Michael Pestel

Biography

 

Artist and musician Michael Pestel has built multi-media installations and performed on flutes, contr’alto clarinet, piano, diverse hybrid and invented instruments, such as the Birdmachine and Birdrawingtable, in concert halls, art galleries, city streets, parks, aviaries and natural places throughout the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia. His focus over the past fifteen years on bird sound extends the spirit of Messiaen’s scored works into improvised and solo performances with live birds in aviaries and in the wild (see Syrinx Ensemble).

Pestel has also constructed architectural and virtual spaces which explore bird sound and questions about bird extinction (SCHREIben, Migrations, Writing Lessons, Music Lessons, AVIARY, Ornithology Series, Ornithology/Shadows, Birdscape, and Migrating Landscapes – the latter three with Dutch eco-artist, Jeroen van Westen). Stray Birds, his decade-long musical collaboration with former Sankai Juku butoh dancer, Taketeru Kudo, has been performed in Paris, Pittsburgh, Bennington, and Tokyo.

In 2005, Pestel traveled to Australia with philosopher and musician David Rothenberg in search of the world’s most mysterious avian singer and dancer, the Albert Lyrebird. An account of this journey and Pestel’s many years of playing live with birds in Pittsburgh's National Aviary are celebrated in Rothenberg’s new book Why Birds Sing and in a 2007 BBC documentary with the same title. Based on this experience, Pestel’s Lyrebird Octet, a performance/installation for eight flutes, eight typewriters, eight stereo-speaker-embedded music stands, eight percussion instruments, prepared piano table, large-scale wall-mounted palindromic score, and video projection, premiered at Carnegie Mellon University in the Miller Art Gallery.
In Villa Lobos and Niemeyer (2005), a collaborative installation at Chatham College with painter Paul Krainak, Pestel orchestrated two performances: The Birds of Rio Negro for eight musicians, eight paintings-as-scores and narrator, and Riverpiano, a reenactment on the Allegheny River of Villa Lobos’ prophetic dream in which he improvises with the birds on his beloved Hamburg Steinway while floating up the Rio Negro. (http://www.michaelpestel.com/projects/riverpiano/index.html)
Pestel is currently working on a new composition, Catalogue of Extinct Birds for prepared piano and woodwind quartet.

As a sculptor, Pestel has built large-scale, wooden architectural structures (Sighting Wheel 1 and 2, Hadrian Spin-Out), site-specific pedestrian bridges (Piers Project, Ohio Gauntlet), structural cantilever systems (Sine Wave), and architectural structures for music (Agronome, Hadrian Spin-Out. An interactive performance-installation (Harps and Angles), with tENTATIVELY a cONVENIENCE, combines four prepared piano tables and 4-channel, live-mixed video footage. The current work accompanying Charles Ives’ Songs of Peace and War, a chapter in the Ives Vocal Marathon, is a video which draws on images of nature from throughout Charles Ives’ New England.

Michael Pestel is the recipient of artist grants and awards from the NEA, Mondriaan Foundation, German Ministry of Culture, Asian Cultural Council, American Institute of Architects, and Pennsylvania and New York State Councils on the Arts. He is Visiting Lecturer in Wesleyan University’s GLSP and a Senior Scholar at Chatham College. Pestel lives in Middletown, CT on a suburban farm with philosopher Elise Springer, their daughter Josey, and three ornithologically-inclined cats.