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You Need to Hear This

This Guy Turned a Photo of Birds Perched on a Wire Into Sheet Music

He turned crows into crotchets, now he's looking to collaborate with cars and ants.

A eureka moment can come at any time, whether it's Paul McCartney waking up with "Yesterday" in his head or the bit when Ace Ventura figures out Einhorn is a man.

For some, it can be even stranger. Birds sitting on a telephone wire became the unwitting inspiration for Brazilian multimedia artist Jarbas Agnelli, who felt their positioning resembled some sort of sheet music structure when he saw a picture in a newspaper. Intrigued by the idea that the locations of the birds may have naturally formed a memorable tune, he started to plot the photograph as if it were an actual musical score. Luckily for Jarbas, it wasn’t a discordant out-of-time racket, and he arranged the composition for oboe, xylophone, clarinet and bassoon.


Jarbas, the kindhearted abstract thinker he is, gives most of the credit to the birds themselves for the arrangement, which he acknowledged with the project's title Bird on a Wire. I caught up with him to chat about how the birds inspired him, and how ants and cars are his next planned featurettes.

Noisey: Jarbas, you genius. What was the Bird on a Wire project originally?
Jarbas: It was created by pure chance, out of curiosity really. I was eating breakfast one morning and saw a photo in the newspaper of birds perched on a telephone wire. I then cut the photo and went to my piano to see if I could play the birds, since the picture resembled a musical score. There was in fact, an interesting little song in there. So I arranged it for an orchestra, and did a short video (above) to demonstrate my idea.

And how was it received?
Pretty well. The video was a huge success, and several amazing things happened because of it. I did some TEDtalks about it and I won the Guggenheim Youtube Play festival with the video. it’s a mind blowing trajectory for a one minute piece of music, that cost no money, and was completely unpretentious.

What do you think made it such a hit with people?
The initiative, more than anything else. Of course the music is nice, the arrangement is emotive, and the video is simple and effective. But without the naive initiative of going to my piano with the paper on my hands, to try that childish idea of playing birds on wires as notes, nothing would have happened.


Didn’t you expand upon the idea?
Well, shortly after that, my father called me and said I should try it with different patterns. But I had no idea what to do next. I was receiving several birds on the wires photos a day from all over the world. I was even invited by a publishing company to do a book about birds on wires around Brazil, and to create music for each shot. But the project didn't go through. One of the reasons is that it is not common to find five wires, for the musical score, on poles. I did create music for some of the photos I received, but it seemed I was repeating myself. It was not challenging enough. I was not motivated to record and post videos for them, although there was 3 or 4 good songs in there.

How did you pull yourself out of the creative slump?
Well, I created a method for using moving images of different random patterns of nature or mankind, for the creation of music. I wrote a project containing initially twelve patterns, that I will capture, edit, curate, produce musical arrangements and make the videos. All this will become an exhibition, and the process will become a documentary as well. I first did a test with cars on lanes of a New York street, it worked nicely.

Cars? Does it need to stop there?
Nope! Ants, cars, stars, water drops, people, fish - I will capture everything and a camera will capture me capturing the scenes. So on the documentary, it will be absolutely clear of how the process worked, and also that there are no tricks involved.

Wait, did you say you’re gonna make music from ants?
I am already working with ants. I captured ants marching on the ground and on trees. I expect to have the project ready for the public around July. I’m still looking for sponsors as well.

World, send this man some money!