Dave Soldier
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Animal Music

Thai Elephant Orchestra (with its own devoted webpage: go here)

Zebra finches


Marsh Fugue

Music with zebra finches

Songbirds sing for pleasure among other reasons: will they play musical instruments too?

At least for the zebra finch, I found that songbirds will play instruments if they are provided with an ergonomic means to trigger and if they like the sound - they like brass instruments and hate distorted rock guitar. This system uses triggers on levers they peck with their beaks. They will play hundreds of times a day: there was no training or other reward than hearing the music. These birds were caged, and would sometimes play intensively for hours and then take breaks for hours before going back to it.

playing brass samples

big band samples

gamelan samples

I suspect somesongbirds will play instruments in the wild, if the instruments were very simple for them, such as landing on rope triggers. Hard to try where I live except with English sparrows, but possible for someone living in the country....

Pygmy chipmanzees
The late physicist and neuroscientist Gordon Shaw and I began to coach pygmy chimps at the San Diego Zoo to play simple instruments: this was in part the idea of "enriching" their lives in the zoo environment. We didn't have a chance to record what they played, which was mostly waving handbells. The matriarch, Lana, loved listening to me playing for her and curled up on my leg for more than an hour, but I think that was for social reasons, not simply for the sound.

Gordon passed away after a short illness in April, 2005. He was the promulgator of "the Mozart effect", which uses music to help children with abstract thinking, and his MIND Institute continues their teaching program.


Marsh Fugue (2004)
Recordings of crickets, fish, frogs, and nightbirds from Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi I arranged in a fugue structure, emulating a night walk in the swamp. I used to live in a swamp outside of Gainesville, Florida with an enormous alligator in the backyard (and three legged dog).

Fruit Flies on Love and Drugs
Recordings o fthe common fruit fly Drosophla melanogaster, courtesy of the neuroscientist Jay Hirsh at the University of Viriginia

Fruit fly courtship song
Fruit flies on crack cocaine (aerated in their jar)