Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Birdsongs of the MidWest - Meet Andrew Bird

Written by: Amy Tobin of Fine Violins

What do you call someone who is classically trained as a violinist, an innovator in using electronics with the violin, a multi-instrumentalist, and can whistle nearly anything? Well, besides 'incredibly talented,' you call him -

Andrew Bird - photo by John Anderson
A native of Chicago, IL, Andrew actually began playing the violin, at the age of 3, with the Suzuki method. Years later, he went on to Northwestern University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in violin performance. Yes, our Mr. Bird is an actual, real live performance major! The same year he graduated (which was 1996),
he happened to release his first album, called "Music of Hair." After the release of that album (whose primary focus was Andrew's first instrument - the violin), he went on to form a group called "Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire."

Although Bowl of Fire would record three albums ("Thrills" and "Oh! The Grandeur" in 1997 and 1998, as well as "The Swimming Hour" in 2001 - all Rykodisc Records), it would not be until 2002 that he would garner any real recognition. His group was asked to play as the opener for a band in Chicago, but the other members couldn't (or wouldn't) play the show, so Andrew decided to play solo. Armed with his violin, his voice, his whistling, (and Lord knows what else!), he stepped up and took the stage. He was well-received, and this set him on his way with his solo career.

There is a lot more to his resume to be sure (see it here), but all of that is not the most interesting thing about Andrew. The really interesting thing is his use of all sorts of other things. First of all, he is a wiz with the loop pedal. (For those of you who are new to this, a loop pedal is a pedal operated recording device which acts as a multi-track recorder, allowing the musician to create his own backing tracks)

Pretty amazing, right? Well, he was also involved in a fantastic project at the Guggenheim Museum. Yep, THAT Guggenheim. Andrew Bird and Ian Schneller created an installment called "Sonic Arboretum," involving multiple victrola-looking speakers, placed in multiple locations, and a performance by Bird.  If I had been in New York then, I would DEFINITELY have been there!

Andrew Bird is an innovator, a do-gooder (he has worked with environmental group Reverb), a children's artist (playing "Dr. Stringz" on Noggin's children's show "Jack's Big Music Show"), and creating/composing/performing the soundtrack for the 2011 film "Norman". He's a busy guy, and I would absolutely recommend beginning your journey through "Birdland," as it were. Whatever your favorite style of music, you will find it on at least one, if not all, of his recordings.

........oh, and don't forget the whistling!

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