Animal Music - Sound & Song in the Natural World


Animal Music – Sound & Song in the Natural World
Edited by Tobias Fischer & Lara Cory
Gruen 121 | Book & CD > [Sold Out]




Ever since the accidental discovery of whale song in 1967, the idea of complex animal sentience has been gaining strength within the scientific community. A growing number of researchers and academics are exploring the idea that animals enjoy music on a similar level to human beings.


Animal Music is the first anthology to present an overview of the current state of this vital debate. Its authors have spoken to the leading scientists, researchers and musicians in the field to uncover hidden meanings and new perspectives. They visit the world’s largest library of animal sounds, hack into the mysterious sonic world of shrimps, travel back in time to the point where animal and human songs diverged, and decode the latest neuroscientific findings about animal music and communication.


The book includes exclusive interviews with Chris Watson, Jana Winderen, Yannick Dauby, Slavek Kwi and Geoff Sample as well as features on Bernie Krause, David Rothenberg and Olivier Messiaen and many more.


Includes specially-compiled 60 minute CD of field recordings from the Gruenrekorder label.


01 Tikal Dawn – Andreas Bick, Germany
02 hermetica – Daniel Blinkhorn, Australia
03 Amazons & Parrots – Rodolphe Alexis, France
04 Grand Canal Springs (Excerpt) – Tom Lawrence, Ireland
05 seals – Martin Clarke, United Kingdom
07 Adélie_penguins (Excerpt) – Craig Vear, United Kingdom
08 Pilot Whales (Excerpt) – Heike Vester, Norway/Germany
09 Brame, septembre 2011 – Marc Namblard, France
10 formica aquilonia, sweden – Jez riley French, United Kingdom
11 Schwebfliegen – Lasse Marc Riek, Germany
12 central mongolian high mountain range habitat – Patrick Franke, Germany
13 Otus spilocephalus – Yannik Dauby, France
14 untitled#292 – Francisco López, Spain
15 Summer Sunset 01 – Eckhard Kuchenbecker, Germany
16 Waldkauz-Balz – Walter Tilgner, Germany
17 WHAT BIRDS SING – David Rothenberg, United States of America


17 Tracks (76′57″)
Book & CD (2000 copies)



Strange Attractor / PB 184 pp / 210mm x 148mm / ISBN:  978-1-907222-34-4


Field Recording Series by Gruenrekorder
Gruenrekorder / Germany / 2015 / Gruen 121 / LC 09488 / EAN 4050486926574





Piers Warren |
There are precious few books about sounds from the natural world, and this new publication from Tobias Fischer and Lara Cory makes a very welcome addition. Animal Music : Sound and Song in the Natural World is an overview of the debate about the idea that animals enjoy music on a similar level to human beings. It includes exclusive interviews with Chris Watson, Jana Winderen, Yannick Dauby, Slavek Kwi and Geoff Sample as well as features on Bernie Krause, Jez riley French and many more.


This will be fascinating reading for anyone involved in wildlife and field recording. Chapters explore the people and institutions that record and study animal sounds, how animals produce sounds and how they hear, why animals sing, artists attempting dialogues with animals and a thought-provoking discussion trying to define music both in human and other-animal terms. In addition there is a section where a number of leading field recordists give their expert views on recording technology and equipment. By the time I’d finished reading the book, apart from anything else, I was itching to get outside into the wilds with my recorder!


Also included, and worth the cover price alone, is a specially-compiled 60 minute CD of excellent field recordings from the Gruenrekorder label, many of them made by recordists featured in the book. The recorded subjects vary from owls, water scorpions and Amazonian river dolphins to wood ants, pilot whales and hermit crabs.


Jack Chuter | ATTN:Magazine
Tobias Fischer and Lara Cory run the fantastic Fifteen Questions website, which (as the title suggests) compiles 15-question interviews with all manner of sound artists and musicians. The questions are always attentive yet open, catching that balance between a comprehension of the artist’s work and a humble desire to explore the unknowns around artistic influence and creative process.


