Sounding Circle: The Thai Elephant Orchestra

 The Thai Elephant Orchestra4 comments
10 Oct 2003 @ 10:21, by Raymond Powers

Thanks to Scott Hess for this interesting information:

"A CD of elephants in the Thai jungle playing specially designed musical instruments. The elephants improvise the music themselves. The Thai Elephant orchestra was co-founded by Richard Lair of the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang and performer/composer Dave Soldier. Most of the profits will go to the Conservation Center. The CD includes a twelve page color booklet that details the project."


By Eric Scigliano
New York Times December 16, 2000

In the 20 years since a Syracuse zookeeper first encouraged an elephant's artistic impulses, pachyderm paintings have become fundraising fixtures at zoos. So it was probably only a matter of time before someone decided to try these highly intelligent animals out on another creative endeavor: music. Now the debut CD of the Thai Elephant Orchestra is scheduled for release this month.

The band is the 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, a former government logging camp near the town of Lampang, where elephants now earn their keep by giving rides, demonstrating logging skills and painting pictures for tourists. 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 CD, to be released by the New York-based Mulatta Records.

Ancient Romans and Asian mahouts, or elephant handlers, have noted elephants' ability to distinguish melodies, and today's circus elephants follow musical cues. In 1957, a German scientist, Bernard Rensch, reported in Scientific American that his test elephant could distinguish 12 musical tones and could remember simple melodies even when played on different instruments, at different pitches, timbres and meters. She still recognized the tones a year and a half later.

There have been commercial ventures, too. In the 1850's a circus elephant named Romeo cranked a hand organ while "Juliet" danced, and the Adam Forepaugh and Barnum & Bailey circuses later fielded "elephant bands." These "probably sounded like a herd of angry Buicks," said Fred Dahlinger, research director for the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wis. "They were all novelty acts, characteristic of their times."

The Thai Elephant Orchestra attempts something different. Its members 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. Mr. Sulzer said he and Mr. 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, in a teak grove, pausing only when outside noises intruded.

The players improvise distinct meters and melodic lines, and vary and repeat them. The results, at once meditative and deliberate, delicate and insistently thrumming, strike some Western listeners as haunting, others as monotonous. Mr. Sulzer wondered whether Prathida, a 7-year- old orchestra member whom he called "the Fritz Kreisler of elephants," would recognize dissonance. "I put one bad note in the middle of her xylophone. She avoided playing that note -- until one day she started playing it and wouldn't stop. Had she discovered dissonance, and discovered that she liked it? She outsmarted the researchers."

Mr. Lair worked out a set of hand signals for the mahouts to cue the elephants while he was conducting. He discovered that some "figured out the meaning of the signals on their own, with no teaching whatsoever." But is it music? Mr. Sulzer insists it is. "I have no doubt they're improvising -- and composing, which is the same thing," he declared. To test out the proposition, he suggested something like the Turing test of artificial intelligence: play the CD without disclosing the performers' identity and then ask listeners the question. For Mr. 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 -- although Mr. Lair concedes that "profits are highly theoretical at this point." Nonetheless, Mr. Lair, who not only advises the Conservation Center but also trained the elephants for the Disney movie "Dumbo Drop," is sensitive to any charges of exploitation. Elephants should not be "incarcerated and made to do slave labor," he writes in the new CD's liner notes. With habitat vanishing and logging banned in Thailand, however, there's little alternative to tourist-camp work. At least, he says, making "gorgeous noises of their own volition" is light and pleasurable duty: "What better job than to be in the prison band?"

Mr. Lair and Mr. Sulzer are devising new instruments and seeking new talent. They say one 3-year-old has already proved a prodigy, and another elephant camp is trying to develop an orchestra. Meanwhile, a second, "easy-listening" recording, "code-named the `Schlock CD," is on the way, Mr. Lair writes, mixed to be accessible to a wider audience.

[< Back] [Sounding Circle]



25 Dec 2009 @ 11:52 by Indochine Decor LP @ : Fine Contemporary Furniture & Interiors
We are a manufacturer of fine contemporary furniture, flooring and interiors.

Our customers include home builders, developers, hotels, resorts, spas, furniture wholesalers, importers, retailers, architects, interior designers and private customers worldwide.

We manufacture contemporary furniture and decor items primarily in reclaimed old teak, natural and synthetic rattan/wicker, water hyacinth, bamboo, leather, stainless steel and various metals.

We can custom manufacture to our customers’ designs and specifications. Sample sets can be produced at short notice.

Due to the availability of quality raw materials and skilled workmanship, our prices are consistently lower than our competitors, comparing product material, quality and finish.

