“Shoot” as in film, photograph, capture and display, but also fly with them, shoot the rapids of their movement, accompany them, become starling. These mesmerizing videos of moving masses of starlings, “murmurations” as they’re called, like other YouTube animal videos, tell us as much about the phenomenon being watched as about those watching it.

It all gets going here at around the 3’20″ mark. But it would be nice if we were given some alternative soundtrack options. Like this one, with no commentary, just a few intertitles, set to the music of Jan Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble:

I like the interplay between still shots and motion sequences, and even the traffic moving beneath them, and the sound of the traffic, adds a nice touch.

Bill Oddie’s video is as much about the starlings as about its quietly awestruck observer, with his whispered play-by-play, Qigong-like imitative acrobatics, and the way he holds his hands up for warming to the blue TV-screen light of the starling-filled sky:

As the starlings are allowed to get going (“cascading down… the waterfall”, as he says), we’re again given piano accompaniment, though it’s less intrusive than in the first one above or than the music in this next one, where a brash, distorted (and far too loud) radio soundtrack is allowed to transmogrify into Ave Maria accompanied by a turn signal, the starling watchers going on a little chase, like the tornado hunters that sprang up all around the Midwest US in the wake of the movie “Twister”:

In California, starlings are, as North American ornithologists like to remind us, exotic “nuisance birds” (harumph). There’s a lot that a complex-systems theorist could tell us about their movement. And, of course, this kind of thing is replicated in phenomena all across the natural world — in schools of fish (as shown in David Attenborough’s ocean documentaries), ants, etc.

But what’s at the heart of our fascination, I think, is that it’s such a good example of what Deleuze or Bergson would call an encounter of different speeds, different sheets of time — ours and the starlings’. Their speed is much quicker than anything we are capable of, and they disappear into the collective movement of it. We also get absorbed in motion, while skiing, for instance, or in the midst of competitive sports, improvised music (when it works), or sex (ditto), but even then our collectively integrated speed is nothing like this.

There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of these videos on YouTube, most of them shot poorly, probably using a cell phone or digital camera video. Their poor quality sometimes combines with atmospheric conditions — here it seems to be raindrops or perhaps condensation — to create a nearly abstract landscape moving-image:

Thanks to Natasha (whose year of dancing completed itself at the solstice) for sharing the first of these.

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