On the Island of Nias, off Sumatra in Indonesia, golden-voiced singing birds, such as the Sumatran laughing-thrush, the red chattering lory with its blackish-green tail, and the black-winged starling, are unfortunately captured every year for the benefit of a singing contest. A “tweet mania” where birds sadly disappear from the forest to go live in tiny cages. (Taken from and inspired by the feature story “Indonésie, l’éveil d’un archipel” broadcast in January 2016 on the television programme Thalassa on TV5.)
Exotic birds are caught illegally every year in the tropical forests to be sold on markets aimed primarily at Westerners. Parrots are hidden inside plastic bottles. Beautiful songbirds are exploited solely for the pleasure of the human ear. Southeast Asia is full of these rare and sought-after bird species.
Nature’s rites make some noise under this silence, no matter the location. There is a forest where, somewhere, birds are hiding from predators. Bird trafficking carries on to satisfy unprincipled aficionados.
Elsewhere, we listen to them, we enjoin them to be carefree. Let’s record them and observe them. In groups, birds show solidarity and a lack of hierarchy: a call to freedom and to saving our vital spaces.
At the heart of this piece’s theme is a behavioural and comparative study on how gregarious birds behave and how opposition manifests among human beings.
Les oiseaux de Nias draws a parallel between types of gathering among living beings and references the very troubling incidence of human activity on Earth’s ecosystem.
The great challenge for this work, which developed from acoustic/electronic coexistence, was to establish unity between fixed pre-spatialized sounds, the amplified, modified and spatialized sounds of the five soloists, and the choir of 25 acoustic bird calls.
I recorded the birdsongs while trekking and travelling. Added to acoustic sounds are sound objects I made: small fluorescent birdhouses on sticks with a mini-loudspeaker and a switch, modified whistle-straws that produce multiple frequencies simultaneously so as to reveal spontaneous chords.
This musical fantasia also includes visual and theatrical elements, and it calls for audience participation. It was first designed for a performance at the Satosphère of the Société des arts technologiques (SAT) in Montréal (Québec), a hemispheric hall fitted with a 31-channel, 157-loudspeaker sound system.
[English translation: François Couture, vii-21]
Les oiseaux de Nias [The Birds of Nias] was realized in 2017-2019 at the composer’s studio (Studio Séducson) in Montréal and was premiered on February 26, 2019 at the concert D’un espace à l’autre presented at the Satosphère of the Société des arts technologiques (SAT) as part of the Montréal / Nouvelles musiques (MNM) festival in Montréal. Set design: RB Breton Parisi; staging, lighting design: François Doyon. Thanks go to Walter Boudreau and Aïda Aoun of the SMCQ. This work was revised in 2020. Thank you to: the “Bird Calls Choir” including a group of children from the school École de la Samare (recorded bird calls); Fannie Doyon-Turcotte, Michel Lacroix and Cédric Quilleré (field recordings); Canadian Music Centre in Québec (graphic production of the score); David Ledoux and Robert Normandeau at Faculté de musique of the Université de Montréal (spatialization using SpatGRIS inside the loudspeaker dome and rehearsal); Audrée Southière (recorded narration); the five soloists Michel Dubeau, Julien Grégoire, Claire Marchand, Sonia Paço-Rocchia, Guy Pelletier; and a very special thank you to Élisabeth Cathy (cute bird sound). Long Pipe design, building, and programming: Sonia Paço-Rocchia; design and building of the other sound objects: Roxanne Turcotte. Finally, thank you to the Canada Council for the Arts (CCA) (composition, first live performance).