URBAN BIRDS
Welcome! Click “Start Here” to begin your visit.
Welcome!
Synchromy presents Urban Birds, an online bird-watching experience created by composers from across Los Angeles County. Explore our virtual park populated with seven of California’s most common birds. Click the bird images to hear their sounds and see their avian lives reimagined as music. Visit the outpost first to download interactive crafts for your very own fledgelings!
Ash-throated Flycatcher Hermit Thrush Barn Owl Red-shouldered Hawk California Towhee Northern Mockingbird American Crow Welcome Outpost
WELCOME OUTPOST ×

Welcome to Urban Birds! Thanks for stopping by! Here are a few brief instructions to help you get started. If you feel moved to donate to Synchromy after your experience, you can do so by clicking here. All proceeds support local artists.

Please note that this online experience is inteded to be viewed on a tablet (oriented horizontally) or a large screen. Functionality on a mobile phone will be limited.

If you are using a tablet for this online experience, we stronly recommend that you orient it horizontally.

Throughout our virtual Debs Park you will find pictures of the most common California birds. Some of them are tricky to find, so make sure you locate all seven! Click each bird to access a video performance of the piece written about that bird. All pieces are world premieres written by Southern Californian composers. Because each bird piece was composed by a different artist, you’ll notice that they are unique and show a range of compositional voices as well as avian diversity.

There are several crafts and activities available on this site as well. The two crafts include instructions for building a quail call and crafting your own toilet-paper-tube binoculars. These are fun crafts to do before beginning your Urban Birds adventure, especially if you are doing so with your brood. Instructions for these crafts can be found by clicking on the tabs above.

To create a bird watching search in your very own home, there are two printable PDFs. The Field Guide lists all of the birds you can find in our virtual Debs Park and can be printed either single or double sided, depending on your printer. Use the guide to learn more about the birds and write or draw your impressions of each performance video. You can find instructions for printing this guide by clicking on the tab above.

If you have access to a smart-device, you can make your bird search feel even more real by downloading the Scavenger Hunt. Print and hide the bird images around your home or garden, then scan the QR codes to watch the performance videos. Use your field guide to make sure you’ve found all of the birds! The Scavenger Hunt is ideal for families who want to recreate a birding adventure and get their kids moving.

Make your own binoculars! This is an open-ended craft in that there’s no way to do it right or wrong. You need tubes for the viewfinder, a way to connect the tubes together and a string to hang it around your neck. For these ones, we gathered:

  • Empty toilet paper rolls
  • Washable paint and brushes
  • Craft tape
  • Embroidery thread
  • Hole punch
  • Scissors
  • Twist ties

You could easily use stickers and markers to decorate the tubes for a less messy variation. For the string, you can use butcher twine, wrapping paper ribbon, or anything else you may have on hand. If you’re low on toilet paper rolls, you can always cut one roll in 2 in order to make a shorter pair of binoculars.

We used 2 different techniques to attach the tubes to one another. I used one regular twist tie (about 4” long) and one really short, thick one (about 1.5” long).

For the longer twist tie technique we

  • punched 2 holes in the middle of each of the tubes, about 2” apart from one another
  • then we threaded the twist tie through both holes in one tube (leaving the long ends pointing outside the tube)
  • then we threaded the long ends through to the inside of the other tube and twisted the ends together

For the shorter twist tie we

  • Punched one hole in the middle of each tube at an equal distance from the end of each tube
  • Bent the twist tie and pushed it into the hole of each tube
  • The wire was too short to attach but it was very strong so it holds in place quite well.

It would also work to use a rubber band twisted in a figure 8 and wrapped around the outside of both tubes. We used this technique to make a mini pair for my 7-year-old’s favourite stuffed animal. Tape can also work as long as your kids aren’t fussy about having enough room for their nose to fit between the tubes.

Make a quail call using only a wooden clothespin and a rubber band! Various quails can be found along the West Coast of the United States, Mexico, and in southern Texas. Try luring them into your yard with this simple craft. Click here to download printable instructions.

IF YOU CAN PRINT DOUBLE-SIDED: click here to download your Field Guide.

