TED2010

Andrew Bird: A one-man orchestra of the imagination

Filmed:

Musical innovator Andrew Bird winds together his trademark violin technique with xylophone, vocals and sophisticated electronic looping. Add in his uncanny ability to whistle anything, and he becomes a riveting one-man orchestra.

- Musician
Andrew Bird is a virtual one-man band -- he’s a singer and songwriter and plays the violin, guitar, glockenspiel. Full bio

Well, there's lots to talk about,
00:18
but I think I'm just going to play to start off.
00:20
(Music)
00:24
♫ When I wake up ♫
03:09
♫ in the morning ♫
03:13
♫ I pour the coffee ♫
03:16
♫ I read the paper ♫
03:20
♫ And then I slowly ♫
03:23
♫ and so softly ♫
03:30
♫ do the dishes ♫
03:39
♫ So feed the fishes ♫
03:44
♫ You sing me happy birthday ♫
03:52
♫ Like it's gonna be ♫
04:00
♫ your last day ♫
04:03
♫ here on Earth ♫
04:07
(Applause)
05:33
All right.
05:44
So, I wanted to do something special today.
05:46
I want to debut a new song that I've been working on
05:48
in the last five or six months.
05:51
And there's few things more thrilling
05:54
than playing a song
05:56
for the first time in front of an audience,
05:58
especially when it's half-finished.
06:01
(Laughter)
06:03
I'm kind of hoping some conversations here
06:05
might help me finish it.
06:07
Because it gets into all sorts
06:09
of crazy realms.
06:11
And so this is basically a song
06:13
about loops,
06:15
but not the kind of loops that I make up here.
06:17
They're feedback loops.
06:19
And in the audio world
06:21
that's when the microphone gets too close
06:23
to its sound source,
06:26
and then it gets in this self-destructive loop
06:29
that creates a very unpleasant sound.
06:31
And I'm going to demonstrate for you.
06:33
(Laughter)
06:35
I'm not going to hurt you. Don't worry.
06:38
♫ This is a loop, feedback loop ♫
06:43
♫ This is a loop, feedback loop ♫
06:46
♫ This is a loop, feedback loop ♫
06:49
♫ This is a loop, feedback loop ♫
06:51
♫ This is a loop, feedback loop ♫
06:54
♫ This is a loop, feedback loop ♫
06:56
♫ This is a -- (Feedback)
06:59
All right. I don't know if that was necessary to demonstrate --
07:07
(Laughter)
07:10
-- but my point is it's the sound of self-destruction.
07:12
And I've been thinking about
07:17
how that applies across a whole spectrum of realms,
07:19
from, say, the ecological, okay.
07:23
There seems to be a rule in nature
07:26
that if you get too close to where you came from,
07:29
it gets ugly.
07:32
So like, you can't feed cows their own brains
07:34
or you get mad cow disease,
07:37
and inbreeding and incest
07:39
and, let's see,
07:41
what's the other one?
07:43
Biological -- there's autoimmune diseases,
07:45
where the body attacks itself
07:47
a little too overzealously
07:49
and destroys the host,
07:51
or the person.
07:53
And then -- okay, this is where we get to the song --
07:58
kind of bridges the gap to the emotional.
08:01
Because although I've used scientific terms
08:04
in songs,
08:07
it's very difficult sometimes to make them lyrical.
08:09
And there's some things
08:12
you just don't need to have in songs.
08:14
So I'm trying to bridge this gap
08:18
between this idea and this melody.
08:20
And so, I don't know if you've ever had this,
08:23
but when I close my eyes sometimes
08:26
and try to sleep,
08:29
I can't stop thinking about my own eyes.
08:31
And it's like your eyes
08:34
start straining to see themselves.
08:36
That's what it feels like to me.
08:38
It's not pleasant.
08:40
I'm sorry if I put that idea in your head.
08:42
(Laughter)
08:44
It's impossible, of course, for your eyes to see themselves,
08:46
but they seem to be trying.
08:48
So that's getting a little more closer to a personal experience.
08:51
Or ears being able to hear themselves --
08:55
it's just impossible.
08:57
That's the thing.
08:59
So, I've been working on this song
09:01
that mentions these things
09:04
and then also imagines
09:07
a person who's been so successful
09:09
at defending themselves from heartbreak
09:11
that they're left to do the deed themselves,
09:14
if that's possible.
09:17
And that's what the song is asking.
09:19
All right.
09:23
It doesn't have a name yet.
09:25
(Music)
09:27
♫ Go ahead and congratulate yourself ♫
11:23
♫ Give yourself a hand, the hand is your hand ♫
11:26
♫ And the eye that eyes itself is your eye ♫
11:30
♫ And the ear that hears itself is near ♫
11:33
♫ 'Cause it's your ear, oh oh ♫
11:37
♫ You've done the impossible now ♫
11:40
♫ Took yourself apart ♫
11:43
♫ You made yourself invulnerable ♫
11:47
♫ No one can break your heart ♫
11:50
♫ So you wear it out ♫
11:54
♫ And you wring it out ♫
11:58
♫ And you wear it out ♫
12:01
♫ And you break it yourself ♫
12:04
♫ Breaking your own, break it yourself ♫
12:06
♫ Breaking your own, break it yourself ♫
12:09
♫ Breaking your own ♫
12:13
(Applause)
12:29
Thanks.
12:33
(Applause)
12:35
All right.
12:40
It's kind of cool. Songwriters can sort of get away with murder.
12:42
You can throw out crazy theories
12:45
and not have to back it up with data
12:48
or graphs or research.
12:51
But, you know, I think reckless curiosity
12:54
would be what the world needs now,
12:57
just a little bit.
13:00
(Applause)
13:02
I'm going to finish up with a song of mine
13:06
called "Weather Systems."
13:08
(Music)
13:10
♫ Quiet ♫
13:27
♫ Quiet down, she said ♫
13:32
♫ Speak into the back of his head ♫
13:36
♫ On the edge of the bed, I can see your blood flow ♫
13:39
♫ I can see your ♫
13:43
♫ cells grow ♫
13:47
♫ Hold still awhile ♫
13:54
♫ Don't spill the wine ♫
13:57
♫ I can see it all from here ♫
14:00
♫ I can see ♫
14:03
♫ oh, I ♫
14:05
♫ I can see ♫
14:07
♫ weather systems ♫
14:14
♫ of the world ♫
14:17
♫ Weather systems ♫
14:30
♫ of the world ♫
14:33
♫ Some things you say ♫
15:07
♫ are not for sale ♫
15:10
♫ I would hold it where ♫
15:14
♫ our free agents of some substance are ♫
15:17
♫ scared ♫
15:23
♫ Hold still a while ♫
15:30
♫ Don't spill the wine ♫
15:33
♫ I can see it all from here ♫
15:37
♫ I can see ♫
15:40
♫ oh, I ♫
15:42
♫ I can see ♫
15:44
♫ weather systems of the world ♫
15:49
♫ Weather systems ♫
17:42
♫ of the world ♫
17:47
Thanks.
18:56
(Applause)
18:58

