Rhythmic Mosaics

Last year I discovered “Birds Disoriented By Trade Center Light,” an NPR story (originally broadcast in 2010) about how the 9/11 tribute lights endangered over 160,000 birds.

The duality between beams of light, blocks stretching miles and migrating birds forming mosaics of dropping luster inspired the piece.  The birds’ death and survival is analogous to the unbreakable spirit of NYC post 9/11 which is the heart of this composition.  102 species of birds have been recorded to fly annually during the Tribute, the majority being songbirds, specifically, wood thrush, mockingbirds, and house finch calls.  I have roughly transcribed the bird patterns from the spectrograms and audio files from the Macaulay Library to roughly represent these birds.

Due to the tireless work of the National Audubon Society’s “Lights Out” Program, the lights are now set for a limited time in large cities with a lot of light pollution.  This helps avoid confusion of the birds which can cause them to collide with windows and buildings.  In NYC on September 11 during the annual tribute this “lights off” system avoids death for most birds during the peak of bird migration time (fall).  Radar helps identify these patterns.  By turning off the lights four times during the 24-hour period, the birds can survive.

The mini-concerto tells the story of the one night a year when these lights shine, and many birds fall while others survive.  I have roughly graphed out the structure of the piece below:

The form of the piece is roughly based on a “mini” concerto between the violin and other instruments.  The blocks of light are represented by “b” and appear four times within the 8-minute piece.  While the calls themselves are composed, they each take on characteristics of the prominent birds I selected to make their calls be heard. 

The Blackout sections should be jarring.  Each one is slightly different musically, but should create the same effect of creating a void, a blackness, eventually providing the birds a chance to reset.