Will Bonn Blackbirds Dig Beethoven? | News and current affairs from Germany and around the world | DW | 09.05.2007
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Will Bonn Blackbirds Dig Beethoven?

William Engelen, a Berlin-based digital artist of Dutch origin, has come up with a nifty idea to get an entire population of cell phone users to participate in the creation of a natural symphony for birds.

Blackbirds are known for their singing prowess

Blackbirds are known for their singing prowess

Customized cell phones ring tones have long become the ultimate weapons of teenage revenge.

Handy Verbot in der Schule

Many teenagers could not imagine a life without cell phones

There is probably no easier way to upset a group of sleep-deprived adults on their way to work than to subject them to the ambient sounds of burping crocodiles or robotic squeaks of Mexican folk bands singing "La Cucaracha" after sniffing helium.

And it's not as if one can escape the manic world of cell phones. They are literally everywhere -- in restaurants, parks, public transportation and movie theaters. Surely, mobile phones are a means of communication and a symbol of the information overload that characterizes our society.

But they are also much more than that: a tool of self-fashioning and personal expression, according to the fashion mantra of the 21st century: Let me hear your cell phone ring and I will tell you what kind of person you are.

It's not all that bad

Ludwig van Beethoven

If Beethoven could only hear that even birds know his Ode to Joy!

Cell phones can, however, be used for goals more inspiring than driving your fellow subway-passengers up the wall. William Engelen, for instance, a Dutch artist living in Germany, may revolutionize the way we think about cell phones.

Engelen asked the residents of Bonn to download a digital version of the "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's "9th Symphony" and use it as their mobile ring tone. His idea is that if enough cell phone users play the same musical melody every time their mobile rings, male blackbirds will begin to imitate the sound.

That blackbirds have an artistic streak in them has been well-documented by biologists observing their behavior. Male blackbirds are big fans of singing competitions. In the Mother Nature's very own, original version of "Avian Idol" -- later appropriated by humans and turned into an international money-making machine known as "American Idol" or "German Superstar" -- they get to exercise their vocal chords and fight for the prestigious title of the loudest bird on the block. Chicks apparently love it.

That's why some urban blackbirds can begin to sound like sirens, honking cars or even popular song refrains.

Sing it back!

Junge mit Handy

It's, like, all of a sudden, everybody has the same ring tone

With Bonn being the city of birth of Ludwig van Beethoven, Engelen chose to teach birds to chirp the great composer.

The entire project is sponsored by the Beethoven Foundation and has received quite a bit of publicity locally as a curious artistic intervention in the animal world. Engelen says if it works, he'll take the project to other cities.

If all goes as planned, the Bonn blackbirds will be able to form a chorus of their own and tour the rest of the country. This is likely to raise the profile of classical music among birds in general and may even push Beethoven to the top of avian pop charts.

"This is WBRD, bringing you the latest hit from Bonn Blackbirds -- Chirp to Joy.'"

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