Their book/CD package Animal Music is their first collaboration outside of Fifteen Questions. Through first-hand interviews and research, the pair dig deep within the practice of recording, researching and contemplating the sounds made by animals: the role these sounds play in everyday life, the implications as to animal sentience, the unearthed assumptions about the dynamic between animals and human beings. I was delighted to find that the fervent curiosity that powers Fifteen Questions also runs deep through Animal Music. Scientific analysis – such as the examination of the meows and purrs of cats – leads into accounts of sound artists making intrepid trips into oceans and jungles. Interviewees are quizzed on both their reasons for pursuing the sounds of animals and the technicalities of their equipment choices.


I put a handful of questions to the writers and artists involved in the creation of Animal Music. The answers were more fascinating than I could have hoped for. Read on to find out how Jana Winderen bonded with a heron in the darkness, how Yannick Dauby’s life was changed during one summer night in Taiwan back in 2004, and how Slavek Kwi suggests that we separate the listening experience from its contextual casing. []


Animal Music – Sound & Song in the Natural World @
Sonic Terrain’s Bookshelf: +200 Books on Sound


Cheryl Tipp | Caught by the River
Purring cats, singing whales, echolocation, zoomusicology, Darwin and vocal learning in elephants. These are just a few of the topics discussed in a lively new book from Tobias Fischer and Lara Cory. Animal Music: Sound and Song in the Natural World is a comprehensive anthology that explores current thinking on whether animals create and enjoy music on a similar level to human beings. This hotly debated question has been around for centuries, yet only in the past fifty years or so has it really begun to develop into serious scientific pondering. A quick scan of the contents page would be enough to whet the appetite of anyone with an interest in the sonic activities of the natural world. Section headings such as Explorers with Microphones, The Mechanics of Music and Howling Back – why do animals sing? immediately grab your attention, leaving you in a quandary about what to do – do you go traditional and read from start to end or do you go renegade, throwing caution to the wind and diving in to the sections which interest you the most?


As you delve deeper into these collections you come across a huge variety of fascinating facts and anecdotes. Such is the knowledge packed into these pages that it can become almost overwhelming at times. This is definitely a good thing though. The majority of the book is presented in the typical essay style but this conformity is peppered with the occasional interview, spotlights on particular recordists and a collection of thoughts from some of the best known names in field recording. It’s wonderful to see such a selection of musicians, scientists, field recordists and artists sit alongside each other, their voices, experiences and beliefs of equal value in this debate. When it comes to the possible existence of music and language in the animal kingdom, the authors haven’t tried to influence their readers. They simply present the current state of affairs and let you decide for yourself.


As if the contents of the pages were not enough to satisfy, the book also comes with a fantastic CD compilation of some of the best natural history field recordings, curated by the much-loved German label Gruenrekorder. From Pilot Whales and Red Deer to Wood Ants and Hoverflies, this selection takes the listener on an audio tour that jumps from the mountain ranges of central Mongolia to the depths of the Norwegian fjords. It’s brilliant and could easily exist as a stand-alone publication. Luckily for us, the bright minds at Strange Attractor Press decided to combine the two together (round of applause please).


I can probably count on one hand the number of books about sound that I’ve honestly enjoyed. Too often the contents of these publications become entangled in academic jargon, resulting in a collection of dusty pages with all the joy and enthusiasm sucked out of them. Of course these texts have their place but sadly they don’t float my boat. They never have. ‘Animal Music’ rides in on a wave of energy that fuses the worlds of science and art in an accessible and engaging way. A definite page turner if ever there was one.


Łukasz Komła |
Niemiecko-brytyjski duet przygotował fascynującą książkę, w której znajdziemy aktualne wyniki badań dotyczące „mowy” zwierząt.


Czy zwierzęta rozmawiają ze sobą? Co chcą nam powiedzieć poprzez swoje melodie? Czy kiedykolwiek będziemy w stanie zrozumieć ich „mowę”? Chyba każdy sobie zadał przynajmniej raz w życiu taką serię pytań, ale nie wielu z nas odważyło się zmierzyć z nimi na poważnie. Niewątpliwie ważny moment dla rozwoju tej dziedziny nauki nastąpił w 1967 roku, kiedy to zainteresowano się odgłosami wielorybów. Od tego czasu coraz większa ilość badaczy pozytywnie wypowiada się na temat stwierdzenia, że zwierzęta są w stanie cieszyć się muzyką.


