Proof That Birds are Composers
September 9, 2009 6:56 PM   Subscribe

With the right method of interpretation, that could be any song at all.
posted by phrontist at 6:59 PM on September 9, 2009

Very pretty, but cynical me thinks the birds are 'shopped (they don't move for one). I still think it's a neat piece of work though.
posted by Popular Ethics at 7:00 PM on September 9, 2009

Popular Ethics, they don't move because, as the guy said, it's a photograph.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 7:07 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

The melody is elaborated for sure, but I was ok with the stillness of the birds.
posted by droomoord at 7:10 PM on September 9, 2009

Oh, hey. Let's hear it for paying attention.
posted by Popular Ethics at 7:20 PM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

kinda restricted (to the spaces, duh!) but at the same time, rather enrapturing.
posted by notsnot at 7:29 PM on September 9, 2009

I'd say that technically the flock, comprising several individual birds, is the composer.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:36 PM on September 9, 2009

I'd say that technically the flock ... is the composer.

Calling the birds the composer is the same as calling the guy who operated the urinal making machine the artist behind Fountain.

Would you want to count the number of images that this man saw since he learned how to compose music that did not remind him of a musical score? The number of images that could have looked like a musical score but would have sounded like dreck if he had transcribed them into his composition software? The human is the one who decided this could be a piece of music, and took the large number of artistic liberties that made this into a piece of music (for starters key signature, tempo, instrumentation, the durations of each note, how close two birds had to be on a vertical plane to be considered a chord, where the measures started and ended).

Photographers will often see a part of a tree or a rock that with the right lighting and framing, from the right angle, look like a face or a human figure. How many people see these pictures and say they demonstrate that trees really can make faces?

I don't know why, but it bugs me to see people prefer to pretend this is found rather than made.
posted by idiopath at 7:47 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dude, it's just some birds on wires not a big plate of beans.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 7:49 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

As we always try to make sense of the absurd. Birds sing to mate, fly to find food and we think they have feeling - even sophisticated as humans
posted by skillipedia at 7:50 PM on September 9, 2009

Like a bird on a wire, I have tried in my way to anthropomorphize animals.
posted by Nomiconic at 7:52 PM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's like that PBS commercial.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:53 PM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

I remember something similar on "Eye on LA" (local news show in Los Angeles on KABC) in the 80's. One guy made a composition based on palm trees on the horizon.
posted by redteam at 7:59 PM on September 9, 2009

Yeah this dates back at least as far as Cage's Atlas Eclipticalis. But he played fewer interpretive liberties, giving something simultaneously less pleasing to listen to, and more directly determined by his source material. He started with the assignment "open up a start chart and superimpose a staff", rather than seeing a constellation that looked to him like a melody.
posted by idiopath at 8:03 PM on September 9, 2009

I think Andrew Bird is rather fine composer.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 8:36 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

For the general edumification of folks who don't read music: restricting the notes in a given piece to those that appear, unaltered, in the spaces of the five lines of the treble clef ends up giving you music that's composed of all the white keys on a piano. It is bound to sound pleasant, if not musically amazing, to our ears.

The fact that these birds are probably not going to sit directly on top of each other but skip a couple of wires instead means that you're bound to get a lot of 9ths, 11ths, and 13th chords that leave out the stacked thirds closer to the bass (3rds, 5ths, 7ths), which is what gives it a slightly exotic flavor instead of sounding like run of the mill harmonies.

A cool idea and a pleasing video, though I am not personally impressed by the music itself. Worthy FPP though!
posted by nosila at 9:07 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think ideopath nailed it. For perhaps a more "authentic" (In theory anyway) use of birdsong itself being used as a musical tool, I'd suggest a look at the works of composer Olivier Messiaen (1908 – 1992) [wiki]
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 9:17 PM on September 9, 2009

Seekerofsplendor gives a more direct example of birdsong-inspired composition, but a recent episode of Nova Science Now presented a fun and accessible example of this: "Beethoven's 5th from the mouth of a Wood-Wren"

It's about 2/5ths of the way in, but the whole segment is enjoyable and great for the kiddies. Deals briefly with the birdsong-music connection, and even more with similarities in human and bird brain functioning. "Bird Brain" may not be so bad after all.

"Bird Brains" from Nova Science Now
posted by IndpMed at 12:23 AM on September 10, 2009

OK, although I'm sure people like idiopath realize this, the composer isn't really trying to implicate the bird's innate sense of composition, more that he recognized a cool pattern while reading the paper and wanted to be creative with it. He's extremely humble about this idea, saying he doesn't even think it's that original, but it's a cool concept and I'm glad he shared it with all of us. Definite FPP material.

Nosila gives a great explanation for those uneducated in music and/or notation. Pretty much the only "available" notes these birds can notate are FACEG, being the overall voices of an FM79 chord, and restricting melody to these notes fitting with the key signature (all naturals by default). Based on what he saw, the only thing the author took liberties with was the rhythm; had he just done quarter or eighth notes it would sound pretty plain, but the arbitrary mixture gives life to it as in most melodies. However, since he left out the dotted quarter in the 3rd measure I've decided this whole thing is a piece of shit and instead wish Jarbas Agnelli had never been born. SNARK SNARK SNARK
posted by andruwjones26 at 3:18 AM on September 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

This same premise was behind the neatly conceptual video that Nagi Noda (r.i.p.) made in 2006 for Tiga's "Far From Home": wmv; dailymotion (also: making-of).
posted by progosk at 5:50 AM on September 10, 2009

Hey, no slight meant to the composer here. He did something that was done better in 1961, is all I said. For all I know the rest of his stuff is much better, and plenty of excellent praiseworthy people make crap music (myself included, I often suspect).
posted by idiopath at 8:21 AM on September 10, 2009

I hear the birds are lawyering up and will be posting a C&D order any minute now.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:07 AM on September 10, 2009

Order from Chaos.
/me shrugs and reaches for guitar...
posted by aldus_manutius at 12:37 PM on September 10, 2009

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