When birds occupy a soundscape, don't you think they compose music like an orchestra? What can humans but record them, like PJ Harvey, or Francisco Lopez? Or we could imitate them. The oldest instrument in the world is 37,000 years old and directly connected to birds as it is a whistle carved out of a vulture’s bone. Perhaps hunting necessitated music.
Much later, Mozart would use various calls to compose a kind of musical entertainment for children (although in reality the composer was an obscure Benedictine monk). Messiaen, for his part, transcribed birdsong by stationing himself and his score in the middle of a forest. If the bird is the primary inspiration for human music, it is therefore natural that it evokes a return to Nature. For example, the fantasy trance of Dead Can Dance and the synthetic lyricism of Vangelis. In 1975, the vocalist Meredith Monk used her prodigious ambition to recreate an entire soundscape filled with cries, calls, and birdsong, bringing to life an entire jungle with just her voice.
Birdsong is also the language these animals use to communicate with each other. “Rockin 'Robin” describes the exploits of a nightingale who persuades all the other birds to accompany him in song. Far more cynical, Zappa remembers the pigeons that cover Venice which is why, in his view, the city will soon be swallowed up. The fault lies with those who have fun feeding these animals with bread crumbs, like the old woman in Mary Poppins who sells bird feed to passers by. Duke Ellington takes up the theme, playing homage to this seed seller. Could the pigeon also become a symbol of freedom as proved by Elton John?
Using birds to represent freedom has become something of a cliché. But then again it is true that the sky is a bird’s limit! In electro music, Mister Oizo is inspired by this freedom as he flits between styles, sticking to nothing, except a sense of the absurd. Total freedom can make you dizzy! Alain Bashung flirts with madness when he wonders what a bird can hide under her plumage. The B-52’s are in a panic when a huge bird lands on the roof of their house. With Converge, it is all much darker – the eagles have become vultures. The only thing they can do is scream a hellish scream as the birds are carried by the wind of death. Morton Feldman pays tribute to his late piano teacher and uses the cuckoo song as a metaphor for her long life. Whenever we hear his song, death takes one step closer...