A Bird In The Hand Is Worth Two On A Gibson Les Paul

May 24, 2010

The weather’s been great in London at the moment. I was going to spend Sunday watching Columbo at Lunchtime and then find somewhere to go to soak up the sun. I received a text from one of my friends, The Ever Gorgeous Dez™, reminding me about an exhibition at The Barbican Curve gallery, by a French artist called Céleste Boursier-Mougenot. It’s an installation featuring Gibson guitars and basses (Les Paul versions), cymbals and Zebra Finches. The comings and goings of the finches as they walk along, or peck at the frets, build nests from the foliage in the sand, or fly around and land on cymbals brings pleasing sounds, coupled with their natural tweet. The instruments are miked up and amplified so you can appreciate the clean sound of a Les Paul.

Celeste Bousier-Mougenot zebra Finches on a Gibson Les Paul guitar

From here to ear (detail), 2007. From Galerie Xippas. © Céleste Boursier-Mougenot.

I could end up explaining in greater detail, but you need to see this video to give you an idea. Jimi Hendrix is alive and well in a Finch.

It was the last day of the show and after watching half of Columbo, I decided to go (it wasn’t a particularly good one anyway). When I got to the Barbican there was a large queue and I saw a warning notice that the wait would be at least two hours. Sod that, I thought, and turned around to leave the building. I just happened to look at the queue once more and recognised someone. It was The Ever Gorgeous Dez™. I thought she went much earlier in the day. Surely the wait wasn’t that long. She called me over, much to the annoyance of everyone else in the queue and proceeded to explain that her original plan of getting there early was scuppered by a massive hangover. Still, her hangover was my benefit and we both waited until we were finally ushered in.

It was fantastic. We walked through a metal curtain, then made our way down a dark corridor where images were flashing on the walls. We kept going until the room suddenly opened up and we saw the finches doing their thing. The birds were tiny and would land on the ground at any time, so everyone was walking carefully and apart from a couple of children, whose parents clearly let them just run around wherever they are, everyone moved slowly so as not to scare them. At one point, two birds landed on the cycle helmet Dez was holding, then moved to her shoulders and started pecking at her dreadlocks. They must’ve thought it was some kind of vine they could get pieces from, to build on the nests they created in some of the guitars. Others landed on shoes, folded arms, or heads. According to the museum worker, the birds were cautious about human visitors at the start of the show (quite right too, some of us can be vile), but now they were very comfortable.

It was amazing to be part of this sound art, but also to witness first hand the habits of these fabulous creatures. I’m an urban Pie to the core, but it was lovely to be able to coexist for a short time with creatures other than cats, dogs, rats and cockroaches. Truly, it was one of the maddest shows I’d ever been too and possibly the most uplifting.



  1. Yeah, reminds me of the “WoodStock” Logo… Bird on a Wired up gitter neck…lol
    Every Les Paul is lonely without a fender companion though. And every Zebra Finch needs a Java Sparrow to sing with…just saying…
    Love the Blog…see ya next time

    • The WoodStock logo. That’s a good connection. Well done. I’m glad you like the blog. Come again when you have a spare moment. By the way, I like your avatar. It’s definitely inventive.

  2. That is truly inventive and wonderful art. As much as I love Colombo, The Ever Gorgeous Dez gave you a gift.

  3. Wait… They let children in to see the exhibition? An exhibition which involves small animals? But surely enlightened personages such as those who manage The Barbican realize that small delicate animals (such as the birdies in this case) do not survive long in the presence of small children?

    • To be fair, it’s a show for the whole family and most children stick with their parents, or move around carefully. It just so happened we were witness to the one child who was left to run free and we were not happy. Here’s what I didn’t tell you: ten minutes before we got our slot, that same child punched another in the stomach. Although the child who was punched was comforted because he was really crying hard, not one adult in that group saw fit to make the other child apologise, or at least let it be known that what he did was out of order. He was left to continue playing with his ball as if it was a day in the park. Both me and The Ever Gorgeous Dez™ were deeply unimpressed with that scenario. We concluded that setting boundaries was not a strong point for those parents.

  4. This exhibit puts a novel musical twist to the old hypothetical about chimpanzees with typewriters, doesn’t it? (If enough finches were given electric guitars they would re-write Hendrix etc.)

    It may have been an issue of funds, but I would have gotten them a Trans-trem, like Stanley Jordan uses. Better for “tapping”.

    • I know nothing about guitars. I leave that one to my brothers who know a thing or two about music.

      When I saw the name Stanley Jordan, I first thought of Stanley Clarke, then realised I got it wrong, so decided to check Stanley Jordan out on YouTube. How does he play like that? On the neck only? That’s just mad. You re-ignited my interest in Stanley Clarke though. Right now I’m cruising YouTube and have found lovely clips of him playing with Steve Gadd, George Duke and Herbie Hancock. I also found the first thing I heard from him, which was ‘We Supply’, a seriously funky tune. I need to find the Rocks, Pebbles and Sand album again where that song resides. Ah, the memories!

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