Unusual creatures

Heard on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday this morning, an interview with Michael Hearst, about his most recent CD, Songs for Unusual Creatures (a sort of homage to Saint-Saens’s Carnival of the Animals). The playlist:

March of the Unusual Creatures, Blue-Footed Booby, Chinese Giant Salamander, Elephant Shrew, Glass Frog, Honey Badger, Blobfish, Jesus Christ Lizard, Solenodon, Dugong, Tardigrade, Magnapinna Squid, Aye-Aye, Humpback Anglerfish, Bilby, Weddell Seal

Hearst is fond of odd creatures, not to mention creatures with interesting names. He has a book on them — Unusual Creatures: A Mostly Accurate Account of Earth’s Strangest Animals (Chronicle Books, illustrated by Jelmer Noordeman) — coming out later this year.

On Hearst, in the short version from the Amazon site for the CD:

Michael Hearst is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, and writer. He is a founding member of the band One Ring Zero, whose albums include Planets and As Smart As We Are, and his solo works include Songs for Ice Cream Trucks and Songs for Unusual Creatures.

And in the somewhat longer Wikipedia version:

Michael Marcus Hearst (born December 27, 1972, Virginia Beach, Virginia) is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, and writer. His musical instruments include claviola, theremin, guitar, piano, drums and bass. He earned a degree in music composition from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1995, where he studied under Dika Newlin.

… Hearst’s most recent album Songs For Unusual Creatures is a collection of songs inspired by some of the lesser-known animals to roam the planet. For this project, he has composed works for Kronos Quartet, The Microscopic Septet, Margaret Leng Tan, and the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots [LEMUR].

YouTube performances of this charmingly weird music — a live performance of “Chinese Giant Salamander” (on keyboard, stylophone, theremin, trumpet, tuba, and drums, plus LEMUR):

and an animation of “Jesus Christ Lizard” (on toy pianos):


3 Responses to “Unusual creatures”

  1. Greg Lee Says:

    The Science TV channel is currently showing a documentary “Afterlife” about decomposition (“after” “life” — get it?) that has a nice segment on slime molds. Pretty interesting creatures.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Slime molds are indeed fascinating organisms — see my brief mention here — but I suspect that they’re below Hearst’s cutoff for “creatures” (even taking tardigrades into account).

  2. Victor Steinbok Says:

    I sometimes wonder what criteria people use for the “unusual”–in this case for either the animals themselves or for their names. The honey badger is no more unusual than, say, possum. The explanation for the “elephant shrew” name is perfectly transparent and the creature itself is not particularly unusual. On the other hand, a cuscus is perfectly strange name for an animal–to Western ears, as most Australian animals carry aboriginal names or their nearest English approximations. Once you know that, they don’t sound as unusual–although the animals, such as the cuscus, platypus and echidna, may still be quite unusual. But, in the end, the weirdness or strangeness is in the eye of the beholder. Some would say that musicians are a very unusual animal, especially when they congregate in packs.

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