Back when I was a junior in college I was at home for a weekend and working on a paper. I had left the weekly Cleveland Orchestra broadcast on in the next room at high volume - thinking as every college student does that he works better with the radio/TV on. Boulez was conducting, and it was his typical light fare: Messiaen, Berg, Birtwhistle and so forth.
On came Messiaen's Oiseux Exotiques (Exotic Birds), and simultaneous to its opening, into the room with the radio walked my classical music illiterate younger brothers, who at that point in their lives had probably never heard a piece in the Darmstadt aesthetic (I suppose that changed at my senior composition recital).
Within thirty seconds, I hear their conversation turn into complete silence. Two minutes later I hear hysterical laughing. Thinking I had to save I shout to them 'Sorry guys, if you want you can turn it off.' Ethan shouts back 'actually, Evan, keep it on. I think we kind of love this.'
Whether you listen to it seriously or with the same 'quotation marks' that rock-lovers give to Journey or Styx, it is an extraordinary piece. Messiaen was not always the most,...umm....short-winded composer. But in this piece, all there is is an extraordinary collection of aural images. If you ever doubted Messiaen, start here. Messiaen paints the aviary of our dreams.
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