Tuesday, February 03, 2009


A friend of mine sent me a link to a website recently that sent me on a bit of an Internet ramble. The page was written in french and as I'm not fluent it took a minute to figure out what exactly i was looking at. She had just introduced me to the work of Olivier Messiaen.

Olivier Messiaen was a French composer and ornithologist. He is regarded as the one of the most important French composers of the twentieth century. His music redefined the avant-garde but is also accessible and beautiful.

Two things interested me about his work: his fascination with birdsong and also that Messiaen had mild synaesthesia. Synaesthesia is a neurological condition which results in the joining together of sensations that are normally experienced separately. Some synaesthetes experience colours when they hear or read words, whilst others may experience tastes, smells, shapes or touches in almost any combination. In Messiaen's case he saw colours when he listened to music.

Messiaen viewed birds to be wonderful musicians and he notated birdsong worldwide. He would walk, listen to the noise and then notate it. He then incorporated this into a majority of his music.

The site below has samples of various birds such as the robin, blackbird, nightingale, lark and black headed warbler. Shown below is an example of the warblers birdsong in sound waves, which is then translated and notated into sheet music.

Details/sound clips can be found on: http://pagesperso-orange.fr

for more info on Messiaen:

Image via Allposters

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