Originally composed in 1979 for NEXUS, the piece is scored for harmonicas, cymbals, gongs, piano, and over fifty different bird whistles collected from all over the world. Included among the whistles are various types of nightingale, dox, turkey, duck, goose, loon, and quail calls. The fully orchestrated version of The Birds was completed in 1983.
There are two primary contrasting musical elements to the work. The first is a simple C-minor cadence played by the orchestra and suggesting a link to the solemnity of the symphonic music of European romanticism. The second element consists of an overlying montage of distinctly non-symphonic sounds – sometimes beautiful, sometimes raucous and absurd – made by the bird whistles (most of which are in reality nothing more than miniature flutes and oboes). It is the interaction between these two musical extremes – the profound and the frivolous – that the piece seeks to stimulate both contemplation and humor in the listener.
23 page score, arranged for Full Orchestra (27 parts)