Bernie Krause (Photo: Tim Chapman)
Snapping shrimp, a mountain gorilla, dolphins and frogs: these are just some of the animal voices used in the album “A Wild Christmas.” Sound engineer Bernie Krause dipped into his enormous archive of sounds from the wild and orchestrated them into a compilation of holiday tunes. Special guest solo by Molly the parrot!
CURWOOD: The tune’s familiar. But this is hardly the typical holiday Muzak that you can’t escape in the neighborhood mall. No. Nature herself provided the raw material for these holiday standards. They were compiled as a ‘Wild Christmas’ back in 1991 by Phil Aaberg and Bernie Krause. The album has long been out of print but is now being re-issued, only for download on the web.
KRAUSE: This album really consists of just animal sounds. There are no synthesizers, no traditional instruments. And we managed to put this together by going through this large archive of material that I have and finding ones that kind of fit the voices of more traditional music instruments.
[SQUEAKING TO THE TUNE OF ‘DECK THE HALLS’]
KRAUSE: The intro is made of dolphins.
[SQUAKING OF ‘FA LA LA LA LA LA LA’]
KRAUSE: And of course the ‘la las’ are a parrot: Molly the parrot.
KRAUSE: And you have the baby mountain gorilla that was recorded in the late Diane Fossey’s camp at Karisoke in Rwanda.
[GROWLING AND SNAPPING SOUNDS]
KRAUSE: And you have the snapping fish tapping on the music stand saying ‘come on guys, let’s get it together.’ We would take a parrot or a walrus and we’d sample the sound. We’d do a small recording, a short recording of each of those voices, and then we’d put it into a midi synthesizer, establish a range of frequency around it—like, maybe two octaves for the walrus or an octave for the parrot—and give it an octave range. And then we would just play it like we play a normal instrument.
[CHRIPING AND BUZZING]
KRAUSE: One of the neat things about ‘Amazing Grace’ is that it begins with sounds that are recorded in the Amazon at a place called Kilometer 41, which is a research station north of Minais, which is kind of midway in the Amazon.
[DEEP BLOWING SOUND AND CHIRPING]
KRAUSE: And there’s also a bird there called the Common Potoo. And a common Potoo is a melodic bird that does kind of a bluesy sound and has a bluesy melody. And so we wanted to include that as kind of a reference point mixed in with all the other animals that you hear in that soundscape.
[COMMON POTOO SINGS MELODY OF ‘AMAZING GRACE’]
KRAUSE: The key is always to find a way to bring out the Western musicality in these animals. And it’s surprising how many animals do have this musical quality.
When we were recording in places like the Amazon or Africa, what we found was that these animals all voiced together, all sing together, in relationship to one another—much like instruments in an orchestra. And one of the ways we wanted to bring this to people’s attention was through albums like ‘A Wild Christmas,’ where we actually take the animals and group them together in traditional musical form, so that people can actually hear them singing together.
[‘WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS’ PLAYS]
CURWOOD: Bernie Krause sampled the natural world for “A Wild Christmas.’ Living on Earth’s Eileen Bolinsky produced our tribute. You can find the music online at www.wildsanctuary.com.
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