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Ensemble Ackerman: Les Oiseaux de proie

A though-improvised, seven-part programmatic piece in an avant-garde setting, Les Oiseaux de proie recounts the adventures of a flock of predatory birds, from our introduction to them (at first restful and carefree, but growing in ominous implications as hunger mounts and primal instincts surface), through their attack on their prey (busy-ness and clutter reflective of mass gluttony finding its bloody outlet, followed by the joy of satiation, sleep, and what sounds like instances of surreptitious, giggly bird-sex), to their nest’s discovery by concerned farmers or sportsmen hunters (all fluttery chaos and warning whistles and rifle or shotgun blasts as the birds put up a brave but doomed defense). The last two tracks declaim with funereal sadness the feathery butchers’ denouement as “Les Oiseaux en brochettes,” or skewered birdy tidbits for the campfire and table (tearful moans and spit-broiling sounds, followed by the human conviviality of the communal cook-out and the paralleled post-prandial activities of the ultimate victors in the chain of being).

Unfortunately, because of the absence of explanatory notes, either in French or English, we are left to this rather fanciful interpretation, but the music seems to bear this out, with its alternately frenzied and sensual Hitchcock-ean sound effects suggestive of nothing so much as the spine-tingling cawing of a gang of ravenous airborne killers and their attendant pleasures.

The principal melodic statements are made by multi-reedman Bob Ackerman, who plays not only four saxes, from alto and tenor to baritone and bass, but also piccolo, flute, alto flute, clarinet and contrabass clarinet; cornetist Herb Robertson, who doubles on primitive flutes and whistles; and trombonist Bob Hovey, who also plays phonograph (don’t we all?), while the other sounds are perpetrated by acoustic and synthesized wordless singer Pam Purvis and the voices of the hornmen, bassist Dominic Duval and drummers/ percussionists Herb Fisher and Tom Sayek. The many musical allusions to other figures in the avant-garde genre may be arresting for some and admittedly the program is well-conceived and executed quite properly, but most listeners will probably opt for another look at Tippi Hedren instead.

Originally Published