Tobias Fischer i Lara Cory (oni realizują także wywiady na stronie „Fifteen Questions”) swoją publikacją „Animal Music – Sound & Song in the Natural World” uzupełniają poważną dziurę, jeśli chodzi o fachową literaturę zajmującą się światem zwierząt. Przeszukali największe na świecie zbiory dźwięków zwierząt znajdujące się w Bibliotece Macauleya w Ithaca (stan Nowy Jork). Tam poznali np. dźwięki wypływające z wnętrza krewetek. Ich książka zawiera również niezwykle ciekawe wywiady z takimi artystami jak Chris Watson, Jana Winderen, Yannick Dauby, Slavek Kwi i Geoff Sample, a także liczne wypowiedzi Bernie’ego Krause’a, Davida Rothenberga, Oliviera Messiaena i wielu innych. W środku pojawiły się też dwa bardzo wciągające artykuły Kate Carr.


Jeden z wydawców (Gruenrekorder) dołożył także płytę CD, na której mamy 17 różnych nagrań terenowych ( słyszymy tajwańskie żaby, pomruki dobiegające z gwatemalskiej dżungli, papugi z amazońskich lasów, wodne chrząszcze). Prace niektórych z tych artystów przybliżałem już na łamach Nowej Muzyce (Rodolphe Alexis, Lasse Marc Riek, David Rothenberg).


Lara Cory podkreśla, iż zwierzęta lubią bawić się dźwiękami, a my ludzie możemy jedynie ten stan podziwiać, bez możliwości ingerowania w ich „mowę”. Fischer zaś dodaje, że skala dźwięków po jakiej poruszają się ptaki przekracza ludzkie możliwości, ponieważ ptaki są zdolne do śpiewania bez przerwy przez 95 sekund, produkując w tym samym czasie 1500 różnych figur dźwiękowych. Chris Watson twierdzi, „że bylibyśmy przerażeni tym faktem, iż możemy komunikować się ze zwierzętami”. To tylko niewielka część poruszanych zagadnień.

Książka „Animal Music: Sound & Song in the Natural World” jest zarówno doskonałą pozycją dla tych, którzy zaczynają swoją przygodę z odkrywaniem tej materii, jak i dla tych bardziej zawansowanych czytelników/badaczy. W wielu miejscach Fischer i Cory, a także ich rozmówcy, wręcz prowokują nas do intensywnego myślenia/zastanawiania się nad problem istoty komunikacji wśród zwierząt. Nie spodziewajcie się, że znajdziecie odpowiedzi na wszystkie nurtujące was pytania (np. moje jest takie: czy w stosunku do „mowy” zwierząt możemy używać określenia „język”?). Podążając za myślą tego pytania dochodzę do wniosku, że wszystko zależy w jaki sposób definiujemy owe pojęcie „języka”. W 1960 roku, amerykański językoznawca Charles Hockett przedstawił siedem „zasad” języka. Jego sztywne normy kategorycznie wyrzucały poza nawias świat zwierząt. Całe szczęście dziś mamy naukowców o bardziej otwartych umysłach.


Reasumując, autorzy starają się poprzez liczne wywiady/artykuły pokazać, jak obszerny i niezwykły jest to temat.


Richard Allen | a closer listen
This new book/CD set, a joint release from Strange Attractor and Gruenrekorder, will have a treasured place on my shelf aside Bernie Krause’s The Great Animal Orchestra, David Rothenberg’s Thousand Mile Song and Cathy Lane & Angus Carlyle’s In the Field: The Art of Field Recording, among others. It’s a solid addition to a small yet growing canon of literature that opens our ears to the intricacies of our sonic environments.


