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Published: 13 October 2018

By Andy Ross

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The Great Animal Orchestra

One of the joys of using Alvin-the-loom is that the weaver can listen to music while Alvin works away. Today serendipity was in the air. 

A few months back we bought a copy of "The Great Animal Symphony", a mix of composed music and wild soundscapes in which the likes of elephant conversation and frog calls join forces with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. The resulting music is great fun, not to mention enchanting, to listen to, and this morning, while busy on the loom, I heard the recorded conversation between the composers which made the project much more than just simply entertainment. 

The idea of a musical piece which incorporates natural sounds is not new but Bernie Kraus' book, The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places, poses the theory that human music was learned from animals and birds; i.e. people learned about harmony, texture and structure from the natural world. This idea led to the co-operation between Bernie and Richard Blackford, a former composer-in-residence at Balliol College in Oxford. The two created music by exploring the relationships between natural sounds and the music people make, including the Ba'Aka pygmies of Africa

Happily listening to the conversation, the weaving was going well. Then the voices stopped and the next piece of music started - I had "shuffle" on the playlist - and it was, you guessed it, a CD of the very same Ba'Aka people that the composers had been talking about! Isn't coincidence a wonderful thing?

Of course, it being the internet a search for Ba'Aka music led to this, which led to this from Vanuatu.  I wonder if it such a big leap from those to this?

The initial idea has also gone on to becoming a sound installation of the field recordings, turning those into colour and line. Have a look at a short film showing this

It seems that the debt we owe to the natural world is far greater than I thought. Hurrah for the wild places of the world!