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Birdsong, for brass quartet, didgeridoo, percussion and piano, does not involve such unusual techniques, but it could be described as unusual music. Inspired by a very surreal dream during the summer of 2005 it is set in Australia’s Northern Queensland, where I embark on a rather odd journey through a sub-tropical rain forest. Birdsong is my attempt to describe the journey. I won’t go into detail, but there are a couple of amusing moments including Igor Stravinsky flying! Circling high above in a majestic Technicolor animation of his ‘Firebird’—and Gustav Mahler, who trudges by with a gigantic double bass strapped to his back. Salvador Dali also makes an appearance, leaping spectacularly from side to side, all the while twitching his moustache and ringing his ‘little bell’. The sound of the bell sends hundreds of Bell Birds into a ‘tinkling’ frenzy resulting in a cacophony of sound from Lyrebirds, Magpies, Kookaburras, Cockatoos, Rozellas, the ‘Brisbane Jazzbird’ and various Parakeets.

I have endeavored to capture the reality of the birdcalls through close musical imitation of specific birdsong. The central instrument in Birdsong is the didgeridoo, the instrument of the indigenous Australians made from branches of the Jarra tree and traditionally hollowed-out by termites. I used the didgeridoo in low B and E, sometimes as an organum, and other times with the horn and trombone in slow syncopation to create a muddy texture of unsettling dissonance. In addition to all the imitated birdcalls, you will hear moments of Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ and ‘Firebird’ together with a suggestion of Mahler’s 1st Symphony. You might also detect a sad ‘Waltzing Matilda’!

from notes by Graham Ashton © 2007


Scenes of spirits
SIGCD099Download only


Track 6 on SIGCD099 [13'05] Download only

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD099 track 6

Recording date
22 December 2005
Recording venue
Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, State University of New York, USA
Recording producer
Steven Epstein
Recording engineer
Richard King & Sebastian Cortone
Hyperion usage
  1. Scenes of spirits (SIGCD099)
    Disc 1 Track 6
    Release date: May 2007
    Download only
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