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This music is for the birds.
January 18, 2010 8:47 AM   Subscribe

The Finches: some of the best angular, atonal, postpunk, improvisational guitar I've heard in a while.

For his recent installation "Rhythms of Life," at the Barbican Art Gallery in London, French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot created a walk-through aviary for a flock of zebra finches, and furnished them with electric guitars and other instruments The rest is improv history.

Visitors have uploaded videos from this and other exhibitions as well:

- A restrained solo improv, followed by a short duet .
- Minimalism.
- Some tuning up.
- And my personal favorite, a bit of ambience.

Which raises the inevitable question: Who is a better improviser? Seed-eating songbirds, or legendary Japanese noise guitarist K.K. Null?
posted by googly (55 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks, now I'm going to be humming that all day.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 9:02 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


...all those nights I spent at The Cooler and I could've been hanging out with birds? Dammit.

This is awesome.
posted by mintcake! at 9:04 AM on January 18, 2010


Terrific idea. Not what I expected at all. Great call.
posted by gcbv at 9:05 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but are they gonna do if they run out of gancha.
posted by SonicBoom at 9:06 AM on January 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


Awesome.
posted by anazgnos at 9:13 AM on January 18, 2010


I love this. That bird with the twig in the first video (starting around :50) is totally kicking my ass. I wonder if they know "(Love Like) Anthrax".
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 9:18 AM on January 18, 2010


Yeah, but are they gonna do if they run out of gancha.

Well, what do you do?
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:18 AM on January 18, 2010


Music Has the Right to Finches.
posted by functionequalsform at 9:20 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Free Bird"!


*beats up self*
posted by DaDaDaDave at 9:28 AM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Terrific idea. Not what I expected at all. Great call.

...not to be confused with The Goslings or The Swans.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:43 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wasn't that song originally done by Wings? Wait, maybe it was the Byrds.

I'm here all week, try the Finch
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 9:44 AM on January 18, 2010


forgot to say, nice post
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 9:45 AM on January 18, 2010


Are the amps outside or inside? Do the finches hear the guitars too?
posted by kenko at 9:45 AM on January 18, 2010


Oh, and this is awesome.
posted by kenko at 9:45 AM on January 18, 2010


That was exactly the kind of delightful surprise I needed right now.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:45 AM on January 18, 2010


For sale: 2 used electric guitars, off white, with some bird shit... coloration.
posted by bobobox at 9:47 AM on January 18, 2010


It sounds like chicken scratch to me.
posted by foggy out there now at 9:48 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are the amps outside or inside? Do the finches hear the guitars too?

I'm curious about this as well.

Also, what are the "other instruments"?
posted by bobobox at 9:50 AM on January 18, 2010


Are the amps outside or inside? Do the finches hear the guitars too?

On the uploaded videos you can hear the birdsong and the guitar, so I'd say yes and yes.
posted by googly at 9:50 AM on January 18, 2010


Towards the end you can see an amp sitting out in the grass. Cool post.
posted by elwoodwiles at 10:02 AM on January 18, 2010


I like this.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:15 AM on January 18, 2010


Great post, I'm glad it wasn't these finches.
posted by Xurando at 10:25 AM on January 18, 2010


Your favorite band bird sucks.
posted by briank at 10:45 AM on January 18, 2010


After a segment on the first video showing a bird forcing a twig through the strings, I wondered whether they were going to try building nests. And then in the Ambience video, yeah, there's a nest, although on the pickguard rather than the bridge.

I don't know whether or not to be bitter that a flock of birds are playing better guitar than I can.
posted by ardgedee at 10:46 AM on January 18, 2010


For percussion: give some chickens magnetic stones for their gizzards, then let them wander over guitar pickups, the jerking and pecking of their heads will make whooshes and percussive sounds.
posted by idiopath at 10:47 AM on January 18, 2010


Also regarding K.K. Null he is clearly better than these birds, but he is just doing the Kieth Rowe / Hans Reichle extended guitar thing, and not even as well as Fred Frith does.
posted by idiopath at 10:50 AM on January 18, 2010


Weird. My 9 month old son played this exact same song this morning in my band room.

For reals.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:56 AM on January 18, 2010


Don't miss his feedback balloon and water bowls.
posted by swift at 10:59 AM on January 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Keiji Haino > K.K. Null
posted by porn in the woods at 11:09 AM on January 18, 2010


Drumm > Reichle > Frith > Rowe > Null > Haino > Fripp
posted by idiopath at 11:19 AM on January 18, 2010


Null probably wasn't the ideal example - Frith would have been better. I wanted to include a full version of the K.K. Null/Jim O'Rourke track "Neuro Geometry," which sounds a bit like the "ambience" link, but couldn't find anything easily available. You can hear a snippet here.
posted by googly at 11:36 AM on January 18, 2010


> Null probably wasn't the ideal example - Frith would have been better.

What I was thinking of was a duet by Keiji Haino and Loren Mazza Cane (a.k.a Loren Mazzacane Connors) called Live at Downtown Music Gallery. It has the same sense of sparseness. I still prefer the Mazzacane and Haino duet, but that's because you get to hear a subdued, intense musical conversation rather than random sounds using similar guitar tones.
posted by ardgedee at 12:02 PM on January 18, 2010


Kieth Rowe / Hans Reichle extended guitar thing, and not even as well as Fred Frith does.

????