How to print double-sided:

  1. Open the file and select print.
  2. If your settings have a “Scale” option, set it to 100%.
  3. Find and select the “Double Sided,” “Two Sided,” “Print on both sides” or similar option.
  4. Set the double sided printing to “Short Edge Binding” or “Flip on short edge” or similar option. (In some instances, this setting might be in the “more settings” or “advanced settings” section of printing options.)

How to assemble double-sided:

  1. Each page is numbered on the lower middle part of the page.
  2. Lay down your pages in the following order:
    • First: Page 2 face up
    • Second: Page 4 face up
    • Third: Page 6 face up
  3. Fold all of the pages together in half, so that the “Urban Birds” cover is on the top. Your field guide should look like a book now!
  4. Staple the spine of your book to hold it together.

IF YOU CAN PRINT SINGLE-SIDED: click here to download your Field Guide.

How to print single-sided:

  1. Open the file and select print.
  2. If your settings have a “Scale” option, set it to 100%.

How to assemble single-sided:

  1. Cut all of your pages in half.
  2. Each half page is numbered on the lower right part of the page.
  3. Stack your pages 1-10 so that number 10 is on the bottom and number 1 is on the top.
  4. Staple the left side of your stack of papers to make a book.

Download your Scavenger Hunt here!

Setting Up Your Scavenger Hunt:

  1. Print the Scavenger Hunt PDF
    1. If your settings have a “Scale” option, set it to 100%
    2. Print single sided
  2. Cut each page into quarters
  3. Hide the birds around your space!

Using QR Codes:

  1. Open your phone’s camera app
  2. Point the camera at the QR code
  3. Your phone should find the QR code and give you the option to open the website
  4. Click through to watch the performance video associated with your bird

Test by pointing your phone camera at the QR code below: If your phone doesn’t recognize the QR code, you might need to download an app for reading QR codes.

AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos) ×
To listen to a recording of the bird’s call, click here.

Crows are thought to be among America’s most intelligent birds Some have learned to even read traffic lights! Their distinctive “CAW!” is a familiar sound across the country. These birds are a friendly bunch, and you can find groups (or murders) of crows flocking together year round.

Los Angeles-based composer Jason Barabba processes his encounters through a personal artistic lens to create pieces that reflect his perception of the world around him. Works by a diverse range of authors including Ursula K. Le Guin, Tao Lin, Herman Melville, Christopher Durang, David Bartone, and Terry Pratchett have all inspired his compositional process. Le Guin has said of Barabba’s work, “Some composers use words as raw material. Like Schubert or Vaughan-Williams, Jason collaborates with them... the texture of the music and the tension in it are wonderfully effective; it’s spare and airy, but strong.” Learn more at his website.

When did you start composing music?
In-between my undergraduate degree in Latin American Studies, and my MFA in music composition.

Why did you pick this bird and instrument combination?
My mother is an artist, and has had a long-standing interest in the crow as a subject in her art. I have dedicated this piece to her.

What special thing/moment should people listen for in your piece?
I’ve chosen a text that is over 120 years old. In it, our expert has decided that he knows what the crows are saying with their different types of calls. It’s hard to gauge how accurate all that might be, but I found the idea of a crow dictionary to be pleasing. The order of movements in between the opening and closing movements is completely up to the singer. You will notice the use of Corvus americanus in the text. This is the scientific name for the American crow commonly used in the 19th century.

Luc Kleiner (b. 1991, Los Angeles) has shaped a pluralistic career in music as a performer, composer, arranger, and educator. Between singing with the LA Master Chorale and LA Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Luc travels to lend voice to new incarnations of antiquated musics such as the acclaimed Peter Sellars production of Lassus’ Lagrime di San Pietro. Since the cancellation or postponement of all in-person musical happenings, Luc has redirected focus to producing and polishing original experimental-pop music from a bedroom in Manhattan Beach, CA.

ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus cinerascens) ×
To listen to a recording of the bird’s call, click here.

This pale flycatcher is common in the arid country of the west. It prefers to nest in holes in trees, but will often settle for other nesting sites. These birds are omnivores and they forage by flying out from a perch to hover and pick insects from foliage or perch on cactuses to feed on fruits.

