April 28, 2005

How Do Birds Learn To Sing?

While we’re on the subject of eternal questions (cf ice cream van music), here’s an interesting piece of research from the boffins at MIT, who’ve managed to isolate the area of the brain that helps a young bird transform random chirps into trilling melodies. I’m not sure how much relevance these findings have to human minstrelsy, but I have no doubt that someone will a develop a gene therapy that will raise no end of controversy on Australian Idol 2010.

Posted by Warren at 02:24 AM

March 02, 2005

Hamster MIDI... Orca Reggae... Animals Are Muslim Too

Ellroy.jpgLast Sunday, Daz became the proud adoptive parent of a cuter-than-porcelain-figurine West Highland Terrier puppy who she christened Ellroy. (Yes, there is a secret hope that he will soon be churning out doggy crime novels that get optioned for movies… It’s a big untapped market, you know.) So, to belatedly commemorate his arrival, here’s a series of animal-related posts.

Hamster.jpgThe kinetic energy of small rodents is a vastly under-utilised resource. Engineering student, Levy Lorenzo, is keenly aware of this, so when his course called for a creative application of MIDI, he enlisted the talents of scampering hamsters. He set up 3 MIDI voices so that their rhythms and note sequences were controlled by 6 hamsters caged in the perspex rodent high-rise pictured on the left. Hamsterwerk can be seen in action in this video, and the resulting music can be heard in this mp3. (via Music Thing)

Killer_Whale.jpgJim Nollman, who was featured on Music Thing a couple of weeks ago, also understands the musical capacities of animals, but prefers to let them find their own voices. To this end, he pursues killer whales off the coast of Russia with an electric guitar, and plays a nose flute for flocks of turkeys – in the hope of kicking off human-animal duets. He’s had quite a bit of success with orcas and his site, Interspecies Inc, has a minute long audio sample of one of them soloing over his languid reggae-esque guitar lines. Elsewhere on the site are some natty little loops by dolphins, seal and other whales.

Muslim_Scouts.jpgFinally, a track from Muslim Scouts in Africa. This is an Islamic kids' cartoon series that I bought a video of from a shopping mall concourse vendor (the sort who flog pirate-copy VHS’s from a table at the top of escalators) a couple of years ago. The series follows a group of Muslim Scouts (the Islamic equivalent of the Boy Scouts) as they tour East Africa; meeting locals, foiling the exploits of villainous Western rogues, and learning about the Islamic history of the region. Overall, it’s a fairly pedestrian piece of kiddie animation that’s peppered with some truly woeful musical numbers. Animals Are Muslim Too is an exception; an almost dirge-like earworm that extols the virtues of caring for animals from an Islamic perspective. Yours to download here.

Posted by Warren at 11:28 PM

September 15, 2004

Elephonic Rhapsodies: Thai Elephant Orchestra

The world’s only non-human improv ensemble is back... After a three year wait, the highly-talented ensemble of elephant musician/composers from the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre in Northern Thailand have finally released their second album, Elephonic Rhapsodies. (For more background on them, see this earlier posting.) And its turned out to be both a better and worse album than its predecessor.

On the downside, it opens with one of the most patronising and cringe-worthy intro tracks imaginable; with the project directors, who refer to themselves as “your Uncle Dave and Uncle Richard”, presenting the elephants in a manner obviously designed for a kiddie audience. After that, they do allow one memorable track of languid glissando improvisation from the orchestra’s star xylophone player, Phong. From there on in, its all composed-by-humans pieces, which the elephants perform with and without humans. The results are truly beautiful and, as "Uncle Dave and Uncle Richard" assure us, quite enjoyable for the elephants as well.

Here are two tracks from the album, Phong’s Solo and Little Elephant Saddle. (NB: the trumpeting in the latter track was apparently a spontaneous response to hearing a violin for the first time.) The album itself can be purchased from Mulatta Records.

Posted by Warren at 12:38 AM

June 17, 2004

Subsonics at Mu-Meson Archives... Possibly Featuring The Thai Elephant Orchestra

Tomorrow night, there will be a Q&A session at the Mu-Meson Archives with the people behind Subsonics, an SBS series from last year, which was devoted to experimental music and featured such international luminaries as Faust, Harry Partch, Sun Ra, Otomo Yoshihide, Masonna, Phil Niblock, Sachiko M, Voice Crack, and Reynols (along with local heroes like Jim Denley, Greg Kingston and Curse ov Dialect). In addition to answering questions, the makers will screen a couple of episodes from the series and a raft of previously unseen footage.

To get you in the mood, here’s two pieces from one of the groups who were featured in the first episode of the series – The Thai Elephant Orchestra. As the name suggests, they’re an orchestra comprised entirely of elephants (performing on instruments especially designed for them)… who actually compose all the music they perform...
The members of the orchestra are residents of the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, which does invaluable work rescuing elephants from punishing domestic servitude… Ideally, these rescued elephants should be released into the wild, but thanks to human encroachment on their former environments, this is supposedly not a viable option. (If I’m wrong on that point, I’d welcome correction.) So, as it stands, they have what orchestra facilitator, Richard Lair, characterises as the cushiest job in elephant captivity (and one that raises valuable money for the Centre) – being in the prison band… What’s your opinion on the whole set-up?

In any case, I recommend you get along to the Subsonics screening at the Archives on the corner of Parramatta Rd & Trafalgar St, Annandale, 8 pm Friday 18th. And if you want hear more of the Thai Elephant Orchestra, you can purchase their CD from Mulatta Records.

Posted by Warren at 11:26 PM