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Chirping with Joao Vasco

A fresh ingredient added to the Creators Project mix, João Vasco Paiva is a Portugese-born artist based in Hong Kong since 2006, where he’s been exploring sound and image through seemingly “random” patterns taken from urban or natural environments. His installation “Chirps,” with its chatty plastic birds atop an abstract city-scape, has proved ultra-popular with visitors to the Beijing exhibition (one Japanese viewer kept calling his cellphone throughout dinner in the attempt to buy them). He explains the origins of the piece below – survival of the fakest?

What was the inspiration behind “Chirps”?
João Vasco Paiva
:I’m interested in failed attempts to imitate the patterns and behavior of nature, and I want to find out how to use this as an inspiration for musical composition. All of my work is about trying to find random patterns within nature, to then use as an ordered structure.

Is it true that you used live birds in an earlier version of the piece? How did that work?
In the first version I used a live mynah bird – I prepared a cage with movement sensors and microphones for him that were controlling a whole “orchestra” of mechanical plastic birds. So the mynah’s movements and sounds were mimicked by the toy birds, but after about one week, the mynah began to imitate them [the toys].

Wait, where did you get the bird?
I bought him in the bird market in Hong Kong – it’s my bird now, his name is John Cage. Actually the project is related to a quote by John Cage – he once said that an orchestra shouldn’t have a maestro, that the maestro should be learning from the orchestra instead of just conducting them.

How is the Beijing installation different?
The plastic birds are still reacting to each other – there are 15 different groups of birds, and they send calls to each other, and then respond. I’ve researched a lot about communication in birds, and interestingly there are not a lot of certainties, just theories. In this piece, the 15 different groups have 15 different types of behavior, and when interacting with each other, it can sound random but in fact it’s not at all. I hope to achieve an utterly random effect without any real randomness – to prove that nothing is random at all.

What’s the next step in this project?
I want to work with real birds again, maybe to create more devices for the birds to play – it’s inspiring for young artists, this availability of cheap plastic electronics you can find in China and Hong Kong.

Did you buy these birds readymade, or get them fabricated?
I found one in a market and then looked for other similar ones – I chose them because they’re the “fakest” ones, the “worst” ones – which makes them perfect.

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