The work falls into two sections, loosely representing the gradual awakening and quietening of the dawn and dusk choruses. These take place against a backdrop of slowly-shifting stars, which dispassionately preside over the passing of the day, unmoved by the daily cycle of musical activity which their presence provokes.
The birdsong used in Secret Dialogues is based on the songs of ten birds - Robin, Nightingale, Pied Butcherbird, White-rumped Shama, White-browed Robin Chat, Wood Thrush, Water Rail, Dunnock, Whitethroat and Pied Flycatcher. Many of these birds have an extensive repertoire of songs – in the case of the Wood Thrush, for example, some eighteen different songs appear in this work alone. Altogether some fifty different songs are used, each one undergoing subtle harmonic and rhythmic transformations with each new appearance.
The intricate dialogues of these birds is overseen by nine Constellations, which gradually appear in the following order – Sextans, Bootes, Coma Berenices, Corvus, Crater, Leo, Lynx, Cancer and Draco. As in certain previous works of mine, the star-patterns of these Constellations are realised and developed using my own particular graphic techniques of rotation, augmentation and diminution on both x- and y-axes, and applied to constantly shifting harmonic fields. It has always struck me how uncannily alive and lyrical they become when realised in this way, and in some cases they even begin to resemble the birdsong.
Secret Dialogues was commissioned by a consortium of marimbists headed by my good friend, Eduardo Leandro (also a bird enthusiast), to whom the work is dedicated.