Turn on/off the embedded sound - Owen Springs Reserve 2014: Vibraphone played by Claire Edwardes, from the CD Absolute Bird (ReR Megacorp).

Whistling in the Dark

a Jon Rose and Hollis Taylor project

Whistling in the Dark embraces a set of duets between various pied butcherbirds (from field recordings in outback Australia) and virtuosic human musicians (in home lockdown) performing transcriptions of this extraordinary avian music - and music it is. Welcome to this ancient and modern world of melodic invention.

The field recordings and initial transcriptions were made by Dr Hollis Taylor in her 18-year investigation into the vocalisations of these feathered choristers. A selection from the 100s of recordings/transcriptions were arranged by Jon Rose in 2020 for human musicians - an interspecies collaboration. Some birdsong phrases were recast at half and quarter speeds (exposing details otherwise too fast for our human perception); others were exposed to contrapuntal devices such as inversion or augmentation - while sections from Jon's own imagination endeavoured to either 'be bird' or consider 'what if bird could'. However, in general this work sets itself the task of meticulously taking on the sonic constructs of another species. It does so with authenticity and on the highest artistic level with diverse Australian musicians.

a Pied Butcherbird. photo by Hollis Taylor

QUEEN'S ROAD: with the bird recorded 11.5.2017 in Bowen Qld, and Emma Roijackers (Violin) recorded 11.12.2022 in Alice Springs (Mparntwe)

ELKIRA 2018: with the bird recorded 10.9.2018 at The Elkira Motel, Alice Springs, and Emma Roijackers (Violin) recorded 31.1.2024 in Alice Springs (Mparntwe)

DALRYMPLE: with the bird recorded 3.11.2013 near Charters Towers Qld, and Claire Edwardes (Marimba) recorded 2.6.2020 in Sydney

PALM RAGONESI 2016: with the bird recorded 18.8.2016 at Alice Springs, and Cathy Milliken (Oboe) recorded 28.5.2020 in Berlin

MOUNT SURPRISE: with the bird recorded 26.10.2017 in Qld, and Brett Dean (Viola) - recorded 5.9.2020 in London

OWEN: with the bird recorded 23.8.2016 at Owen Springs Reserve NT, and Ben Ward (Double Bass) recorded 30.8.2020 in Sydney

BINNS: with the bird recorded 23.8.2016 on Binns Track NT, and Lamorna Nightingale (Flute) recorded 4.7.2020 in Sydney

CAMERON: with the bird recorded 17.10.2014 in Brisbane, and Jason Noble (Clarinet) recorded 7.7.2020 in Sydney

PETRICK: with the bird recorded 8.9.2014 in Alice Springs NT, and Simone de Haan (Trombone) recorded 28.7.2020 in Perth

AMADEUS: with the bird recorded 19.9.2016 in Alice Springs NT, and Joanne Cannon (Bassoon) recorded 21.6.2020 in Melbourne

MIDWAY: with the bird recorded 25.10.2013 Qld, and Zubin Kanga (Piano) recorded 15.7.2020 in London

BURLEIGH HEADS: with the bird recorded 24.9.2010 Qld, and James Nightingale (Tenor Saxophone) recorded 8.8.2020 in Sydney

ERIJA: with the bird recorded 22.8.2016 in Alice Springs NT, and Alexander Garsden (Guitar) recorded 15.8.2020 in Melbourne

PALM RAGONESI 2014: with the bird recorded 22.8.2014 in Alice Springs, and Chloe Higgins (Tuba) recorded 20.4.2018 in Zurich

THE SALT EVAPORATOR: with the bird recorded 11.7.2017 at Bowen Qld, and Hollis Taylor (Violin) recorded 2.9.2020 in Alice Springs

HAIL MARY(!): with the bird recorded 28.8.2020 at Saint Mary's, Alice springs, and Callum G'Froerer (double-bell trumpet) recorded 25.2.2024 in Melbourne

a Pied Butcherbird at Cape Range NP. photo by Carolin Kleehaupt.

The question often posed is, 'Why don't you play live with the birds when they are singing?' It can happen by chance (usually diurnally), but to intentionally subject birds in their critical spring season to human trespass on their sonic territory is a 'no-no' by any reckoning. The pied butcherbirds that Hollis records in general sing nocturnally. If you've ever seen a pied butcherbird vocalise, you know it physically involves a total bodily propulsion of each phrase to attain maximum projection. It is exhausting music, an individual bird sometimes singing up to seven hours without pause. Human sonic intrusion can cause extreme stress and also alerts predators that something unusual is happening, potentially putting a pied butcherbird on the breakfast menu. Also, recording these birds is a very hit - and - miss affair. Perfect recording conditions are rare; nonetheless, the unadulterated recording is preferred to one where a musician blasts away trying to get a bird to respond.

Also, the birds may sing in less than safe environments, where snakes inhabit campground facilities, where drunken truck drivers wander around looking for something or someone to do, where cows walk into you, where police impersonators arrive to steal your car, and where other disrupting humans materialise out of nowhere to impede the recording of this amazing animal.

More information here and score example here.

© All Music Jon Rose and Hollis Taylor 2024

What's New

April 2023
'Rock/Paper/Scissors' - first performance of a radical new interface between violin improvisation, composition, orchestra, and conductor. Highlights here.
KNM, Berlin
March 2023
'Beak' - Kronos Quartet plays the world premiere, a composition based on the song of a Pied Butcherbird by Jon Rose and Hollis Taylor.
Adelaide Festival
March 2024
'Night Songs' celebrates an interspecies multi-media engagement between the ancient music of a uniquely Australian songbird - Cracticus nigrogularis (the Pied Butcherbird) and Australia's premiere new music group Ensemble Offspring. Documentation here.
The Adelaide Festival
Latest Stuff
Emma Roijackers - Violin
Claire Edwardes - Marimba
Cathy Milliken - Oboe
Brett Dean - Viola
Ben Ward - Double Bass
Lamorna Nightingale - Flute
Jason Noble - Clarinet
Simone de Haan - Trombone
Joanne Cannon - bassoon
Zubin Kanga - Piano
James Nightingale - Soprano Saxophone
Alexander Garsden - Guitar
Chloe Higgins - Tuba
Hollis Taylor - Violin
Callum G'Froerer - Double-bell Trumpet (photo - Rob Loughlin)
website by jos berkers