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Animal Tracks: Music about Unusual Creatures Features Some Unusual Instruments [Video]

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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dugong, underwater photo

The dugong, one of Michael Hearst's "unusual creatures." Credit: Julien Willem/Creative Commons

Michael Hearst seems to enjoy making music with a purpose. About five years ago the Brooklyn, N.Y., musician made headlines with a pretty self-explanatory record called Songs for Ice Cream Trucks. Since then, he and his band One Ring Zero have released an album-long ode to the planets (including Pluto), as well as a record of recipes—from Mario Batali, David Chang and other celebrity chefs—set to music.

Now comes Hearst’s Songs for Unusual Creatures, a new album honoring some of the quirkier fauna of the globe. Each of the tracks is inspired by a particular animal, from the microscopic extremophile the tardigrade to the aptly named blobfish, from the legendarily tough honey badger to the water-walking reptile known as the Jesus lizard (not to be confused with the band of the same name). Released last week on Hearst’s Urbangeek Records, Songs for Unusual Creatures was funded by a Kickstarter campaign.

The final track on the album, “Weddell Seal,” features performances by the Kronos Quartet as well as field recordings of the otherworldly underwater calls of the deep-diving Antarctic seals themselves. Other tracks feature instruments such as the theremin, the claviola and the Stylophone, a handheld synthesizer played with an electronic stylus. Both the theremin and the Stylophone are on display in Hearst’s video, embedded below, for “Chinese Giant Salamander.”

The musical tributes to our strange-looking companions aboard spaceship Earth are more impressionistic than informative, although the CD does come with color illustrations of the subject animals by Jelmer Noordeman. For those craving more information on the oddball critters, a companion book is forthcoming in the fall from Chronicle Books.

About the Author: John Matson is an associate editor at Scientific American focusing on space, physics and mathematics. Follow on Twitter @jmtsn.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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