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  • Writer's pictureThom Holmes

Symphony of the Birds

Electronic Music that uses the Sound of Birds

Since the dawn of audio recording, people have been fascinated with capturing the sounds of birds. This episode explored early field recordings of birds, electronic music that used the sound of birds as raw material, and the sound of synthetically generated bird sounds.


1. Beatrice Harrison, Nightingales (1927), a 78 RPM released by His Master’s Voice, a United Kingdom label of RCA Victor at the time. “Recorded in Beatrice Harrison's garden, Oxted,” England. Probably wild birds in her garden.

2. Karl Reich’s Aviary, Bremen, Trés Jolie, Actual Song of Nightingales and Canaries, with Orchestra (1931). Bluebird Records in the US. Canary breeder Karl Reich (1885–1944) from Bremen (Germany) and his feathered choir of thirty trained canaries were the sensation on the record market in the late 1920s.

3. John Cage, Bird Cage (1973) from the album Bird Cage released in 2000 by Joel Chadabe’s Electronic Music Foundation in the US.

4. Isao Tomita, Sound Creature, demonstration of synthesized bird sounds from his piece Daphne and Chloe by Ravel (1977). Finished section followed by the individually processed synthesized sounds. RCA Red Seal, Japan. Later released in entirety in 1979.

5. Ariel Kalma, Gongmo (1978) from the album Osmose (1978). Released in France on SFP records.

6. From the soundtrack of The Birds, an Alfred Hitchcock film from 1963. From the album, Alfred Hitchcock ‎– The Classic Soundtrack Collection. An original “soundtrack” doesn’t actually exist because no music was orchestrated for the movie other than the eerie electronic music sounds of birds created by Oskar Sala. He used the Mixtur Trautonium to produce these sounds.

7. Ralph Lundsten, Skogen Vaknar from the album Nordisk Natursymfoni Nr 1 "Strömkarlen" in 1975. Odeon Records, Sweden.

8. Earthstar, Morning Song, from the album French Skyline (1979). Sky Records.

9. Jim Nollman, Music to Eat Thanksgiving Dinner By, 3 flute players and 300 turkeys, from the album Playing Music with Animals (1982) by Folkways Recordsin the US.

10. Ann McMillan, Syrinx, from the album Gateway Summer Sound: Abstracted Animal & Other Sounds (1979), on Folkways, US.

11. Jim Fassett, Symphony of the Birds (1960) from an album of the same name on Ficker Records in the US.

The Archive Mix included the following three tracks played at the same time, all with bird sounds.

· Johan Dalgas Frisch, The Song from Moulin Rouge, from the album Symphony of the Birds (1968) released on MGM records in the US.

· Ambience One, Colloquy: Unruffled Feathers, excerpt, produced by Eddie Newmark, on Audio Fidelity Records in 1970.

· An Evening in Sapsucker Woods, excerpt, 158, produced by Arthur A. Allen and Peter Paul Kellogg for Cornell University Records.

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Electronic and Experimental Music

Notes on the development and continuing history of electronic music, its creators, and the technology.

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