Source: New York Times
LAMPANG, THAILAND, December 16, 2000: Elephants are natural candidates for music-making! Their hearing is much keener than their sight, and they employ a vast range of vocalizations, many of which are heard on their recently released debut CD, by the New York-based Mulatta Records. The CD is a brainchild of Richard Lair, an American expatriate who has worked with elephants for 23 years and written an encyclopedic United Nations study of Asia's captive elephants, and David Sulzer, a neurologist who heads Columbia University's Sulzer Laboratory and works as a composer and producer under the name Dave Soldier. Together they organized six young pachyderm at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, near the town of Lampang, where they trained the Thai Elephant Orchestra members to play sturdier versions of traditional Thai instruments -- slit drums, a gong hammered from a sawmill blade, a diddly-bow bass and xylophone-like renats -- and a thundersheet and harmonicas. Sulzer said he and Lair merely showed the elephants how to make the sounds, cued them to start and stop, and let them play as they wished. After five practice sessions, they started recording. Mr. Sulzer admits he was skeptical at first. "I thought we would just train elephants to hit something, and I would tape that and have to paste it together with other things." Instead, he recorded the performances intact, without overdubbing. The players improvise distinct meters and melodic lines, and vary and repeat them. The results are both meditative and deliberate. For Lair, it's simply a matter of interpretation, as in all art: "Just as there are a lot things they don't understand about our music, I am sure there are things we will never understand about theirs." The proceeds from the CD will go to a milk bank for orphaned elephants and a school to improve mahout training. One trainer also said, "It's at least as good as New Age Music."