Review by Cheryl Tipp
Purring cats, singing whales, echolocation, zoomusicology, Darwin and vocal learning in elephants. These are just a few of the topics discussed in a lively new book from Tobias Fischer and Lara Cory. Animal Music: Sound and Song in the Natural World is a comprehensive anthology that explores current thinking on whether animals create and enjoy music on a similar level to human beings. This hotly debated question has been around for centuries, yet only in the past fifty years or so has it really begun to develop into serious scientific pondering. A quick scan of the contents page would be enough to whet the appetite of anyone with an interest in the sonic activities of the natural world. Section headings such as Explorers with Microphones, The Mechanics of Music and Howling Back – why do animals sing? immediately grab your attention, leaving you in a quandary about what to do – do you go traditional and read from start to end or do you go renegade, throwing caution to the wind and diving in to the sections which interest you the most?
As you delve deeper into these collections you come across a huge variety of fascinating facts and anecdotes. Such is the knowledge packed into these pages that it can become almost overwhelming at times. This is definitely a good thing though. The majority of the book is presented in the typical essay style but this conformity is peppered with the occasional interview, spotlights on particular recordists and a collection of thoughts from some of the best known names in field recording. It’s wonderful to see such a selection of musicians, scientists, field recordists and artists sit alongside each other, their voices, experiences and beliefs of equal value in this debate. When it comes to the possible existence of music and language in the animal kingdom, the authors haven’t tried to influence their readers. They simply present the current state of affairs and let you decide for yourself.
As if the contents of the pages were not enough to satisfy, the book also comes with a fantastic CD compilation of some of the best natural history field recordings, curated by the much-loved German label Gruenrekorder. From Pilot Whales and Red Deer to Wood Ants and Hoverflies, this selection takes the listener on an audio tour that jumps from the mountain ranges of central Mongolia to the depths of the Norwegian fjords. It’s brilliant and could easily exist as a stand-alone publication. Luckily for us, the bright minds at Strange Attractor Press decided to combine the two together (round of applause please).
I can probably count on one hand the number of books about sound that I’ve honestly enjoyed. Too often the contents of these publications become entangled in academic jargon, resulting in a collection of dusty pages with all the joy and enthusiasm sucked out of them. Of course these texts have their place but sadly they don’t float my boat. They never have. ‘Animal Music’ rides in on a wave of energy that fuses the worlds of science and art in an accessible and engaging way. A definite page turner if ever there was one.
Animal Music is available in the Caught by the River shop, and is priced at £15.99. Buy it here
Cheryl Tipp will be joining us at Caught by the River Avon on Friday 2 October. More info