David Bird’s first creative outlet was the computer. He grew up in a house filled with these machines, his parents were both graphic designers. Because of this surrounding he was, already at a young age, always eager to explore different audio software and production technologies.
While the computer may be an extremely important device in Bird’s music, his feelings towards the machine are ambivalent: “This medium is your crutch in a way, something that also reveals some insecurities. It makes you repeat ideas or use templates too easily. I try to think really critically about this relationship between music and technology.”
Bird has a close relationship with literature, and is particularly drawn to American novelist William Gaddis, whose life-long work researching the cultural history of the player piano led him to describe the instrument as the “grandfather of the computer.” Gaddis described the mechanism of the player piano as a binary system, whose piano rolls depict the digital logic of musical information stored in either “on” or “off” states. Gaddis famously wrote that the player piano was “the ancestor of the entire nightmare we live in, the birth of the binary world where there is no option other than yes or no and where there is no refuge.”
Gaddis’s thoughts on the player piano, as expressed in the novel Agapē Agape, came to inspire Bird in his composing of Drop for string octet and strobe lights. Bird explains, “in the novel, Gaddis depicts how the player piano represented a shift from learning to play an instrument to being able to buy an instrument which plays itself. In the book, the holes in the piano roll are dramatized to the extent that they come to represent cracks in the heart of contemporary creative thought.”
Often in Bird’s work a commentary on capitalism emerges from such binary systems. This is evident in Commercial Vignette for organ and video where he translates the black stripes of a barcode into functional musical notation for an organist. “It was a dramatic act I wanted to explore. The faster you read through the codes the more you get the feeling that a certain capitalist ethos is crashing down on the struggling performer.” The piece was, as Bird writes, “born out of a perverse interest in sensationalizing the arbitrariness of consumer commodities by mapping their representatives onto dramatic musical forms.”
Photo © Anna van Kooij