Sunday, March 24, 2024

Sunday morning music


OK, here's something completely different:  an orchestra of elephants!

The Thai Elephant Orchestra is, remarkably, just what it sounds like. At a conservation center in Thailand, made for former work animals with nowhere to go, a group of elephants has been assembled and trained to play enormous percussion instruments, holding mallets in their trunks and sometimes trumpeting along.

David Sulzer — known in the music world as Dave Soldier — is a neuroscientist at Columbia University, a composer and the co-founder of the orchestra.

"Elephants like to listen to music: If you play music they'll come over, and in the morning when the mahouts take them out of the jungle, they sing to to calm them down," Sulzer tells NPR's Jacki Lyden. "So what we came up with was, well, maybe if we made ergonomic instruments that would be easy for elephants to play — for instance, marimbas and drums that are giant — perhaps they would play music."

Among those instruments is a sort of oversized xylophone that Sulzer built in a metal shop in Lampang, using the music he heard locally as a guide.

"The idea here was to get the instruments to sound like traditional Thai instruments, and make music that sounds like Thai music," he says. "That instrument ... is using a Thai scale, a northern Thai scale. And when Thai people hear it, they say, 'Oh, that sounds like some of the music that we play in the Buddhist temples up north.'"

The Thai Elephant Orchestra has produced three albums.

There's more at the link.

The elephants certainly seem to be getting into the swing of things.  Here's a live performance.  Don't just listen to the discordant elements (of which there are plenty):  listen to see if you can detect an underlying theme or sequence.

When transcribed into musical notation, the underlying theme comes out more clearly.  Here's a chamber orchestra playing one of the elephants' compositions.  The YouTube notes read:

The Composers Concordance Chamber Orchestra conducted by Thomas Carlo Bo premieres Dave Soldier's Thung Kwian Sunrise at the Dimenna Center in New York City on December 7, 2012. The piece was originally improvised by the Thai Elephant Orchestra , an orchestra of up to 14 improvising elephants founded by Dave Soldier and Richard Lair in 2000, and is on their first CD. 

It  was transcribed from the CD by Wade Ripka and arranged  by Dave . At the end of this premiere, the conductor asked the audience to guess the composer: they guessed Alan Hovhaness, Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, and Milica Paranosic: no one guessed that it had been improvised by elephants.

Here's the original piece, played by the elephants:

And here's the transcribed version, played by the orchestra:

That's pretty amazing.


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