared, and I found it comforting, like this is actually right and good. We do not have a divine right to be greedy destructive parasites, even if your clothes are nice. So I sunk into that fantasy a bit, letting nature breathe for a minute.
What was the turning point that you decided to make these ‘virtual greeting cards’ into a formalized body of work?
Jon Wright of Sports Banger was holding a poster competition. The British government had sent a useless letter about the virus to every uk household, a tremendous waste of money. Jon challenged under 15s to turn the letter into a poster. It was such a brilliant and successful idea that the V&A are going to do an exhibition of the many hundreds of entries he received. One letter he showed me by a 7 year old called Lacey had “I can hear the birds again” painted on it, as well as some stuff about pathetic Boris Johnson. That was enough encouragement for me. Thank you Lacey for the clarity.
It is interesting that these recording were captured by your friends’ phones as opposed to professional recording equipment, what feeling or emotional qualities to you think this brings to the project?
Intimacy. Our phones are extensions of our bodies, cyborg style, we listen to the world through that shitty microphone and that shitty speaker. If there isn’t a better option we play exceptionally well produced music through our phone speaker! It’s a very familiar frequency response, and one I’d like to explore more. It sounds to me like I’m on a call with that person and they are holding the phone up to the sky “listen to what’s happening in my world”. Blue Planet is not intimate.
Have ambient music and field recordings been a part of your life and work for a while? Can you recount some of the first tracks/artists you heard within the genre? How did they impact you then as both a listener and producer?
I think it would have been something like Future Sound of London—Lifeforms floating from my big brothers bedroom. When I first heard Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon that had a big effect on me, I needed it. I showed it to my dad and he said neutrally “it’s wallpaper music”, I thought that was cool that in my book wallpaper music was an exciting concept. So yes, I listen to ambient and musique concrète all day long. In my own work I think of music with drums or without drums, and I’ve made a lot of music without drums over the years, I just haven’t done a proper release of any of it. The truth is, we are encouraged to stay in our lane, which is incredible because musicians gain success through doing the exact opposite.
What is your take on birdsongs being reported as louder than ever around the world? Do you believe the birds are actually louder or are humans just taking time to listen?
Humans definitely got quieter for a bit, and the stillness prompted us to listen a bit closer. I like to think about it from the birds perspective, suddenly they aren’t competing with traffic, but maybe that means they can hear more bird song too, so they’d be competing with other birds half a mile away that previously they couldn’t hear. I haven’t read any science to back that up by the way, it’s just a thought.
What have you taken extra time to listen to or to understand whilst in quarantine? What ‘birds’ are you hearing louder than ever?
Feel free to think in the abstract here—I’ve been getting stuck in to the workings of streaming, music, and money. It’s clear musicians are being treated poorly and we need change. And I’m very aware that if I sat down my twenty best musician friends and asked them how they got paid by a streaming service, they would all answer differently. So I wanted to get the knowledge. It’s a fucking mess, it’s shady, and these labels/publishers/PROs/DSPs need auditing. It also brings up the absurdity of many “industry standards”, which COVID is very effectively exposing as well. I hope public opinion shifts, and people stop thinking of music as valueless.
Beyond this project, how has the global situation affected the way you think and create art—I’m more aware than ever of this attention economy we are stuck in, it’s an awful road to be on and I can’t see a good ending. Sometimes I think we are doomed. Let’s try to create some beauty along the way.