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Last on

Sat 9 Jul 2011 15:30 BBC Radio 4 FM only

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Tuesday 05 July 2011

In the 18th century, musical manuals circulated showing songbird keepers how to teach their birds to sing human tunes. These treatises were known as the Bird Fancyer's Delight, sheets of music specially written to play to a pet bullfinch, linnet or canary in order that it would learn the tune and sing it back. The idea was to engineer primordial feathered recorders in the home, 100 years before the arrival of the phonograph and the advent of recorded sound. Musician and inventor Sarah Angliss explores to what extent this interplay was successful and looks for its modern day equivalent.

Her journey takes her via Yorkshire's 'Champion of Champion' canary fancyer Ken Westmorland, whose prize birds' rolling sounds are not their natural music. She listens for song during a Northumbrian dawn chorus with poet Katrina Porteous and ornithologist Geoff Sample and reflects on human attempts to control nature and birdsong. And she joins composer Aleks Kolkowski who worked with canaries and a string quartet to make some highly unusual inter-species music.

Producer: Neil McCarthy.


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