Christopher Adler is a composer, performer, improviser and avid birder, and Professor of Music at the University of San Diego. He is a foremost performer of traditional and new music for the khaen, a free-reed mouth organ from Laos and Northeast Thailand and a specialist in cross-cultural composition with the musical traditions of Thailand. Learn more at his website.

When did you start composing music?
I began composing music around the mid-1980s, first with MIDI sequencers and then in written notation as a young pianist and pipe organist.

Why did you pick this bird and instrument combination?
As I recall, I submitted a list of top three birds and top three instruments and was assigned the final selection. All the instruments I submitted were those for which I had not yet composed a solo piece. As a birder, I am very familiar with all the birds of our region and did not have a preference. Instead, I took it as a challenge to find how to musically convey the character of whichever bird I happened to be assigned.

What special thing/moment should people listen for in your piece?
I see the Ash-throated Flycatcher as a serene and confident bird, able to sit patiently before bursting into short flights to boldly snap a meal out of the air. So my piece departs from this idea of sitting gently in one place and then sallying out in broader and broader strokes. These are punctuated with brief quotations from the bird’s dawn song, as it sounds when slowed down about four times to reveal intricate melodic details in what sounds like short bursts of indecipherable chatter at normal speed.

Sean Barela has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Opera Santa Barbara, Monterey Symphony (among others)—having recently appeared as a soloist with the Dana Point Symphony and Huntington Beach Symphony. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree with a minor in Psychology from the University of Southern California, where he the recipient of a full academic scholarship, a Master of Music degree from the Cleveland Institute of Music, and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree with a minor in Music Education from the Eastman School of Music. Dr. Barela currently works as a Music Education specialist for 360+ elementary students at a charter school. He can be reached on Facebook and Instagram.

BARN OWL (Tyto alba) ×
To listen to a recording of the bird’s call, click here.

With its ghostly appearance and rasping shrieks, the barn owl has attracted a lot of superstition. Farmers who find them in their barns consider them good luck, since these birds prey chiefly on mice and rats. These nocturnal birds are silent predators – their wings rarely make a sound when they flap.

Pamela Madsen is a composer, performer, theorist and curator of new music. From massive immersive concert-length projects, solo works, chamber music to multi-media opera collaborations her work focuses on exploration of image, music, text and the environment. With a Ph.D. in Music Composition from UCSD, Mellon Foundation Award, Yale University, Post-Doctoral research at IRCAM, Paris, and Deep Listening Certificate with Pauline Oliveros, her works have been commissioned and premiered world-wide. Selected as an Alpert Award Panelist, Creative Capital artist “on the radar” with awards from National Endowment for the Arts, New Music USA, Meet the Composer, American Scandinavian Foundation, MacDowell Colony, UCross, Women’s International Studies Center, Santa Fe Fellowships, she is Director of the Annual New Music Festival at Cal State Fullerton where she is Professor of Music Composition. Learn more at her website.

When did you start composing music?
Age 8, First Composition was for a Badge for Junior Girl Scouts.

Why did you pick this bird and instrument combination?
There is a family of barn owls that came to nest in the tall pine tree/wall outside my home composing studio window, which is on the edge of the Laguna Coast Wilderness Preserve. The barn owls came to nest there when I was composing a work for bass-baritone Nicholas Isherwood from my Opera Luminosity—The Passions of Marie Curie: Pierre’s Dissertation on Crystals (2016). I chose to use the materials from this previous work, for this new work Owl Breath, for bass-clarinet, since it has a similar range as bass-baritone voice, and the capacity for extreme dynamics, extended techniques, based on air, breath, that emulate the sounds of the barn owl.

What special thing/moment should people listen for in your piece?
Barn owls are known for their ability for silent flight—clarinet is also known for being able to play niente—almost sliently, and brilliantly soar to explosive dynamic ranges instantly. People should listen to the energy embodied in the predator behavior of the barn owl in passages in the work emulating fast silent flight, preying stillness and explosive behavior of attack!

