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Jim Fassett will be remembered by space age pop fans for one amazing piece of work: his 1960 Columbia album, Symphony of the Birds. Working with CBS radio technician Mortimer Goldberg, Fassett painstakingly pieced together fragments from recordings of bird calls originally made in the field by Jerry and Norma Stilwell. By rerecording some of them faster or slower and then superimposing multiple playbacks onto one tape, Fassett and Goldberg wove together the results like an arrangement for symphony orchestra. Even if you don't appreciate the art of the work, Symphony for the Birds earns the kind of fascination and admiration one holds for achievements like toothpick models of the Eiffel Tower or the world's biggest ball of string. Created in three parts--Andante e lirico; Buffo; and Misterioso--the Symphony was debuted on by Fassett on one of his regular Sunday afternoon programs on CBS radio.
Backing Symphony of the Birds is another Fassett creation, A Revelation in Birdsong Patterns, in which Fassett and Goldberg took field recordings of various songbirds and slowed them down to show the intricate musical motifs hidden to the human ear at the pitch and speed of the actual calls.
Fassett spent most of his working life in radio. He joined station WBZ in Boston in the late 1920s. A great lover of classical music, he also served as music critic for The Boston Herald. In 1936, he moved to New York City, where he served as assistant musical director for the CBS radio network. Soon after joining CBS, he began hosting the intermission show during the weekly broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, a job he held for many years. In 1942, he was promoted to lead musical director for CBS Radio, a position he held until his retirement in 1963. He continued to write musical criticism and other articles, and in 1969, he published a travel book, Italian Odyssey.
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