Birds on a wire
January 13, 2015 6:44 AM   Subscribe

Birds on a wire....."One morning while reading a newspaper, Jarbas Agnelli saw a photograph of birds on an electric wire. He cut out the photo and was inspired to make a song using the exact location of the birds as musical notes. He was curious to hear what melody the birds created."
posted by HuronBob (27 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Very cool. This reminds me of a promotional spot that PBS ran several years ago: a man was sitting at his piano, trying to compose, the floor around him littered with crumpled-up paper. Finally he looks out his window as a flock of birds lands on the power lines. He begins to play the melody that they make, then is inspired to begin playing this complex piece on his piano.

Couldn't find a video, but here's an article about the spot. Huh, the man was played by a real composer, Walter Boudreau.
posted by lharmon at 6:57 AM on January 13, 2015


My reaction: it's like someone took the ideas of John Cage and then turned the New Age knob up to 10. Indeed, a randomly arpeggiated Fmaj9 chord is consonant, but there's a lot more interesting chance-created music out there.
posted by dfan at 7:07 AM on January 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


Hmm, this reminds me of some old software that could churn out programmatic scores. Mostly they were awful but you'd get a few awesome ones every now and then. I can't recall what it was, Cute-something? Cue-something? It reminded me of ContextFree but with music.
posted by odinsdream at 7:10 AM on January 13, 2015


My reaction: it's like someone took the ideas of John Cage and then turned the New Age knob up to 10.

Anodyne aleatoric
posted by thelonius at 7:18 AM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


A photograph of birds on an electric wire?
Kind of a cheep shot.
Here's the PBS video, "Birds"
posted by Floydd at 7:21 AM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


PETA CRIES FOWL!
Animal rights group PETA is claiming a composer blatantly used a musical composition created by a flock of birds sitting on some wires, without asking for permission or providing any compensation.
posted by davebush at 7:23 AM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


there's a lot more interesting chance-created music out there.

Please make an FPP about it.

This one, I liked.
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:29 AM on January 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


Hmmm. Like a drunk in a midnight choir.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:42 AM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


There were so many arbitrary decisions about which birds sounded together and which birds sounded consecutively, not to mention about rhythms, that this piece can only be said to represent the notes spelled out by the birds in the loosest sense. For example, the birds at c and g on the fourth beat of the first bar sound in consecutive eight notes whereas the birds at f and c on the third beat of the third bar, which have an almost identical spacial relationship, sound as simultaneous quarter-notes. I'd like to think that birds would compose something that didn't sound like it was released by Windam Hill in 1989.
posted by slkinsey at 8:31 AM on January 13, 2015


The birds outside my window are arranged like Glass's 4'33." Wait a minute, I don't have a window.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:33 AM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'd like to think that birds would compose something that didn't sound like it was released by Windam Hill in 1989.
This is what birds composed by way of Olivier Messiaen.

(4'33" was Cage too.)
posted by dfan at 8:36 AM on January 13, 2015


Well, there's this.
posted by HuronBob at 8:43 AM on January 13, 2015


I think it would be neat to film the birds throughout the day, sunrise to sunset, and play a piece form that ...has the highlights. Because at sunrise there are likely to be ten million birds and full out chords, as the day progresses, you might have a note, two notes, or just a slow piece like this....ending with millions of notes/chords at the end of the day (if they line up the way that I assume, who knows what they will do).
posted by Wolfster at 8:47 AM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Thanks to the Related Posts at the bottom, I noticed that we talked about this previously (the live performance is new, though).
posted by dfan at 9:03 AM on January 13, 2015


odinsdream: band in a box

The guy behind that program actually did a bunch of original research research behind the idea of recreating material with markov chains, and is AFAIK the first to publish markov-generated results (the above linked Illiac Suite).
posted by idiopath at 9:10 AM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


dfan.. thanks, I thought I had seen this before, but no amount of searching brought up that FPP...
posted by HuronBob at 10:10 AM on January 13, 2015


I call fake on this. Not only is the music way too melodic to represent birds on a wire, even the picture, I think, is photoshopped. That's not the way birds sit on wires.
And the reason I know this, though nobody will believe me, is that I had EXACTLY THE SAME IDEA and have been very cognizant of the patterns of birds on wires ever since. They tend to sit in little bunches with big spaces between them, not evenly spaced like notes, and like the birds in this photo.
Being a master of nonaction, I never actually executed my idea, which is kind of lame but not as lame as faking it.
posted by crazylegs at 10:17 AM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


"I call fake on this. Not only is the music way too melodic to represent birds on a wire, even the picture, I think, is photoshopped. That's not the way birds sit on wires."

I find it musically pretty believable. You can make most of it fall in place just by carefully selecting a key signature. You wouldn't have to fudge things that much for the harmonies, and then your choices about note length and rhythm allow a huge freedom of choice with regard to increasing musicality.

