Bird House was commissioned and performed as part of Ornithology, a performance by installation and performing artist Michael Pestel with the Carnegie Mellon University flute ensemble at Pittsburgh Aviary, PA in April 2000.
I was very delighted when Michael approached me about writing a piece to be played at the aviary. I knew right away that I needed to go down there and experience the room where the performance would take place.
Once in the aviary, the birds that made the strongest impression were the flamingos. Their call was so unexpectedly strange; it sounded more like a bark than an actual birdcall. The other characteristic of the call was its quasi tritone quality.
While writing the piece, this interval became a light motif throughout the work, a kind of glue element. There is also a lot of canonic and imitation writing throughout the piece.
Through close imitations and follow the leader gestures, I wanted to create with sound what happens within a flock of flying birds.
In other words, a mass of sound that changes little by little creating that ever-changing mass that one sees while they fly.
I also decided to quote myself since I had not long ago written Malagigi the Sorcerer for Alberto Almarza who was in charge of the flute ensemble and who is also a devoted bird watcher. The second movement of
Malagigi starts with the depiction of a forest through a flute cadenza imitating birdcalls. I used the same material to create a cacophony of "birdcalls". I'd like to share a story of what happened when we premiered the piece at the aviary. I certainly got my cacophony of birdcalls.
When we started playing all the other birds joined us making a tremendous ruckus, but the most amazing thing was to watch the piccolo players being attacked by small black birds, which kept diving on their heads as they performed. God only knows what they thought we were doing.