Chris Sainsbury

After we recorded the first two movements of Chris Sainsbury’s wonderfully evocative “Symphony of the Birds” he entered it into the New England Philharmonic’s call for scores – and won! The New England Philharmonic will perform the first movement on October 30, 2010, in Boston.  (Concert details)

As Sainsbury says, “I’m sure the fantastic recording by the Fauxharmonic Orchestra added much weight to my submission to the New England Philharmonic, and assisted in the ultimate win in their Call for Scores Competition.”

Listen: First Light – [audio:sainsbury_symphony_birds_1_REC.mp3]

Chris Sainsbury on his “Symphony of the Birds”

[Chris Sainsbury’s website]
This piece was commissioned by Chris Bearman, Musical Director of the Central Coast Symphony Orchestra and Conservatorium in Gosford City, Australia. The brief was to ‘keep it local’ which was great as it is in keeping with my thinking. I’d been increasingly concerned about the global focus in all aspects of life. To achieve this ‘local idea’ I used local bird sounds of the region (at latitude 33 on the east coast of Aust) as source material for the piece.

Having grown up in the same region I’ve lived with these birds and they’ve got their claws into me (not always metaphorically)!

This work was conceived and realised using my concepts of:

  1. Ground Sounds
  2. Sky Sounds
  3. Near-melodies

The terms are original (as far as I know) and deliberately uncomplicated. They are Australian as far as I’m concerned. I am now thinking and hearing under these ‘elements’ of music, which of course cross-over with the various elements of music that we know. The difference is really in the hearing – in the genesis of ideas and the working of material, and in the thinking.

Ground sounds are characterised by sustain, repetitive device, ‘melod-ercussion’, and the non-development of idea (in a Western sense). These are present through sustain, subtle convergences, absence of dramatic interpolations, veiled ostinati, use of tone- scenes (the dominance of particular colour combinations), and subtle melod-ercussive device (melodic thumps, scratchings, breaks and bumps).

Sky sounds are simply the phenomenon of sky reverb and sky amplification, which vary in the natural environment with landscape, weather and time of day. At various points I set out to orchestrate reverb and amplification into the work (as in the first half of movement two).

Near-melodies are the melodic fragments of birds. They sound short songs and calls, often fantastic tunes which they abandon as soon as they’ve begun. Of course they are entire (probably for birds), but we need something longer to call ‘a piece’. In this light I strung them together end on end at times (for major themes), ‘classicising’ them. There are however, many near-melodies that are left in tact in the work, abandoned as soon as sounded.

I use some fifty bird sounds as motives in the work, with all melodies and chords stemming from those. With this amount of ‘tunes’ rolling one can see the need to be careful about Western developmental thinking. It could become too big and messy! Indeed I don’t dramatically ‘develop’ any bird sound melodically, but leave them always intact. There is no augmentation of interval, nor inversion of tune, nor fragmentation or such device. I have used simpler treatments such as transposing up a step and have at times expanded the rhythm of the near-melodies. Basically I suspended part of me the composer and I didn’t mess too much with the birds!

Some near-melodies in the work are clearly identifiable bird sounds, down to the species. Some are ‘my good rendition’ of a bird sound I heard and whilst it works for listeners as bird sound, it would be difficult to identify the species (especially some of the parrots). The species include parrots (Lorikeets, King Parrots and others), Wattle-birds, Butcher-birds (my favourite), the Koel, Plovers, Gulls, Various Finches, and more. Some I didn’t even see, but notated.

All the notations are classicised into a twelve note system. Birds have a syrinx, rather than a larynx, and make complicated sounds. It was my primary intention to write music, not completely emulate bird sounds. In this light the various movements are basically Western in format. It is a vehicle which assists the listener to ‘hear my local environment’, essentially enabling a visit!

I hope you enjoy the work. Don’t listen too closely for the various birds, just take wing yourself!”

3 replies
  1. robert Lloyd
    robert Lloyd says:

    A wonderful recording!
    What impressed me besides the great orchestral writing, is the sense of acoustic space here. I have visited this part of Australia and respond to its open spaces and mountains. Rough,dry and hostile in a sense like an Albert Tucker painting.Congratulations! Robert Lloyd.

  2. Cuvus Minuyee
    Cuvus Minuyee says:

    Congratulation Chris!

    I think those listeners who listen to this movement can appreciate and will probably, fully understand all aspects of the components of the composition, arrangement and orchestration that you applied in the piece, if they (as you previously mentioned) somehow were resided in an alike surroundings and were inspired from that particular sonic atmosphere.

    Every bird in such an environment can be considered as a composer and singer/performer of its own instinctive singing parts. The difficult task for you in here was that you well managed to compose, edit, arrange, combine and orchestrate approximately fifty distinctive melodic and rhythmic tunes with their own sonic-characteristic nature, put them together within adding your own compositional ideas, and logically relate them to each other in an organised directional-purposeful musical manner; and finally, translate them to be sensible and understandable for individual listeners in a Western music format.

    It only does not seem an orchestrated version of the ambience of singing birds but, implies and illustrates their interactions, their sharp jumps and movements, their flight and the height/dimensions of their air travel.

    This is I think a sophisticated piece which I had to hear it for several times to perceive it better and better. I guess by further listenings, I will discover more about this piece. A significant work of art.


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