Birds are the original musicians. This, at least, is a premise of the Audubon Society’s Birdsong Project, “a movement inspiring bird conservation through art.” There could thus be no more natural art form in which to celebrate our fine feathered (and in many cases, now endangered) friends than music, which the Birdsong Project has commissioned for its first release, and in no small quantity. They’ve so far put out the first two volumes of For the Birds, which in its totality will involve “more than 220 music artists, actors, literary figures, and visual artists, all coming together to celebrate the joy birds bring to our lives” — and remind us of “the environmental threats we all face.”
Those contributors include Yo-Yo Ma, Elvis Costello, and Beck, whose work on For the Birds you can hear in the videos in this post. And in the case of Yo-Yo Ma, who performs a piece called “In the Gale” (by composer Anna Clyne), you can see him play not in a concert hall but out in the midst of genuine nature.
This underscores what’s heard brightly and clearly on the recording: that Ma and Clyne were just two of many collaborators on the track, the others being what sound like a forest full of birds. Other artists take different approaches: Beck’s “Archangel” is a lush studio soundscape, and Costello combines his own “The Birds Will Still Be Singing” with “And Your Bird Can Sing,” the most appropriate Beatles cover imaginable (apart from “Blackbird,” at least).
Organized by Randall Poster, by day a music supervisor for filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Martin Scorsese, For the Birds also features music from, Jarvis Cocker, The Flaming Lips, Kaoru Watanabe, Stephin Merritt, and Seu Jorge. And those are just the contributors known primarily for their music: others involved in the project include Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, and Jonathan Franzen. You can now stream the first two volumes on most major services, and pre-order the full 20-LP box set that will contain the material musical and literary from all five volumes, the last of which is scheduled to come out this September. Give it a listen, and afterward you’ll perhaps find yourself that much more able to appreciate the avian symphony conducted all around us.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.