Hollis Taylor is a full-blown obsessive of the best type: a musician, composer, musicologist and ornithologist who is able to revel in the aesthetics of birdsong and analyse its patterns, methodologies and motivations. Absolute Bird arrives concurrently with her enthralling book, Is Birdsong Music? (Indiana Press), the protagonist of both being Australia’s pied butcherbird, a true virtuoso of melodic invention (hear Taylor’s recordings of these creatures at www.piedbutcherbird.net).
For this double-album the birds’ melodies have been transcribed and partially recomposed for soloists including herself (violin) and Genevieve Lacey (recorder), a string quartet and even the six voices of the Song Company, with the music set against diverse field recordings. Attempts to catch timbral nuances can be especially thrilling, the upshot being an album brimming with the unexpected. By having humans play the butcherbirds’ songs she also nudges the listener closer to answering a question that is partly philosophical and partly artistic. I was about four when I was mesmerised by the dawn carolling of magpies, so I’ve never doubted the answer. Is birdsong music? YES!