Last year, a main character in Jenny Offill’s fine novel Dept. of Speculation was identified as a field recordist. Even though the character turned out to be a cad, the inclusion of his profession (which itself was not demeaned) demonstrates the way in which the subject has begun to poke its head into into popular culture. Field recordists typically call attention to sounds that are heard, yet not noticed; ironically the same is true of field recordists themselves.


Animal Music aims to change all that, and is an excellent primer for aficionados and newcomers alike. Editors Tobias Fischer and Lara Cory are extremely humble, relegating credit for different chapters to the small print of the opening index. Kate Carr contributes two chapters, and the book ends with an extended interview with Slavek Kwi, but without the names front and center, the book flows smoothly as a whole. Site favorites are numerous: Yannick Dauby, Jana Winderen, David Velez, Chis Watson and many more. This may be the first prose collection that pays as much attention to recorded works as it does to the concepts behind the recording and the science behind the sounds. As such, it serves as a recommendation engine as well, although some of the works referenced (specifically, Dauby’s Songs of the Frogs of Taiwan vol. 1) have sold out. This may be a good time to jump on some of the rest.


The 77-minute companion CD, compiled by Lasse-Marc Riek, is a treasure unto itself, and makes a fine listening aid to the book, although the track order might have been shuffled a bit to match the reading order. The opening track (Andreas Bick’s “Tikal Dawn”), immerses the listener in the sounds of the Guatemalan jungle, a companion to the Costa Rican experiences of Rodolphe Alexis in the opening chapter. Alexis will appear two tracks later with “Amazons & Parrots”, but it would have been nice to launch with this track, as it would have been fitting to close with Slavek Kwi’s river dolphin recordings (Track 6 on the CD). Still, few are the readers who are able to time the speed of their reading to match the length of different tracks, and as the book/disc progresses, a tapestry of international natural sound is woven strand by strand until it is hard to separate the experience of the eyes and ears.


With 17 tracks, there’s something for everybody, although the full album comes across as unified as well. Most of the tracks are new, although a few are not; it’s great to see new attention given to Daniel Blinkhorn’s terra subfonica, one of our favorite collections of recent years; and an extract from Tom Lawrence’s Water Beetles of Pollardstown Fen reminds us of how much the recording artist is missed. Marc Namblard’s wild boars are a treat, as are Francisco López’ shearwaters (long-winged seabirds that sound like cats) and Jez Riley French’s wood ants (that sound like vinyl static). As one can tell from such lists, the definition of “animal” is fluid.


Cory defines animal music as “the sounds that animals make that go beyond basic communication.” From grooming gorilla to purring feline, species have been known to utter sounds for other reasons. Animals like to play with sounds, quotes Cory, and we can’t help but admire them for this. The peak capacity, as Fischer writes later, may be the utterances of certain birds, “capable of singing without interruption for 95 seconds, producing 1,500 different elements over that period.” Try it yourself – I did. It’s impossible for a human to match.


Winderen insists on leaving the animal sounds untouched in her recordings, while others admit the impossibility of pristine capture. Krause famously observed that the sonic realm is less a collection of individual sounds than a symphony, while Watson worries about “cutting up” an animal song. (For all we know, a seemingly pristine, start-to-finish animal song enjoyed by humans may seem to the animal like the yanking of a needle from a record mid-track.) Researchers at the Macauley Library in Ithaca, New York are building a vast collection of natural sound in an attempt to understand it: not only the meaning of sound environments, but the preservation of species sounds. By comparing older and newer recordings, they are often able to identify changes in a sonic habitat.


But not everyone cares, of course, which is why sonic environments are disappearing. The level of empathy ranges from nil (those who want frog ponds filled with concrete) to overboard (Yang Yi-Ru giving CPR to a frog). Geoff Sample may worry about the rush of humans celebrating International Dawn Chorus Day, but a lack of participation would be worse; at least those tromping out to enjoy an environment are paying some sort of attention. Fisher & Cory begin their project by trying to explain animal music, but end with a strong case for preservation.


