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Information and Blog on electronic performance materials

Jonathan Harvey sound sources

Bird Concerto With Pianosong (2001)

Ensemble, piano/sampler/synthesizer and orchestra with electronics



Programme Note


Indigo bunting, orchard oriole, golden crowned sparrow - these are some of the 40 colourful Californian birds whose songs and cries sparked the ignition of this work as I started it in the brilliant light of California. 'Real' birdsong was to be stretched seamlessly all the way to human proportions - resulting in giant birds - so that a contact between worlds is made. When I started to transpose them and slow them down to our natural speeds of perception they began to reveal level after level of ornamentation - baroque culicues and oriental arabesques. They were put on a triggering keyboard and combined in dialogue with instruments - particularly solo piano, who connects closely by playing birdsong samples and piano simultaneously, and so incorporated in the pitch and time of our own song-world. Birds embody not only the joy of endless singing but also the freedom of the body's flight. The orchestra, like the birds, would have to wing its way through the bright air. Birds also use quasi-electronic frequency modulation in their cries and songs. I took their hint and copied their tricks in the electronic modulations of the orchestra. If the songs and objects of the score can bring some inkling of how it might feel to be a human in the mind of a bird, or vice-versa, then I would be happy. The Bird Concerto with Pianosong was written in response to a request from Joanna MacGregor, who plays both the piano and sampler/synthesiser keyboard, and commissioned by Sinfonia 21, with whom I have a happy association, together with GRAME/Ensemble Orchestrale Contemporain and the French Ministere de Culture. The birdsongs were encoded in digital form by Bill Schottstaedt of CCRMA: my thanks to him, to Juan Pampin for help with programming, to Sound Intermedia (Ian Dearden and David Shephard) for their help with spatialisation, modulation and diffusion and to Oliver Rivers for his encouragement. Jonathan Harvey



Brief description of electronics


Bird Concerto with Pianosong requires a Yamaha SY77 synthesiser placed on the piano so the pianist can play it at the same time as the piano. The SY77 also triggers sounds on an Akai Z8/S5000/S6000 sampler. A digital mixing desk takes these signals, together with microphone inputs of all acoustic instruments and routes them to a laptop computer running a Max/MSP patch. The computer processes the sound with three ring modulators and two amplitude modulators, and then spatialises it. A MIDI fader box is used to control levels, and two joysticks control the spatialisation around the audience with eight to ten loudspeakers.





Bird Concerto requires three operators to control the following:


(1) mixing console (reads score, changes scenes, fades channels in/out)

(2) laptop and MIDI faders (reads score, changes cues in computer, fades channels in/out on MIDI faders)

(3) joysticks (reads score, moves joysticks)


All three operators must be able to follow a complex score.



Materials and documentation [download] (331 MB)

Contains all electronic materials and full documentation.

Last updated 20th February 2013.


BirdConcTechDoc.pdf [download] (1.83 MB)

Documentation only.

Last updated 20th February 2013.

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