Jim Fassett is celebrated among experimental music enthusiasts for his 1960 masterpiece Symphony of the Birds, which fused the principles of the symphonic idiom with the practices of musique concrète to forge a complex, otherworldly sound assembled entirely from ornithological field recordings. Little is known about Fassett's early years -- according to the SpaceAgePop website, he was born in 1904, and began his formative career in radio, appearing on Boston station WBZ during the late '20s. For a number of years he also served as a classical music critic for The Boston Globe. Upon relocating to New York City in 1936, Fassett was appointed assistant musical director for CBS Radio, doubling as host of the intermission show that aired each week during performances by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Fassett was named CBS Radio's lead musical director in 1942, a position he retained for over two decades -- as a top-ranking executive at the nation's largest broadcasting network, he was privy to all the new recording technology created during the postwar era and over time began experimenting with magnetic tape, in his spare time manipulating everyday sounds by altering their speed and pitch via up to as many as three tape machines. Fassett eventually introduced his own Sunday afternoon radio program, Strange to Your Ears, where he broadcast some of his more outré tape experiments -- Columbia Records later compiled some of the recordings on an LP issued under the show's title. Fassett teamed with CBS technician Mortimer Goldberg to create Symphony of the Birds, which painstakingly assembled bird call recordings compiled by ornithologists Jerry and Norma Stilwell -- the two men re-recorded the bird calls on tapes at varying speeds, then superimposed multiple playbacks on one tape reel to create the album's dense, swirling sound, which Fassett organized into three separate movements in adherence to symphonic traditions. He premiered Symphony of the Birds on the Strange to Your Ears radio series, followed by an LP release -- he also produced two additional albums, Scandinavia and the children's release Hear the Animals Sing, before retiring from CBS in 1963. Fassett later published a travel book, Italian Odyssey, and resumed his previous work as a music critic. He died December 17, 1986 in Stroudsburg, PA.
Share this page