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Duncan Marquiss

'Contact Call'


31 July – 31 December 2020

Duncan Marquiss’ ‘Contact Call’ (2020) is a series of improvised instrumentals played on electric guitar; the result of the artist’s close study of birdcalls heard during spring and summer 2020 when Scotland was experiencing lockdown.  

Birds’ vocalisations can transmit over long distances and cut through loud urban environments, but the lack of activity and traffic noise over this period allowed their interactions to be picked out more readily by the human ear. Contact calls, as distinct from birdsong, are short phrases that birds share back and forth as a way of maintaining contact whilst foraging for food. These avian dialogues, where a near call is answered by another bird at a distance, create patterns of call-and-response which are emulated here by guitar sounds and rhythms.

Marquiss’ recordings mimic specific bird calls with the guitar, imitating phrases, high pitches or percussive sounds, and offering pauses, as birds do, that leave room for the listener’s immediate surroundings to accompany the sounds played. Some sections are clearly bird-like whilst other parts are more random musical meanders that emerged from playing around. ‘Contact Call’ is an edited selection from these experimental recordings.

Many bird calls are impossible to simulate, but this process was a starting point for improvisation and for finding a new approach to a familiar musical instrument. As a filmmaker, Marquiss often creates soundtracks with the guitar for his own moving image work and in a similar way ‘Contact Call’ can be used as a soundtrack for a walk, generating a particular atmosphere in your head. 

The studied birdcalls were heard during frequent walks around Queen’s Park, Linn Park and Pollok Park in Glasgow. This piece reflects on our acoustic ecologies, and the need to share bandwidth with other species.

Music written, performed and recorded by Duncan Marquiss.

Queen’s Park
Langside Road
Glasgow G42 9QL

Linn Park
Glasgow G44 5TA

Pollok Park
2060 Pollokshaws Road
Bellahouston, Glasgow G43 1AT

With thanks to:
Kimberley O'Neill, Mick Marquiss and Anne Marquiss.

Mastering by Stephan Mathieu /
Schwebung Mastering.
Design by Maeve Redmond.

Part of 'In the open'