Quirks & Quarks

Music inspired by endangered bird calls brings focus on conservation and creativity

Science and philosophy of conservation informed Toronto composer Keith Stratton's piece

Science and philosophy of conservation informed Toronto composer Keith Stratton's piece

The greater prairie-chicken's call is one of the 11 bird calls Keith Stratton used to compose his piece, Terminarch ((Jim Rathert/Missouri Dept. of Conservation))

This documentary by journalist and broadcaster Marina Wang looks at musician and composer Keith Stratton's piece Terminarch.

To highlight issues of natural conservation, and to explore themes of musical creativity and the place of music in nature and human culture, Stratton used the calls of twelve endangered Canadian birds as creative and practical inspiration for his piece. 

The bird calls he used included the acadian flycatcher, the flammulated owl, the greater prairie chicken, the yellow rail and the eastern whip-poor-will.

He analyzed the rhythm, pitch and melody of the calls and using this, created a musical composition in which the calls were emulated by percussion instruments. The piece was then performed by the University of Ottawa Percussion Ensemble.

Keith Stratton (lower left) and members of the University of Ottawa Percussion Ensemble (Submitted by Keith Stratton)

Behavioural ecologist Miya Warrington is also heard in the piece discussing the similarities and differences between human music and birdsong from an acoustic and biological perspective.

Thanks to the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Ted Floyd for birdcall recordings.


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