Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Animals in the Mix: Interspecies Music and Recording

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Animals in the Mix: Interspecies Music and Recording

Article excerpt

This paper is an examination of collaborations between human musicians and non-humans in relation to sound recording. It draws on three different examples: Harmony, by Dan Gibson's Solitudes (the first in a series of recordings incorporating nature sounds and music); Paul Horn's 'Haidda' and Jim Nollman's Playing Music With Animals. There are key differences between the projects in terms of their production, the actors involved and the implied relations between humans and non-humans, which allow us to consider aspects of such collaborations. However, all may be confronted by the question of whether such projects are indeed true collaborations with non-human actors or whether the latter are simply appropriated as part of musical practice, as well as by the question of the extent to which such collaboration can be captured by sound recording.


Music has long been understood as a form of relation, a means of constructing communities through shared experience and of defining our relations with each other (Finnegan 2003: 186-187). However, our world encompasses a host of other relations. Are we right to confine music to the strictly human, and if we do open it up, on what terms do we do so? Since François-Bernard Mâche's work some decades ago, a number of scholars have considered the question of 'zoomusicology', that is whether animals have music? (Martinelli 2008; Sorce 2012). There are perhaps implications beyond simply expanding our definition of what counts as music. If we confer non-humans with the status of music makers, what new community is formed? What might this say about our relations to these non-humans?

One of the ways in which these questions have been explored is through attempts at collaboration - human musicians making music with other species. The attractiveness of such an approach is that, as well as suggesting that other species do indeed have music, the activity itself constitutes a relation between humans and non-humans. However, a number of difficulties spring to mind with such projects. The most problematic aspect of zoomusicology remains. How do we know that animals engage in anything like what we would call music? On what basis do we make such an assessment? The field of zoomusicology is still searching for answers to these questions (Martinelli 2008). This, at the outset, might limit the degree to which we can conceive of any possibility of collaboration between human and non-human animals in terms of music making. Still, setting aside whether what non-human animals are doing is music or not, could there not be some kind of interaction occurring? For example, Donna Haraway, even without knowing precisely what her dog Cayenne thinks she is doing, can reasonably assert that the two of them are engaged in some form of mutually aware activity around agility training (2008: 205-246). Such mutual activities are, as Haraway's work points out, rather commonplace in our world but less so in music, which, for the most part, is viewed as an essentially human occupation. Her work raises other concerns for would-be musical collaborators on the human side, in examining under what conditions and on what terms such interactions can occur. How do we deal with matters such as consent and mutual awareness? What are the situations in which interspecies musical collaborations might occur?

These questions are further complicated by the status of all three projects as sound recordings. Even if interspecies music occurs, can it be recorded? This is not simply a question of whether recordings faithfully replicate an encounter between humans and non-humans, but, rather, a question of what kinds of encounters between humans and animals are possible in terms of sound recording. Jonathan Sterne refers to sound recording as a set of relations, 'among people, practices, institutions and machines' (2003: 223). What happens when we add animals to the mix?

This paper pursues these questions through three examples. …

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