No compromise in workmanship and quality of materials, ensuring life long durability that will always come with an Indochine product.

At Indochine Decor, we specialize in translating designers' concepts into beautiful furniture - something we've been helping architects, interior designers and contractors do for over 10 years!

Indochine Decor can "custom made to order" – "client-specific" furniture designs – handcrafted the old fashion way with quality materials and fine workmanship. You don't have to be a designer to work with us - we understand that design is a bit of an evolution. Whether it's a modification of a previous design or an original concept, Indochine Decor can create the ideal design for your next project. Interior design concepts and furniture packages with full 3D renderings. Autocad drawings submitted for customers' approval, together with specifications, materials list and our quotation.

Beside our export markets in the USA, Canada, Japan, UK, SE Asia, Australia, Polynesia, Maldives, India, Hongkong, the EU, private homes around the world, current and past projects include :

The Yamu - Beach Front Luxury Villas - Indoor & Outdoor Furniture
Winner 2007 Thailand Property Awards.
Interior Design - Philippe Starck
Mondrian South Beach - Residences - Miami, Florida, USA - Outdoor Furniture
Interior Design - Marcel Wanders
Qatar Marine Sports Federation Center - Doha, Qatar - Furniture
The Shangri-La Hotel, Chiangmai, Thailand - Indoor Lightings
The Samui Sanctuary - Koh Samui, Thailand – Built-in wardrobes & Furniture
The Freedom Inn - Niseko, Hokkaido, Japan – Custom Beds
The Avillion Spa & Resort - Port Dickson, West Malaysia - Furniture
Hotel Del Coronado – San Diego, USA – Outdoor Furniture
West Sands, Phuket, Thailand - Luxury Beachfront Villas - Indoor and Outdoor
Sentosa Cove, Singapore - Luxury Seafront Homes - Indoor and Outdoor
Fish & Co Restaurants - Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Middle
East - Restaurant Furniture
Azure Living, Luxury Condominium, Dallas, TX, USA - Indoor and Outdoor
The Fairmont Palm Residence - Al Nakheel Properties - Dubai, UAE - Indoor &
Outdoor Furniture

Indochine Decor Limited Partnership
32 - 32/2, Moo 2, Tambon Onkang,
Amphur Mae On, Chiangmai 50130,
Tel : 66-53-859125 Thailand (+66) (GMT +7:00) Bangkok, Thailand
Fax : 66-86-428-5278
Mobile : 66-86-9238228 ; 66-89-7558338 ; 66-82-0262232 ; 66-82-0262282 ; 66-82-0262292
Skype Address : indochinedecor
Fine Contemporary Furniture, Flooring and Interiors - Manufacturer
Get used to quality.  

31 May 2010 @ 20:17 by Furniture Packages Spain @ : Furniture Packages Spain
Bed linen can be a tricky issue and many British just don't know where
to start as the Spanish do beds differently! Instead of the square
pillows that we are used to, the Spanish use long, narrow ones that
lie under the head and not the shoulders. So if you are going to bring
pillowcase sets with you from the UK, make sure you bring the pillows
to go inside them. As is becoming fashionable in the UK, the Spanish
are fond of using throws to give a 'finished' look to the room.
Packages Spain  

1 Jun 2010 @ 11:23 by philipsmith @ : Furniture Packages Bulgaria
Its a musical ensemble consisting of as many as sixteen elephants near Lampang in Northern Thailand this all very interesting one.....
Furniture Packages Bulgaria  

16 Dec 2010 @ 13:06 by Dubai Used Cars @ : mygulf car
Its quite good post.

Your Name:
Your URL: (or email)
For verification, please type the word you see on the left:

Other entries in
7 Jun 2008 @ 07:48: Steve Reich Program in Ojai, CA June 5-8
18 Feb 2006 @ 13:21: Clear Sudio Master Reference Turntable
23 Aug 2005 @ 05:12: Synthesizer Innovator Robert A. Moog Dies
27 Jul 2005 @ 05:47: Harrison 'aided' Sir Paul's song
5 Apr 2005 @ 03:23: How To Tell Good Music From Bad Music
7 Dec 2004 @ 06:07: Bob Dylan Transcript From CBS 60 Minutes
30 Nov 2004 @ 14:34: PRODIGY, 12, COMPARED TO MOZART
20 Sep 2004 @ 01:14: My New Music Uploads
18 Jul 2004 @ 10:25: Music

[< Back] [Sounding Circle] [PermaLink]? 

Link to this article as:

Main Page: