According to Olivier Messiaen who has featured many times on these pages, it was his teacher Paul Dukas who told him, “Listen to the birds; they are great masters.” He took the advice, and turned it into a life-long obsession, becoming an expert on bird song in the process. Most of Messiaen's style oiseau music is the product of careful notation of the birdsong he encountered in the field.
However, Oiseaux exotiques (1955-56) cites no fewer than 40 different birdsongs from far-flung lands, all transcribed from recordings. The work, in a single continuous movement, may be regarded as a sort of avian fantasy, but is really a sound fantasy—an exploration of timbres and rhythms where birdsong meets ancient Karnatic and Greek rhythms. The northern cardinal has a prominent role almost from the start.