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Why musician Andrew Bird learned to appreciate isolation

Andrew Bird is a multi-instrumentalist who has created field recordings in a Utah canyon, a Lisbon aqueduct and the Los Angeles River. Known for his virtuosic violin playing and songwriting styles that defy traditional classification, Bird took an unusual approach to developing his music -- one that involved prolonged isolation. Bird offers his brief but spectacular take on playing to the room.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In tonight's Brief But Spectacular, musician Andrew Bird has created field recordings in a diverse range of places. He's known for playing the violin and a unique songwriting style.

    His latest album is "My Finest Work Yet."

    It's also part of our Canvas series.

  • Andrew Bird:

    I like to go into an environment and without a preconceived idea of space, I play through the harmonic series and find which frequencies are giving me the most information about that space.

    It's a key element, and it's like a common thread through all my music over the years, is playing to the room.

    This project that I have been working over the years called echolocations, I will go into extraordinary outdoor environments and start improvising and find, say, in a canyon in Utah, I will play C-sharp and say, oh, that's the note, that's the note that's telling me the most about where I am and will tell the listener where they are.

    I take the field recordings home and then I build a record around them. I did one in the L.A. River under the Hyperion Bridge. I did one in the Headlands in Marin. And I did one in an aqueduct in Lisbon.

    So far, all of them involve water and oftentimes standing in water while I'm playing. I come in like I'm a blind bat, you know, trying to echolocate the space. It's more of pure musical curiosity at first.

    You know, I went through a period of intense isolation in my late 20s. And so I moved into a barn in Western Illinois and lived there for five or six years. That's what I recommend to younger musicians that are trying to figure out, oh, maybe I should go to where the music industry is.

    Maybe you should, but if you really wanted to offer something interesting to the universe, maybe try isolating yourself, if you can handle it.

    You know, now I like having people around me when I'm writing. My son, he lost one of his front teeth, and he was breathing in, which is not easy, so I was impressed.

    And, yes, it's just a funny filter to have your songs coming — as you're writing them coming through another human being that you have created.

    My name is Andrew Bird, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on playing to the room.

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