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About the Speaker:

Andrew Bird - Musician
Andrew Bird is a virtual one-man band -- he’s a singer and songwriter and plays the violin, guitar, glockenspiel.

Why you should listen

Andrew Bird began to play the violin at age 4, learning to play Bach and Mozart by ear as if they were folk tunes. Though raised on classical repertoire, he still has little use for the written note and spins melody and words out of his cumulative experience, mixing elements of many genres without confining itself to any one in particular. While his early work with his band Bowl of Fire was influenced by pre-war jazz and showcased his violin skills, his sound began to evolve in an indie-folk direction after he went solo. But indie-folk -- or any single genre -- is just a backbone for a swirl of loops, samples and gorgeously rich instrumentation underpinning lyrics of mysterious import.
 
In 2002, Bird flew his Chicago coop for rural Illinois to live the rural life (yes, he had chickens) and set up his studio in a converted barn. This new environment inspired his 2003 solo album, Weather Systems, which has a surreal quality and poetic, thought-provoking lyrics. His sound progressed further with his 2005 album, The Mysterious Production of Eggs, which used multitrack recorders and loop pedals to layer samples, and featured more guitar, whistling and glockenspiel. Bird released his fifth solo album, Noble Beast, in early 2009 to acclaim; he's now working on a film score and an art installation.

More profile about the speaker
Andrew Bird | Speaker | TED.com