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!
[MUSIC: Phil Aaberg and Bernie Krause, "Jungle Bells Fantasy" from 'Wild Christmas' (Miramar—1998)]
The tune's familiar. But you won’t be hearing this version of the holiday standard in your neighborhood shopping mall. No. This one is from nature herself. It’s on a compilation called “Wild Christmas.” It was released back in 1991 by Phil Aaberg and Bernie Krause. The album has long been out of print but you can download it from the Internet.
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.
[SQUAWKING 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.
[FA LA LA, CHIRPING 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, TUNE OF AMAZING GRACE]
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 voice 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]
GELLERMAN: 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.
[WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS]
Living on Earth wants to hear from you!
P.O. Box 990007
Boston, MA, USA 02199
Newsletter [Click here]
Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.
Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.
Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion
The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.
Energy Foundation: Serving the public interest by helping to build a strong, clean energy economy.
Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.
Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth