Most people are familiar with the use of chance operations in music. John Cage used the I Ching to compose his Music of Changes. Xenakis used probabilities and statistical mechanics for Pithoprakta. Stockhausen, Cardew, Feldman, Wolff, and numerous others all wrote indeterminate music of some form or another. But I doubt any of them imagined using bird shit to write music.
Kerry Morrison and Jon Hering, on the other hand, have. From the BBC:
Artist Kerry Morrison laid manuscript sheets on the ground in Liverpool parks and let birds deposit their droppings.
Composer Jon Hering has transformed the bum notes into a full musical score.
Morrison said the 20-minute Bird Sheet Music, which was performed at the Tate Liverpool art gallery, represented the role birds play in the environment.
‘They play a massive part in the ecosystem of the city through their droppings – they disperse seeds, also their droppings help the enrichment of the soil, so we get fertiliser,’ she said.
‘It’s something people don’t often think about. The whole thing about looking at detritus and waste tends to be quite negative. People think it’s mucky or horrible, but of course it’s critical to life on earth.’
There’s a 30 second sample of the music in the link above. It sounds much more conventional and pretty than you might think. There’s also a video interview with Kerry and Jon available from the BBC here, which is much funnier than I expected. Never has the prospect of bird droppings been so thrilling.
Of course, Morrison and Hering aren’t the first to make music inspired by the birds. That’s probably as old as music is. But if you’re interested, more recent examples include Celeste Boursier-Mougenot’s bird-guitar installation, which captures small birds hopping about on electric guitars, and French composer Olivier Messiaen’s birdsong-inspired piano pieces—his Catalogue d’oiseaux—which imitate the melodies and rhythms of bird calls.
Still, I’ve never heard of anyone using bird feces to make music. It’s an idea too crazy—and entertaining—not to share.
For the curious, here’s a video of Messiaen describing how he transcribed bird calls into music, which is as much fun as the BBC’s video of Morrison getting excited over bird crap:
And here’s another video of Boursier-Mougenot’s bird/guitar/aviary installation at London’s Barbican Centre. It’s not so different from some of the improvised rock records I’ve heard: