Here are 35 examples of the cries, signals, songs and even stories of animals, speaking for themselves, declaring loud and clear their shared right to be among us. When an animal makes a sound, it is communicating. It may be inviting a potential mate, or sounding an alarm for others of its kind. It could be relaying some kind of message across the canopy of a jungle. Or perhaps just singing for the joy of it, commenting to the world of all animals the simple wonder of being alive. To this end, each animal utterance is purposeful and direct. But we might ask, are these animals in any sense aware of the aesthetic qualities of their communications? Do they have some understanding of how beautiful or how intricate or even how terrifying they can sound? Likely not in human terms, but almost certainly in their own.
My longtime friend, Doug Carroll, has brought together another fine collection of animal sounds with this CD. Each recording is a jewel in capturing an essence of these animal voices through skillful and respectful editing. There is a sense of composition about each of these miniatures, some simple and others quite complex. Many feature soloists, but we also hear ensembles. In every case, the recording itself is excellent. Ambient sounds are appropriate to the setting, the animal’s habitat. The only sign of humans is the second to last track – humans laughing – a laugh track. Interesting how that happens in waves. One might wonder, what do the animals make of our laughter?
And speaking of laughter, our parade of sounds here begins with a bit of jungle levity – the Laughing Kookaburra. These birds are already amused, and we begin listening with a smile. We hear the mechanical “squeaky wheel” of the Crested Screamer, the alternating rhythmic/non-rhythmic squawks of the Guinea Fowl, a political rally of honking Flamingos. We hear the real Macaws! (Forgive me.) Do frogs actually sound like little brass bells? Are the sad moans of sea lions really sad, or just an amazing way to yawn? The Cockatoo, my gosh, so much material to work with! I’d jam with him! But he’d want to be the lead singer. When electronic music came along, we thought we’d discovered something new. Nope. The Cicadas beat us to it.
When we hear the lion’s roar, it is clear why he’s called the king. What a beautiful, deep and resonant voice! Contrast that with the Lorikeets, who sound like they’re celebrating the New Year. In the three segments called Dawn Chorus, three segments called African Birds, and Aviary, we hear the gorgeous, inevitably musical interaction of many different voices in the upper register, like a tapestry of whistles, tweets and chirps. The Raven, who seems to be saying, “Hello! Hello! Anyone out there?”, is ultimately joined by others. The Rooster says, “Guess what time it is.” The crickets say it’s nighttime. The purring cat says it’s time to sleep. The Humming Bird also purrs in the wind, a different kind of purr. The Sea Lions, Fur Seals and Harbor Seals seem to converse about complex topics with their rhythmically hocketing honks, yawns, snorts and sneezes. Lots of opinions expressed there, I’m sure.
Our journey through this maze of animal sounds ends with a three-dimensional chamber work for birds and boats, performed by Hawks and Ravens (and the helmsmen of boats in a harbor). A fitting conclusion to a unique listening adventure. Our appreciation of animal sounds, the power, the intricacies, the outright musicianship and creative beauty of their many different voices can only bring us closer to our appreciation of the animals themselves and their vital role in the play of life on earth. And this fine set of recordings is a rare opportunity to listen closely to what our friends have to say about it.
- Tom Nunn