Slow down birdsong. Imitate it with human vocal chords. Record that and bring it back up to speed. And what you have is an uncannily accurate impersonation of any given feathered friend.
If you didnâ€™t know this, and few will at first, the 2007 film installation Dawn Chorus looks like a well-executed one-liner. It looks like a comic parallel between the way we and birdsÂ emote.
The fourteenÂ screens, high and low, in the darkened galleryÂ each featureÂ an amateur singer, filmed alone at dawn. TheseÂ unrelated individuals can apparently hear (but notÂ see) one another.
CoatesÂ would also have us consider the joy we project onto birdsong: both the joy it gives us and the joy it appears to express.Â So there is more to this piece than an echo chamber of mating calls.
And itâ€™s interesting that the year before it’s premiereÂ was also the year in which tech wizards in New York developed the micro-blogging platformÂ we know and love as Twitter.
It’s said when they went to the dictionary they found a definition which offered two alternatives: along with â€˜chirps from birdsâ€™, a twitter was found to be â€˜a short burst of inconsequential informationâ€™.
Anyone who doubts the lack of consequence which rides upon a tweet or indeed an entire twitter-feed need only look at the results of the recent UK election. The people I follow surelyÂ lost that.
But as Beckett would have it, at the end of The Unameable: â€œYou must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go onâ€. Tweets, status updates, Instagrams and ramblingÂ blog posts show little sign of letting up.
Coates has sped up the movements of his singers along with their voices. And so, we remain like his subjects: solitary, atomised,Â and even twitching compulsively in the gloom; that’s Twitter.
ButÂ social media does at least letÂ us get away from our homes and offices. In a loose sense, itÂ lets us take flight. Okay, that’s stretching a point, but it gave me some joyÂ to type.
Dawn Chorus can be seen at Fabrica, Brighton, until 25 May 2015. Read my 2010 interview with Marcus Coates here. Last week I finally started Instagramming – follow me here.