Eugene Chadbourne: Catalogue of Birds and Selected Works
Through  November 7

Off the road for the first time in decades because of the pandemic, musician, improviser and human-repository-of song Eugene Chadbourne has been filling his free time with assorted creative projects, one of which is a unique and vibrant visual and musical adaptation of twentieth century French composer Oliver Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux.

Messiaen was a serious amateur ornithologist. Written between 1956 and 1958, his Catalogue d’oiseaux features thirteen sections of piano music, each focused on a single species, with sixty-four of their closest neighbors in supporting roles. In Catalogue, birdsongs are used in a variety of ways—from subliminally imbedded impressionistic abstractions in harmonies to fairly literal imitations as melodic motif.

For nearly two years now, Chadbourne has been painting the birds featured within the Catalogue. The painterly quality will surprise those familiar with the collages and drawings that often figure into the cover art of Chadbourne’s records. He has also embarked on transcribing the dense piano music of Catalogue d’oiseaux for solo banjo, and has now amassed several volumes of music in Catalogue of Birds for Banjos, which will be a highlight of this exhibition.

Eugene Chadbourne first came to the music world’s attention with his 1976 record, Volume One: Acoustic Guitar Solos, an early document of American free-improvisation. Not content to remain in only one idiom, he embarked on a 45-year career that has connected the dots between the Appalachians and the edges of the known musical universe.  

Chadbourne has recorded with avant-garde musicians and improvisers like Han Bennink, John Zorn, Frank Lowe, Susan Alcorn, Famoudou Don Moye, Charles Tyler, Carla Bley and Anthony Braxton. He has co-lead albums with rock bands The Violent Femmes, Camper Van Beethoven and had a long-running duo with Mothers of Invention and Magic Band drummer Jimmy Carl Black. Along the way, he taught himself the banjo, developing a unique style rooted in both his dedication to extended-technique improvisation and his love of Country and Appalachian music. He has recorded with some of Nashville’s top session musicians and In the winter of 2017 he was asked to perform his banjo variation on Bach's Goldberg Variations at the Donaueschingen International Festival of Music, one of the most important forums of contemporary music in the world. He also started the group New Directions in Appalachian Music.

A songwriter of real significance, Chadbourne’s work runs the gamut: from insightful (and funny) protest music to wistful, nostalgic ballads; from noisy, explosive rev-ups to brilliantly constructed pop songs, his output is staggering and includes more recordings than can be accurately counted. Notwithstanding, Chadbourne often draws from his repertoire of covers, the size of which probably exceeds any living musician. A typical set might contain Thelonious Monk, Eric Satie, DMX, Merle Haggard, The Dead Kennedys, Phil Ochs, Dolly Parton, Motorhead, Nina Rota, Captan Beefheart, Eric Dolphy—or just about anything else from the last two centuries.

Chadbourne writes widely about music, starting as a critic for the Calgary Herald in the ’70s, and now for numerous publications. He is the author of the tour diary, I Hate the Man Who Runs This Bar and the 2016 surreal, autobiographical work Dreamory. A pillar of the early do-It-yourself movement of artists creating and releasing cassettes, records—and now CDs—on their own labels, Chadbourne has also inspired others as a builder of new instruments. In particular, his electric rake has motivated several artists around the world to expand the sonic landscape with musical inventions of their own.