This seems like one of those things where it's most impressive for those who know a little -- they know enough about musical notation to understand the principle -- but not enough to know just how truly large is the composer's freedom of choice within these constraints.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:23 AM on January 13, 2015


Hmm, this reminds me of some old software that could churn out programmatic scores. Mostly they were awful but you'd get a few awesome ones every now and then. I can't recall what it was, Cute-something? Cue-something? It reminded me of ContextFree but with music.

Were you thinking of David Cope's Experiments In Musical Intelligence? I remember he was trying to get a computer to make, for example, Bach-like music.
posted by thelonius at 10:41 AM on January 13, 2015


thelonious: that built on Lajeren Hiller's work, but unlike Hiller who released Band in a Box, Cope never released commercial software.
posted by idiopath at 10:45 AM on January 13, 2015


I whistled the tune to my pet cockatiel, who whistled some of the notes back to me! it's from
the birds, to the internet, to a bird, and back to me! very circular
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:37 AM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is, of course, not a new observation. The idea was important to Ezra Pound, who incorporated the score of Clément Janequin’s Le Chant des Oiseaux (the violin line, arranged by Gerhard Münch) into Canto LXXV following the line "not of one bird but of many," in Canto LXXIX has a whole series of lines implying the comparison ("with 8 birds on a wire/ or rather on 3 wires," "4 birds on 3 wires, one bird on one," "5 of 'em now on 2;/ on 3; 7 on 4/ thus what's his name/ and the change in writing the song books/ 5 on 3," "2 on 2/ what's the name of that bastard? D'Arezzo, Gui d'Arezzo/ notation/ 3 on 3/ chiacchierona/ the yellow bird/ to rest," and in Canto LXXXII ties it all together:
Three birds on the wire

[...]

   f    f
         d
              g
               write the birds in their treble scale
[...]

three solemn half notes
                      their white downy chests black-rimmed
on the middle wire
                                     periplum

posted by languagehat at 11:55 AM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's not the way birds sit on wires.
I think that depends highly on where in the world you live, what species of birds are around you at the time, and even the season. Some bird are less territorial, and snuggle together for warmth. Other birds, like my cockatiels, are more territorial and carefully arrange themselves on perches. Only mated pairs snuggle together, and all birds or bird couples carefully space themselves apart so that each bird/pair is exactly far enough from its neighbor so that it can't receive a nasty nip. These patterns can be spotted in dramatic fashion with aerial shots of birds like Adelie Penguins nesting in Antarctica.
posted by TungstenChef at 3:17 PM on January 13, 2015


I wonder whether one could automate this; have a computer with a camera watch an overhead power line (or similar cable), detect birds and then play them as melodies. Perhaps even play them from a speaker within earshot of the birds, in a sufficiently avian timbre, to see what happens; after all, it has been documented that urban birds have been mimicking mobile phone ringtones; perhaps this would start a feedback loop in which birds collectively compose their next songs?
posted by acb at 3:58 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just prepare the wire beforehand with a little glue and birdseed. (Protip: if you are near a tree filled with starlings at dusk, sweep a green laser pointer through it. Spec-tacular. No animals were harmed, etc, although I can't speak for the paintwork of the cars parked underneath.)

I'm with the not-very-good and not-very-original camp, I'm afraid. I have experimented in the past with some gusto with "random" music. I happened to be given a Gravis soundcard, which was by some way the best I'd ever had, at the same time as I got my first 386 PC (ditto); I was hanging out with programmer-musicians, was a programmer myself at the time, and fascinated by what Eno calls generative music. So I set to... and created a lot of stuff that sounds not unlike this, by picking out promising randomly-by-rule sequences and chords and massaging them. This was not novel then nor now, and after a while I got bored because, well, what was I proving? What was I making? Where could I go? If there was a path to something genuinely good, I didn't have the chops for it. nonetheless, I made stuff that sounded (a lot) like this. I was not alone.

As for originality, slide 4 in this introduction to English writing deck for eleven year olds asks whether "The birds on the telegraph wire looked like music notes on a page" is metaphor or simile. Edging into cliché, perhaps.

Nothing wrong at all with being inspired to write music having looked at birds on a wire - composers and birds have something (starlings again!) of a history. But this ain't that, and it's not... well, what is it?

Starlings, however: if someone can capture something of their murmurations in music, let's have it. That particular clip does a fair job of editing the video to match the (apt) tune, but it's not what I hear in my head when I watch starlings.
posted by Devonian at 6:42 PM on January 13, 2015


Clearly starlings should be rendered as granular synthesis.
posted by idiopath at 7:09 PM on January 13, 2015


periplum

Lovely word.
posted by Wolof at 9:48 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


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