David Soldier

Thai Elephant Orchestra

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A surprisingly good collection of songs played almost entirely by elephants. This project is the brainchild of a pair of New York musicians, David Soldier and Richard Lair. The elephants of the Thai Elephant Conservation Center here perform on a number of instruments created expressly for their purpose (almost exclusively large percussion instruments made from illegal logging tools, but also including a stray harmonica or two here and there). The elephants would appear to have enjoyed beating their various drums, xylophones, and gongs and they keep shockingly regular rhythms throughout. As it was, the elephants weren't trained to play songs written by humans, per se, so much as trained in the basics of making sounds with their instruments and then letting loose to play as they wished in combinations. Given this, the music is surprisingly good, often mimicking the sounds of Javanese gamelan to some degree. The sound is at times quite melodic and at times quite irregular (in the far reaches of the free jazz repertoire). Also included are a few tunes with the elephants' mahouts playing various native instruments that they were also quite capable on, both with the elephants and without. While the irregularity of the album may be somewhat unsettling for the average listener, this is certainly a milestone in recordings, and is potentially one of the (if not the) best recordings featuring non-humans playing music in a vaguely human sense. Pick it up for the novelty value or await the secondary album.

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