Andrew Bird is a difficult musician to classify. A trained violinist from an early age, he’s released stringed instrumentals, been part of many jazz bands—remember the 90s jazz/swing band Squirrel Nut Zippers?—started the long-running Bowl of Fire project, and since 2003 has been a solo artist with 15 records to his name, an eclectic mix of jazz, folk, swing, indie rock, really anything the talented Bird puts his mind to.
In 2017, Bird released an instrumental record called “Echolocations: River.” It’s a sort of follow-up to a project he released in 2015, “Echolocations: Canyon.” In his newest work, Bird wades up to his ankles in the Los Angeles River with his violin and records the sounds of his instrument, the water trickling past, the reverberations from the culvert he stands below. Everything about the experience inspires what Bird plays: the water, the sounds, the smell, the air.
For the canyon project, Bird flew to Utah, then hiked five miles to a suitable cave in the Coyote Gulch canyons, and rappeled to the bottom with his violin to record, letting the warm canyon guide his hands.
“‘Echolocations’ is an idea that I came up with to satisfy the curiosity for my love of outdoor spaces and acoustics,” Bird said in an interview. “It’s the idea of reacting to your environment as opposed to imposing your will on the environment. When I’m writing these songs, it takes a lot of restraint as a player.”
PBS recently featured Bird in their “Brief but Spectacular” series, which you can watch, below.