While many of us have been binging Netflix shows and catching up on our sleep during the pandemic, Don Latarski has been using musical instruments he’s invented and getting up at the crack of dawn to record bird sounds. He recently released an album called Wind Water Wing: Nature Voices of Oregon that combines these bird and other sounds of nature with the music of his wind and water guitars.
“I make people aware of the fact that this album is not a scientific project, but an art project,” Latarski says. “It’s just so soothing and relaxing to listen to, and it’s like nothing people have heard before.”
Latarski invented his water guitar three years ago when he was tromping through a creek and found a stick wedged in the bank. It was moving back and forth just like a string would, and he wanted to see if he could make music by putting actual guitar strings in the water. The first instrument he used was one he found in a dumpster behind McKenzie River Music. He constructed a different neck for the guitar and placed it into the water. Sure enough, music began to flow out of it.
As for the wind guitar, Latarski tunes a regular guitar however he pleases and holds it up to the wind in a moving vehicle. As the wind blows across the strings, melodies pour out at random.
There are 15 tracks on Wind Water Wing, and each song is named after the bird it features. Latarski has been working on this project for a year, and he says the process has not been easy.
“People try to go and photograph birds, and that in itself has its own challenges to it. But that’s nothing compared to trying to record the audio of a bird,” he says. “There’s so much noise pollution in the world; it’s almost impossible. We just become so used to hearing it we block it out.”
Some of the bird sounds in the album are made by ravens, chickadees, quail and owls, to name a few. Their songs are accompanied by the trickling of running water, followed by the gradual hum of wind and water guitars.
Lararski says the album is best listened to as ambient sound.
He uses software that allows him to clean up much of the background noise the microphone picks up. He describes his headphones as an “audio microscope.”
Latarski worked in the music department at the University of Oregon for 33 years and was the head of guitar studies. He retired in 2017 and has kept busy with various projects since then.
“The pandemic has kind of been good for me, only in the sense that I’ve got more time,” Latarski says. “I can’t sit around. That’s just my natural way to be.”
This is the first album of bird sounds Latarski has released. He does a lot of hiking and photography, and his background as a musician got him interested in listening to the sounds of birds and trying to identify them.
“Being around birds that are making beautiful sounds is a very pleasant experience,” Latarski says. “It seems to me that we all need a break these days.”
Wind Water Wing is streaming on Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music and YouTube. CDs are also available for purchase for $20 at GuitarOutside.com.