Tonight’s selection is a short documentary about the Thai Elephant Orchestra by videographer Paul Spurrier.

A baby elephant

The next Justin Bieber?

I first encountered the Thai Elephant Orchestra when their self-titled album arrived used at Half Price Books, years ago when I worked there. Although not conforming to Western musical standards, we’d often listen to world music as we bought books from customers and found ourselves returning to the album more than once.

They’ve since created two more albums with their helpers, David Soldier and Richard Lair. I think it’s a fascinating project which removes one more thing that is “special” about humanity — which I consider a benefit. I was reminded of this unique project by Dana Sayre, who linked me to a recent BBC News Magazine article asking “Can animals make real music?

Classical purists might find its percussion section a bit heavy and not all performers pay attention to the conductor. But then this is the orchestra that literally plays for peanuts.

‘Mei Kot likes to smash the hell out of a gong. Chapati is very, very good at the bass,’ says Dave Soldier, co-founder of a group that boasts it weighs three times as much as the Berlin Philharmonic.

‘Phong would pick up a stick and we couldn’t get him to stop.

‘Luk Kop could play three drums at the same time. He could even set up rhythms. But he grew to be fairly dangerous, and he’s no longer with the orchestra.’

The Thai Elephant Orchestra is the creation of Soldier and Richard Lair, an American known as ‘Professor Elephant’ who runs the conservation centre in Lampang, northern Thailand, that is the animals’ home.

‘We thought that maybe elephants would play on instruments if they were ergonomic,’ says Soldier, an accomplished musician and composer who has performed and recorded with the likes of Bo Diddley and David Byrne. ‘We thought about designing large instruments that were unbreakable, as even a little hit would break a regular instrument into smithereens.’

The article outlines their whole history. A little searching brought me to the delightful Zoomusicology article on Wikipedia. The online encyclopedia also boasts articles on two other interspecies music ensembles, Hatebeak and Caninus.

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Photo by William Warby released under a Creative Commons license.