These Guitars Are For The Birds — Literally

A new exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., features a flock of 70 finches and an array of tuned and amplified guitars. As the flock fills the open room, the birds are free to land on the guitars, making music of their own as they move and jump off the instruments.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

So that's one question. And here's another that we're sure has been bothering many of you for years. What happens when you give a bird a guitar? Well, you'll get your answer at a new exhibition opening Saturday at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. It's called "From Here to Ear."

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Picture this: One room, 70 zebra finches, 14 tuned and amplified guitars, no fingers.

TREVOR SMITH: So how it works is that, you know, the room is completely open. The birds are free to flock and move around as they wish.

CORNISH: That's exhibition curator Trevor Smith.

SMITH: What they do is that they land on these guitars. And as they land on the guitars, as they move on the guitars, as they jump off the guitars, they create sounds.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CELESTE BOURSIER-MOUGENOT: My name is Celesete Boursier-Mougenot, and I'm the artist.

BLOCK: Mr. Boursier-Mougenot came up with the idea for the installation back in the 1990s. He started drawing a guitar...

CORNISH: And then, as they say on the TV show "Portlandia..."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW,"PORTLANDIA")

FRED ARMISEN: (As Character) Put a bird on it.

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN: (As Character) Put a bird on it.

BOURSIER-MOUGENOT: And they put a few birds on it. I remind sometimes you are doing things like, I mean, you don't know why but you did - I did it. My work is not based on ideas. I mean, it's much more practice and experiment.

BLOCK: As for the finches, well, they prefer to wing it.

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