Clarinetist Brian Walsh is a musician who is interested in sound and communication, regardless of genre. He frequently performs with such diverse groups as Wild up, Brightwork New Music, gnarwhallaby, WasteLAnd music and many others. He loves making bird sounds. Learn more at his website.

CALIFORNIA TOWHEE (Melozone crissalis) ×
To listen to a recording of the bird’s call, click here.

The California Towhee can be found in Debs Park 365 days of the year. You’ll usually find these ground-feeders scratching for food using both their feet at the same time. They also may mate for life if they find the right partner. Babies can leave the nest as early as 8 days after birth, but will follow parents around for several weeks!

Of Lithuanian heritage, composer Veronika Krausas was born in Australia, raised in Canada, and lives in Los Angeles. She has directed, composed for, and produced multi-media events that incorporate her works with dance, acrobatics, and video. Krausas is on faculty at the Thornton School of Music at USC. Learn more at her website.

When did you start composing music?
7 years old.

Why did you pick this bird and instrument combination?
I see and hear these cute towhees when walking about Lake Hollywood and environs. I love their distinctive repeated note. For such a small little bird, they've got a big personality with their song.

What special thing/moment should people listen for in your piece?
The repeated pitch in the violin (which is my ‘artistic’ interpretation rather than a direct transcription).

Xenia Deviatkina-Loh has performed with orchestras around Australia and New Zealand and has also been a recitalist in various venues across Australia, China, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In addition, she has been frequently aired live on 3MBS FM, ABC radio, Radio New Zealand, Shanghai People’s Radio Station Classical 94.7, KUSC, and Classical KING FM. In 2009, she was the winner of the Gisborne International Music Competition. Xenia was supported by the Tait Memorial Trust - The Thornton Foundation, the Leverhulme Trust, Woolf Mernick, and Margot MacGibbon during her studies in London. She is supported by the Ian Potter Cultural Trust Fund, Friends of Strings Award, and Greenschlpoon, and the Edna and Yu Shan Han Foundation for her current studies at UCLA. Learn more at her website.

HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus) ×
To listen to a recording of the bird’s call, click here.

One of the hardier thrushes, Hermit Thrushes do most of their foraging on the ground, picking up insects from leaf-litter or soil. These little guys are omnivores, mainly feeding on insects or berries. Their song is a series of clear, musical phrases with a piping introductory note and a reedy tremolo.

Brandon J. Rolle is a Los Angeles-based composer and conductor working in contemporary and experimental music(s). His interdisciplinary approach to composition incorporates psychoacoustics and computer programming in order to augment his sound worlds and amplify their affect. Rolle holds degrees in composition from Mills College (M.A.) and University of California, Santa Barbara (PhD).

When did you start composing music?
I had composed music throughout my undergraduate studies, but was primarily working as a jazz and classical guitarist. In that year after I graduated, though, I started writing more and more, and at some point kind of found myself working more as a composer than as a performer. It just felt natural and exciting to me, and the opportunity to meet and study with some incredible composers really ignited that passion for composing... the rest is history!

Why did you pick this bird and instrument combination?
The Hermit Thrush calls and songs are really incredible (and have inspired composers long before this project). In particular, the way their calls start with a held tone but then evolve into these amazing, sparkling harmonic echoes really resonated with me. That ability of the cello to similarly sustain tones as well as create shimmering harmonic content seemed like an interesting choice to me.

What special thing/moment should people listen for in your piece?
I chose not to mimic the literal call or song of the Hermit Thrush, but instead to expand on their “call and echo” structure. The opening introduces tones closely-related to the inflections and arpeggios of the call, but then uses the echos as a way to venture outwards, capturing the beauty and mystery of their music. Keep an ear out for one special moment when the cello sound finally (and rather dramatically) opens up, revealing a rich, resonant, and intimate re-visiting of the opening material.

Jennifer Bewerse is a cellist specializing in contemporary music described as “[drawing] from her instrument every possible sound short of a human voice.” As a result, she has premiered over 100 works, including Peter Ablinger’s WEISS / WEISSLICH 17k and Celeste Oram’s Sanz Cuer, and has worked with many composers including Laurence Crane, Chaya Czernowin, Jonathan Harvey, and Christian Wolff. She is currently the cellist of Autoduplicity, Diagenesis Duo, and Southland Ensemble. Learn more at her website.

