Alvin Curran: NOTES on A Beginner's Guide
I am a "frequent flyer," she is a frequent flyer, they are frequent flyers, we are all frequent flyers.
Birds began accumulating frequent flyer miles long before people traveled on plastic cards or magic carpets. The oldest one was found in Germany, but now an even older one has been found in China. It was the kind that climbed trees first and then leapt into flight.
This work is a tribute to many of these flyers whom I have sought out all over the world. I am not an ornithologist but a natural sound-junkie and a good part of this increasingly thick web of bird sound is a result of my peacefully stalking birds with a microphone in the last 30 years. Mixed into this sonic fabric is a constant presence of one of our greatest contemporary frequent flyers -- John Cage - hence this work is a tribute to him.
Among the other prominent sounds and voices is that of my dear friend and colleague Maryanne Amacher, heard in the beginning in dialogue with the parrot Clifford, at Pulsa's Harmony Ranch, in Connecticut in 1970.
From there to the Amsterdam Zoo and other conversations with talking birds and then to a farm Northeast of Rome, where a backward nightingale initiates the inevitable waves of sound to come. Halfway through the piece the "Bird" Himself enters. Charlie Parker, flying in three varied shape loops with clusters of 1000's of birds riding on this great musical icon. (Glenn Spearman just came in and told me that Eric Dolphy used to practice his flute, somewhere between fa and f sharp, with the morning birds.) After waves of loons, Sand Hill Cranes, Prairie Chickens, Hopoes, a million Starlings in Rome and migrations of Canadian geese, we hear the unbending drone of the computer room at the Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne -- thanks to Klaus Schoening.
The entire piece was composed and performed as a single mix using some 26 tracks. The computer elaborations in MAX, played on a midi keyboard (Sampler and Synths) put instruments and voices alike in a swirling multi-purpose aviary; transformations (in Sound Hack), recording and digital editing were done by Jonathan Mitchell at the CCM studios of Mills College, Oakland, California. The TITLE for this work was suggested by Melissa Gould who discovered the fine book by Leon A. Hausman called Beginner's Guide to Attracting Birds, which served indeed as a guide and inspiration to my finding a single use for a large part of my life's sound archive.-- Alvin Curran, November 1995