If I Had to Choose One Animal to Make My Music…

…it might be this one.

By Safina Center Fellow Ben Mirin

Photo by Carl Safina. "Tim," a 40-year-old elephant in Kenya's Amboseli National Park.

Photo by Carl Safina. “Tim,” a 40-plus-year-old elephant living in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park.

Let me take you on a journey through sound to the heart of the African bush. The sun has set, the sounds of the day have faded and been replaced by an orchestra of frogs and crickets, and in the blackness, something stirs.

Out of all the voices in the animal world, few are as rich, as evocative, as emotional as the sounds of elephants. Their vocal range is incredible, and because of their remarkable intelligence many of their sounds convey deep emotional and social significance. For those of us who study wildlife, they tell stories.

This is a young bull elephant. He just chased away some lions and is trumpeting in victory.

This is a mother and her calf. The mother is eating and the daughter just stole some of her food. When the mother tried to push her away, she cried out as if she’d done nothing wrong!

And this is another young calf. He’s trying to suckle but his mother just won’t stop moving! You can hear the emotion in his voice.

It turns out toddlers are the same in every species.

Sounds like these can change the way audiences connect with wildlife. My task as a composer is to translate them into a human musical framework. In this example, listen first for the sounds above, then as other sounds enter the mix to create a musical idea:

Stomp (PREVIEW) by Ecotone

Made with the voices of real elephants. Photo by Sarah Hosney.

With music as a universal language, my hope is for these sounds and their stories to reach new audiences who then feel closer wildlife. We share this planet with so many amazing beings, and if we find new ways to connect through music, art, science, education, and storytelling, then we can change what it means to be a conservationist for the next generation.

Sounds and behavioral notes courtesy of and the Elephant Listening Project at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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