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos) ×
To listen to a recording of the bird’s call, click here.

The mockingbird’s ability to copy the sounds and songs of other birds has made it famous across the country. When running in the open, it might stop and partially spread its wings, flashing white wing patches. When they are nesting, Mockingbirds are territorial, fighting off cats and even humans who get too close.

Vera Ivanova is a Russian-born composer currently based in Los Angeles and Orange County, where she teaches at Chapman University and The Colburn Academy for Young Artists. She graduated from the Moscow Special Central Music School, Moscow Conservatory, Guildhall School in London (M.M.), Eastman School (Ph.D.). Her works have been performed worldwide and released on five different CDs. She is a recipient of numerous scholarships and awards at 28th Bourges Electro-Acoustic Competition, 8th International Mozart Competition, International Contest of Acousmatic Compositions Métamorphoses 2004, ASCAP Morton Gould Award, 8th International Piano Competition at Orleans. Learn more at her website.

When did you start composing music?
I was 9 years old when I started composing.

Why did you pick this bird and instrument combination?
I picked khaen as an instrument, because it sounds similar to an amplified exotic bird, being a wind instrument, a kind of a mouth organ. I have chosen to write about the Northern Mocking bird because it is so good in mimicking other birds – literally any! And I wrote the piece by listening to a recording of a mimicker and mimicked it myself in my piece.

What special thing/moment should people listen for in your piece?
They should listen for a number of repetitions of each short motive - mocking birds are known for repeating each call they mimic at least 2 times or, typically more (3, 4, 6).

Christopher Adler is a composer, performer, improviser and avid birder, and Professor of Music at the University of San Diego. He is a foremost performer of traditional and new music for the khaen, a free-reed mouth organ from Laos and Northeast Thailand and a specialist in cross-cultural composition with the musical traditions of Thailand. Learn more at his website.

RED-SHOULDERED HAWK (Buteo lineatus) ×
To listen to a recording of the bird’s call, click here.

You’ll hear a red-shouldered hawk before you see it. Look up and you’ll see them circling around their nesting territory. Red-shouldered Hawks usually show pale crescents near their wingtips, where the sun shines through. When these birds see something delicious, they catch it by dropping directly onto it from the air.

LA-based Japanese composer Kenji Oh (b.1981) moved to LA in 2010. He writes music colored with delicate harmony illustrating dynamic stories. Cat lover. Visit his SoundCloud for more.

When did you start composing music?
24 years ago when I was 15.

Why did you pick this bird and instrument combination?
I liked the sound of the bird’s call and I thought the viola would be a good choice to imitate it.

What special thing/moment should people listen for in your piece?
The piece starts imitating the bird’s call as a motif and develops its force as music. It serenely transforms back to the imitation at the end.

Performance note: the buzzing sound you hear is due to an extended technique that involves attaching a binder clip and paper clips to the bridge of the viola. Listen for the ambient rattling during the bowed sections of the piece.

Cassia Streb is an LA-based violist, composer and concert designer. She found that the process of performing and recording “Red Shouldered Hawk” was overall very inspiring and she can now hear the birds outside her studio through new ears. This is her second year performing as a part of Synchromy’s event in partnership with the Audubon center and she is very happy to be asked back. Learn more at her website.

CREDITS

Jennifer Bewerse and Cassia Streb, concert design
Jura Pintar, web design

Christopher Adler, composer
Jason Barabba, composer
Vera Ivanova, composer
Veronika Krausas, composer
Pamela Madsen, composer
Kenji Oh, composer
Brandon J. Rolle, composer
Christopher Adler, khaen
Sean Barela, bassoon
Jennifer Bewerse, cello
Xenia Deviatkina-Loh, violin
Luc Kleiner, voice
Cassia Streb, viola
Brian Walsh, clarinet

Urban Birds was created in partnership with the Audubon Center at Debs Park.