Row, Reichel, Frith and Null all do unconventional things with the guitar, but they hardly all do the same sort of unconventional things. Reichel especially is the odd man out there.

"So and so just does that Robbie Basho/Keiji Haino out-blues thing, and not even as well as Tetuzi Akiyama does".
posted by kenko at 12:09 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Er, Rowe. Here I thought I had one up on you for spelling Reichel's name right. Oh well.
posted by kenko at 12:09 PM on January 18, 2010


Drumm > Reichle > Frith > Rowe > Null > Haino > Fripp

But they aren't in the same field of endeavor! It's incommensurable!

Horses for courses!

I have a different Haino/MazzaCane duet album and it's fantastic.
posted by kenko at 12:11 PM on January 18, 2010


/me wonders about the gallery's documentation of this installation...will there be a site for MP3 downloads? Did the artist specify what tunings should be used on the guitars and what the pickup switch/tone settings should be for future installations? And what if another gallery wants this a traveling exhibition...

In other news, your 10-year flashback of elephants making music ...
posted by aldus_manutius at 12:15 PM on January 18, 2010


Cool! made me want to dig out my old Charlie Byrd records ;)
posted by vronsky at 12:45 PM on January 18, 2010


Great project/video... but I loved your presentation even more. It definitely made me chuckle.
posted by defenestration at 12:51 PM on January 18, 2010


kenko: "Horses for courses!"

Compare a Rowe solo to a Frith guitar-on-the-table performance and one of Reichel's less melodic / repetitive solos and you will find a large number of similarities. Someone else brought up Haino, and I just threw Fripp in there so I could dis on Fripp, I admit it :)
posted by idiopath at 12:53 PM on January 18, 2010


It's a bit twee.
posted by applemeat at 1:02 PM on January 18, 2010


Someday my house is going to have a guitar case bird bath.

And the water bowls swift linked to are amazing. I would love to just lay in that room for an hour or two.
posted by cyphill at 1:03 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of an installation I heard about a few years ago: the members of the group Add N to X set up something similar using birds and a theremin. I can't find any links to it, though. Anyone else remember that?
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 1:51 PM on January 18, 2010


Great, now they're going to start evolving beaks that are better adapted to playing distortion heavy Thurston Moore chords.

And plumage that looks like plaid flannel.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:54 PM on January 18, 2010


I'd like to see the guitar-playing finches get together with these Finches.
posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 2:15 PM on January 18, 2010


Compare a Rowe solo to a Frith guitar-on-the-table performance and one of Reichel's less melodic / repetitive solos and you will find a large number of similarities. Someone else brought up Haino, and I just threw Fripp in there so I could dis on Fripp, I admit it :)

Really? Which Rowe solo are you talking about? There aren't very many, after all, and his most recently released one was full of extended samples of classical and operatic music. I'd say there's little connecting Rowe to Frith and Reichl except they all improvise.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:40 PM on January 18, 2010


The matching outfits are cute but they're not going to go anywhere unless they can get their choreography down a little better.
posted by JackarypQQ at 3:58 PM on January 18, 2010


Joseph Gurl: "Which Rowe solo are you talking about?"

This is just one of many examples I found quickly on youtube. Are you thinking of the same Kieth Rowe I am?
posted by idiopath at 4:06 PM on January 18, 2010


Frith is the closest to Rowe, AFAICT, and that doesn't even sound much like his solos, in that someone familiar with him would probably be able to identify it as not him, let alone like Reichel. Though I'm only familiar with Frith's solo stuff via recordings. (His playing in groups is actually more like this than the solo stuff.)

If he were moaning in an otherworldly manner, and you edited it down a fair amount, you might be able to sell me on the idea that it came from Haino's Black Blues session.
posted by kenko at 6:30 PM on January 18, 2010


and I just threw Fripp in there so I could dis on Fripp

Then you, sir, are my nemesis.
posted by mintcake! at 10:04 PM on January 18, 2010


Idiopath: Are you thinking of the same Kieth Rowe I am?

Yeah. I hear no Frith in that. Last time I heard Rowe live (last year) his set was released on a live album and he used an ipod or something like it to play 2-5 minute segments of music (opera & classical) that had some meaning to him (in addition to his patented tabletop guitar, of course). Forgot all the details, but he wrote it up online.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:44 AM on January 19, 2010


You would be hearing the Rowe in Frith, actually, Frith explicitly references Rowe as an influence. I was thinking of Frith's solo guitar on the table style stuff. From his "Guitar Solos" album, for example, probably the most important album Frith ever released. Yes, Frith is more melodic and traditional than Rowe, but he explicitly references Rowe's influence on what he is doing on that album, and the influence is audible.
posted by idiopath at 5:59 AM on January 19, 2010


Pepsi Coo?

Sorry. Very cool video. Sounds like a lethargic Arto Lindsay.
posted by JBennett at 8:54 AM on January 19, 2010


Obligatory link to Jeff Beck - Blackbird (trying to produce chirping sounds with his guitar and whatnot).
posted by ersatz at 11:24 AM on January 19, 2010


the influence is audible.

I don't hear it, but then again, Rowe's moved on a long way since whatever he was doing when he influenced Frith to do that Frith stuff I enjoy so little (and generally avoid, to be honest).
posted by Joseph Gurl at 2:26 PM on January 19, 2010


I Know Why the John Cage Bird Sings.
posted by applemeat at 3:35 PM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


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