It’s no secret to those who know me that birds and music have both helped sustain me through the pandemic. So they’ll not be surprised to learn that I’ve also become obsessed with the combination of the two in So Wylie’s “Bird Beat” series. The New York-based music producer and podcast sound designer for Gimlet Media has remixed or co-written songs for electro-pop artists like Flavia and Camille Trust, and now she’s doing the same thing for Boreal Owls and Canyon Wrens.
Last November, she posted a video to her TikTok account of her listening to the call of a Northern Saw-Whet Owl, the tiny species of owl that stowed away on the Christmas tree that was delivered to Rockefeller Center in New York. She then added her own melody and beats to owl’s rhythmic call.
“It was exactly that Rockefeller owl that made me create the first bird beat!” she tells me in an interview via Twitter. “I happened to look up the bird after reading the article, and each bird beat is essentially a re-creation of that moment—I heard the Rockefeller call, thought to myself, ‘Wait this is kinda fire,’ and then had to make some music with it!”
That first video made its rounds through Bird Twitter—yes, of course there’s a Bird Twitter—inspiring the producer to keep the Bird Beats going. She quickly amassed followers, who started offering suggestions for new birds every day. She’s even done polls on her Instagram account to help her choose which bird to remix next.
“The response has just brought me so much joy,” she says. “I’ve always loved owls but never considered myself a birder before this experience, but I’ve learned a ton about birds through this just by people welcoming me into the birding community online. It has been an extremely joyful spot on an otherwise dark year.”
The Bird Beats haven’t been her only bright spot this year. So Wylie has just released an official remix of Flavia’s song “Ripe” and co-wrote tracks for Camille Trust—which led to another fun moment when she heard her own song on the radio. ”[Trust] released ‘Florida,’ the single we wrote together and I produced, recently and texted me in all caps to tune in! I screamed a ton and then just enjoyed the song as a fan. I was so proud of the sound of that one—the excellent Ellis Tucker mixed it and Chris Gehringer mastered, so it was one of those tracks that ended up sounding exactly as I had initially imagined; natural, casual, relaxed and lush. I kept thinking how myself as a kid would never believe this.”
Her Bird Beats have brought more moments of joy to many during the pandemic, including me. And they’ve definitely made her notice birds more when she steps outside—”especially as spring returns. But I hear them in a different way now, and I’m not mad about it!”
Josh Jackson is founder and editor-in-chief of Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @joshjackson or see his own pandemic birding Instagram project at @atl_birds.