Nathan Thomas | Fluid Radio
Tobias Fischer and Lara Cory work together on the interview series 15 Questions, covering a wide range of musical genres and approaches. By contrast, their new book “Animal Music: Sound and Song in the Natural World” focuses on a single line of enquiry: specifically, the text sets out to explore the making and perception of sounds by non-human animals, and grapples with the thorny question of whether such sounds could ever be considered ‘music’. This quest is undertaken mainly through short, journalistic articles, though an interview with Chris Watson and a discussion with Slavek Kwi are also included, as are two articles by Kate Carr.


The book’s core premise appears to be based on a number of categorical distinctions that are referred to time and time again: distinctions between nature and culture; animals and humans; biological necessity and emotion; utilitarian communications and music; and so on. Propositions commonly take the following form: “What if an observed/heard behaviour thought to belong to category a in fact belongs to category b?”. Such propositions necessarily affirm the validity of the categorical distinctions they are based on. For example, Cory’s question “If humans make music for practical and emotional reasons, then is it such a stretch to think that animals might too?” (p.26) affirms the distinctions both between humans and animals and between biological necessity and emotion.


Defining the terms used to make these distinctions is not attempted until the very final article, the discussion between Fischer and Kwi; examining the evidential basis for the distinctions and the reasons for their use isn’t really attempted at all. How much of a problem this is depends on how much one is prepared to take as read; if the outcome of this judgement isn’t “a lot”, then things quickly start to look pretty shaky. How might it be thought, for example, that both animals and humans make music for both practical and emotional reasons, if no conceptual means of separating musical events into those made for practical reasons and those made for emotional ones, or beings into animals and humans, has been established?


Consider the following anecdote as a means of further elucidating this problem. I once took a class entitled ‘Music and Cognition’ convened by cognitive neuroscientist Henkjan Honing, who receives a citation in Fischer and Kwi’s discussion. During one session, Honing played a YouTube clip of a live performance by the R’n’B musician D’Angelo. The performance clearly demonstrated the difficulties in drawing any firm conclusions as to what this thing called ‘music’ is for: the artistry of D’Angelo and his accompanying musicians was evident, but so too was the excitement of the live concert experience, its operation as a social gathering, as well as the (undeniable) function of the performance as a display of masculine virility. Honing, in his role as neuroscientist and lecturer, played us the clip in order to make an intellectual point and demonstrate particular theoretical problems; however, it was also evident how much he enjoyed the music (while perhaps not being completely oblivious to the implications of a white man drawing out a connection between black music and mating calls in the name of science).


Where Animal Music reaffirms certain categories through acts of reclassification — principally, by reclassifying animal sounds as music — Honing’s YouTube clip dissolves them. Is D’Angelo’s music (or that of Taylor Swift, or Rolando Villazón, or any charismatic and celebrated performer) emotional expression or social facilitation? Entertainment or evolutionary adaptation? High art or marker of sexual prowess? Yes. No wonder, then, that Honing’s own research and that of many scientists working in similar fields focuses in on particular auditory attributes or capacities (for example beat perception) to see how widely distributed they are among beings. While Kwi argues that music “offers something completely different from science” that “defies the grasp of our intellectual faculties” — note another unmarked distinction, between the intellect and musical appreciation — Honing and his colleagues may simply be characterised as starting with the basics: define your terms.


If Fischer and Cory had set out to critically examine the conceptual framework governing what music and nature are assumed to be in the light of non-human uses and perceptions of sound, the result may have been more intriguing than it is. Instead, they seem content with an attempt to reorganise the existing terms within that framework. By re-ordering the cards to deal non-human animals a better hand in the transcendence stakes, they quietly underscore their privileged position as dealer. And there lies the rub: the aim of the game is to grant non-human beings access, not to music, but to transcendence — to the “secret life”, “the quest for wonder” for which music is assumed to be an emblem, without ever examining or justifying this assumption. Would a humpback whale or a Nashville warbler even want a “secret life”? How would we know?


The most striking part of the book is the response of sound artist and field recordist Chris Watson’s response to being asked about the possibility of inter-species communication: “I think we would be terrified if we could communicate with animals. It would all be over. I just can’t imagine it and find it quite disturbing.” His terror suggests an interesting question: what is it about animal sound that un-musics music?