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Ornithologies: Fuego Quartet and Visual Artist Juan Fontanive

Fuego Quartet performs David Clay Mettens's "Ornithology S" in a gallery space alongside Juan Fontanive's whirring bird animation machines.


In 2017, the Fuego Quartet commissioned David “Clay” Mettens for a new saxophone quartet to be premiered at the North American Saxophone Alliance National Conference in March 2018. The piece, Ornithology S, was subsequently performed in a revised version at the World Saxophone Congress in Zagreb, Croatia in July 2018 and recorded for an April 2019 release on Parma Recordings. Mettens writes about his piece:

Ornithology S is inspired by a series of works created by the visual artist Juan Fontanive. He began the series by using old Victorian clock parts to create “flip book” machines that rapidly turn over images of hummingbirds. His machines animate the diverse colors and forms of the birds in a kind of stuttering, perpetual flight, accompanied by the constant sound of whirring pages. Fontanive’s constructions closely align with some of my recent compositional interests: flickering colors, composites created by blurring many parts into a single entity, irregularities within perpetual motion, and careful blends of pitch and noise. To these ends, I have hollowed out the timbre of the quartet in two distinct directions, exploiting the airy qualities of the instruments on the one hand, and transforming the ensemble into a vast battery of (barely) pitched wooden percussion on the other.

The project aims to re-connect this generative artistic stimulus with the resulting music in a Chicago art gallery space. Audience members will wander around the space, viewing Fontanive’s machines as Fuego Quartet performs the piece. As it begins and ends, the music will seamlessly emerge from and recede into the sounds of the whirring machines, sometimes dominating the aural landscape of the art installation, other times serving as an equal partner. Performances will occur at regular intervals throughout the day-long installation, allowing the performers to rest and audience members to engage with the art and artists.

This alternative concert format will re-contextualize both the visual art and music, and encourage dialogue between the two artistic communities and audience constituencies. The interdisciplinary nature of the project will offer another entry point to the world of contemporary music.

Project Timeline:

Fall 2019 (Oct./Nov.)

Day 1: Artists and Musicians Arrive, Rehearsals

Day 2: Installation set-up, Performances, Tear-down

About the Venue:

Located in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, Mana Contemporary is a site that supports a diverse array of artistic practices and disciplines in a campus environment. The open, reverberant concrete floor plans of the building will amplify the quiet sounds of the music and flipbook machines, and blur their identities. Housing multiple artist studios and exhibition spaces of varying sizes in a half-million square foot facility, Mana Contemporary is well suited for displaying this kind of interdisciplinary work and engaging new audiences.


Project Media

Ornithology P – Juan Fontanive
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Features: Juan Fontanive

Ornithology is a series of work that explores moving images within physical machines – working with the form and structure of how animation is made. The film itself is constructed from collaged 18th and 19th Century natural history illustrations – multiple frames of still birds combined to form a single bird in flight. Uncovering a type of hidden movement between each still frame, patterns of the birds’ behavior emerge when played through time.

– Juan Fontanive

Ornithology S (excerpts)
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Two excerpts from Ornithology S, recorded by the Fuego Quartet.

A full score is available here: https://issuu.com/dmettens/docs/mettens_ornithologys_revised

Start and End Dates



Chicago, Illinois

Project Created By

Chicago, Illinois
The Chicago Tribune has praised the music of David “Clay” Mettens (b.1990) as “a thing of remarkable beauty,” displaying a “sensitive ear for instrumental color.” His recent work seeks to distill the strange and sublime from the familiar. He reflects upon the experience of wonder in music that ranges from rich and sonorous to bright and…

In Collaboration With



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