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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Paul Winter, Environmental Musician

Air Date: Week of

Steve talks with and listens to the music of Paul Winter, known for his melding of jazz, classical music and sounds from the natural world. Winter has just released a CD retrospective of music from the past decade.


CURWOOD: The voice of an Alaskan tundra wolf, joining the music of the Paul Winter Consort in concert at the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York City. Paul Winter is a jazz saxophonist whose work with wolves, whales and seals has earned him the label of "environmental musician." He's as much at home in canyon as he is in a cathedral or concert hall:

(Music up)

CURWOOD: Paul Winter, why do you invite your audiences to howl at the end of your concerts?

WINTER: Years ago, when I was first starting the Consort in the late sixties, I went to visit Pete Seeger one time, and talked to him about the vision I had for a kind of music and ensemble that would weave together what I felt were the best elements of both classical music and folk music in the larger sense, embracing jazz within that. And Pete was very supportive and encouraging, and he said, but the real key is participation -- getting people to participate. And I stumbled on the first audience-participation thing that the Consort did in 1973, when we were playing for an Earth Weekend, and Stewart Brand, the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog was there. And in one of the concerts we did that weekend, we played the wolf piece that I was working on in it and we in the Consort howled. And after the concert Steward said, well, why don't you ask the audience to howl? And the next night we did, and had a couple of thousand people howling together -- it was the greatest sound I'd ever heard. And it just felt so right and people seemed to be so exhilarated by doing it, that we've done it in our concerts ever since for the last nineteen years.

CURWOOD: All right, let's try it together here. (With Winter) Ah-roooo. . .
I wonder if wolves do harmony.

WINTER: Of course. I don't know if they do it intentionally; they make remarkable harmony, that flows together the way currents in a river flow, in patterns in nature.

CURWOOD: We're talking to Paul Winter from his home and studio in Litchfield, Connecticut. And you've just release a new CD, it's called Anthems, and it's a compilation of ten years of your music, and included in this anthology are many selections that are featuring not only the sound of wolves but other animals -- whales, birds. On your anthology compact disc you have a tune called Magdalena, "a very silky melody," it says -- Tell me about "silky."

WINTER: Really the melody is a composed song by (?) Lynn and James Waters, it's called "The Grey Silkie." We call it "Magdalena" after the island in Magdalena Bay in Baja California, where we went on some whale-watching, music-making expeditions in the late seventies. One night there, a sea lion pup came to shore at our camp on the lagoon and ended up spending the entire night there with us. We didn't know if she was lost or just lonely or what, but she very quickly acclimated herself to human presence and to lots of pairs of hands petting her. And she went to sleep with her nose about six inches from mine, and I could hear these wonderful little kind of miniature whale-breaths, that, where they exhale very quickly, and grab an inhale, which is what you have to do when you're a breathing mammal in the water. It sounds like p-hah-hah, p-hah-ha -- little explosive exhales. And we were so moved by this little sea pup, we called her, that she really inspired this whole album which was to be an exploration of the voices of other creatures, other sea animals besides the whales.

(Music up, then fade under)

CURWOOD: Paul Winter, you've been called a bellwether for the public psyche, in that you seem to be able to predict not only trends in music but public concerns about our world as well. So I want to ask you now, can you look into your crystal ball and tell me what you see next on the public agenda?

WINTER: Well, I'm amused to hear that description and honored that some people feel that I've done that; I don't really know if that's true, because certainly what we've done musically over the years has not been at all in line with the trends. But in terms of what I see happening to our species now, I see us becoming more sensitive to our own human nature and to its uniqueness and to its connectedness with Great Nature, and I think what that may encourage us toward is a simpler way of living. To me, unnecessary consumption is the great environmental problem, and perhaps a lot of the rampant, neurotic consumption of our society now is from frustrated expression. We are in America, in North America, perhaps the loneliest nation in the world but I think one of the least expressive. And in major media, we rely on others to make our music, to do our entertainment, and we sit and watch television, I guess six or seven hours a day on the average -- some astounding figure -- as spectators. And the trend that I'm interested in is that of participants, away from being a nation of spectating sheep to people who participate in life, beginning with our own expression, of whatever we feel our true nature might be, that we might find the gratification from that that's I think far deeper than owning a lot of expensive cars or having more possessions or paying to see more sensational entertainment.

CURWOOD: Thank you very much. Paul Winter, of the Paul Winter Consort, talked to us from his home and studio in Litchfield, Connecticut. Thank you, sir, for joining us on Living on Earth.

WINTER: You're very welcome, thank you.



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