Dear Recording Academy, What About Music Made by Animals?
The 2011 Grammy Awards are over. Among the nominees, many and various genres of music were represented, often via recordings on small independent labels. In the wake of Arcade Fire's album-of-the-year win, now is the time to bang the drum as loudly as we can for music produced outside of the mainstream. The industry is beginning to wake up and take notice.
Jerry Alexander The Thai Elephant Orchestra
However, we are compelled to bring attention to a glaring and recurring omission from the musical categories annually reviewed by The Recording Academy. One musical genre year after year has, perhaps as part of a larger conspiracy, been unfairly ignored. And that genre is Music Made By Animals. Specifically, music created and performed by pachyderms, i.e. elephants. Assuming that before next year The Recording Academy will end its policy of systematically ignoring the contributions of our big and noisy friends, it's not too early to begin a focused and passionate PR campaign to include, among the 2012 Grammy nominees, the latest release by the Thai Elephant Orchestra Water Music, available for purchase from Mulatta Records.
Water Music is the third release by this large and largely talented ensemble. Founded in 2000 by composer Dave Soldier and elephant conservationist Richard Lair and based at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in northern Thailand, the orchestra's members play several specially made giant instruments receiving no human direction other than cues to begin and to stop.
Water Music is the purest recording in the Thai Elephant Orchestra's catalog in that the 14 members perform completely on their own, with the exception of one track that features Thai holy man Boonyang Boonthiam singing an prayer for the elephant spirit. There are no overdubs. And the only edits were those done to remove extraneous human sounds including that of passing motor bikes.
When an elephant plays music, it's all about the joy of discovery. And even for those humans new to this genre, the resulting music is mesmerizing. Water Music's first track "Invocation" features the aforementioned elephant prayer intoned in the Thai Lanna dialect while the orchestra - using their trunks - alternately strike and stroke giant marimbas, gongs, and cymbals climaxing with several hearty antiphonal (i.e. "call and response") roars and screams and concluding with what sounds like several soft elephantine kisses. There is an uncredited drone from an orchestra of cicadas on this and most all of the other tracks as the recordings were done at the height of the monsoon season. Soldier and Lair obviously did not have to negotiate with a union for the insects' recorded participation.
Water Music is a fascinating and fun listen. It's also surprisingly moving. Animals mirror the potential we have as humans for caring and loving each other and this planet. So, perhaps after your next visit to the Houston Zoo, go online and head over to the Mulatta Records website and buy a copy of Water Music or maybe all three releases by the Thai Elephant Orchestra. And maybe, come 2012, we'll have a new category of music for The Recording Academy to consider and duly acknowledge at next year's Grammy awards.