Listen to the birds

Anyone who shares my obsession with talking and singing birds might enjoy this juicy worm from Moon Wiring Club.

Today Bread, Tomorrow Secrets is a new album from electronic artist Moon Wiring Club, exploring an uncanny world where humans and birds dine together at a bewitching, Edwardian post-theatre banquet.

The album is available on CD and vinyl and curiously, different tunes are served up on each format.  The CD is packed with exquisite electronic tracks, in compound time signatures that lilt like a high Baroque dance suite. I appear on recorder, here and there, extemporising fragments of the kind of minuets and gigues that were taught to birds in the eighteenth century. The LP is largely cut from the same source material but is a more laid back affair, sans beats – an electronic lullaby of sorts.

Listen to the Birds

Artwork by Ian Hodgson

Moon Wiring Club told me about the album a few months ago, after hearing my Radio 4 documentary The Bird Fancyer’s Delight, in which I explored the curious practice of teaching birds to sing human tunes. Centuries before the invention of the iPod, the tape recorder or the Edison phonograph, trained birds were used in the home as primordial, feathered music machines. Caged and isolated from their own species, they were taught fashionable melodies which they would chirp on command.

On these dank autumn nights, I’ve been enjoying my excursions into Moon Wiring Club’s bird parallel, where birds cavort beyond the obsidian mirror. It’s a lovely thing. And as a recorder player, I’m delighted to see a Bressan gracing the front of the LP. It’s refreshing to work with a fellow electronic composer who is into the recorder’s rich cultural history and doesn’t resort to the usual, tired old tropes (e.g. using an off-key recorder to denote infantilised music, school dinner hour and so on).

Today Bread, Tomorrow Secrets (Moon Wiring Club)If you’d like to know more about the recorder and its connection to birds, do listen to my documentary – or check out these background notes which feature some extraordinarily talented birds. Birds are so central to the history of sound recording, the word ‘record’ comes from the lurer, who used it to describe a bird’s ability to recall its song (re – again; cordi – from the heart). The woodwind recorder was a bird mimic – it was used to train birds and possibly to lure them in places like Finchley, London, where they were captured in nets for food.

You can buy Moon Wiring Club’s album and browse a library of imaginary avian classics at the Blank Workshop – always worth a visit.

Ghostland of Departed Buildings
(from Today Bread, Tomorrow Secrets LP, MWC)