July 11, 2012 — Michael Hearst is a composer, instrumentalist, and writer and he recently released a new album entitled Songs for Unusual Creatures. Taking inspiration from some of the world’s strange and endangered animals, Hearst and his team of musician-composers used traditional and nontraditional instruments to invoke the essence of the strange and unusual. Tracks feature the honey badger, Jesus Christ Lizard, blobfish, dugong and many more. The sounds and compositions are inventive and ingenious. The New York Times columnist Allan Kozinn wrote that many of the album’s surprises “are in this spirited music’s painterly inventiveness and lively humor.” The album was released in May of this year and will be followed by a companion book, Unusual Creatures, in October.
Hearst visited the Duke Lemur Center while preparing the new album and found inspiration in one particular, peculiar lemur – the aye-aye. A mix of classical strings and electronica, “Aye-Aye” brings many musical elements together – just as the aye-aye seems a strange compilation of features – for a musical embodiment of the nocturnal primate. The Kronos Quartet collaborated with Hearst on “Aye-Aye.”
The song opens with tapping percussion symbolic of the aye-aye’s unique tapping finger and foraging behavior. “Aye-Aye” then takes a slight turn with fun orchestration yet a slightly foreboding sound. One might imagine that Hearst was thinking about the folklore of Madagascar and beliefs that aye-ayes have the power to curse and bring bad luck. The composition later weaves fun and quirky phrases and rhythms together possibly drawn from the aye-aye’s inquisitive personality and need to explore. “Aye-Aye” even sounds a bit circusy at times, reminiscent of side shows where, undoubtedly, a creature with ears like a bat, teeth like a rodent, tail like a fox and the face of an opossum could draw a crowd. The composition ends with the sounds of wailing instruments trailing off into darkness. It is easy to imagine watching the bushy tail and bright red eyes disappear into Madagascar’s dark forests.
Songs for Unusual Creatures shines a bright light on some the world’s lesser-known and slightly weird species. Here at the Duke Lemur Center, we’re grateful for the opportunity to provide everyone with the opportunity to experience the aye-aye, and in this case, through such a wonderful medium as Michael Hearst’s and the Kronos Quartet’s beautifully creative music.
You can hear samples of Songs for Unusual Creatures here.
Chris is the Education & Development Associate for the Duke Lemur Center. You can follow him @DukeLemurCenter