From the chirp of a katydid to the screech of a parrot, the sounds of nature are all around us. Now, a website called Beast Box allows users to create their own unique songs using catchy beats and animal calls as the instruments.
Many animals make some sort of sound to find a mate, warn of predators, or to claim and defend their territory. Ben Mirin, who calls himself a wildlife DJ, travels the world as a National Geographic explorer to record these sounds and, with help from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, he created Beast Box as a place where people can connect with nature, learn about animal sounds, and create music using the huge variety of animal sounds he has captured.
“The fact that nature is always singing is something that is really exciting to me and I hope can create similar excitement and joy others.”
“I’m just a messenger for the intricately tuned voices of the natural world,” Mirin says. “The fact that nature is always singing is something that is really exciting to me and I hope can create similar excitement and joy others.”
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To make a song, users open the website and choose one of seven beat tracks that Mirin created himself. You can choose, say, Great Barrier Reef beat or Sonora Desert beat. Then you can select from among 30 animal sounds, as many as five at a time, to create a song. For example, choose a coyote and an astern whip-poor-will; then add a parrot fish, a Hadada Ibis, and lastly, a blue wildebeest. Put them all together over the beat and your song is complete.
The website has a paragraph-long description of each animal and an explanation of their habitat. Each time a user chooses an animal “musician,” a graphic of that creature pops up on the screen and dances to the beat. For instance, there’s an orangutan in a red leather jacket and matching sunglasses, and a tropical Boubou wears a gold chain and a red cap.
Mirin hopes Beast Box will be fun for anyone, but the graphics and the genre of music are geared toward youth — 12-year-old Orion Brown, for example. “I think it’s pretty cool,” Orion says. “It’s a way to get a good education, but also have some fun.”
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For an additional challenge, users can try to put all of the animals from the same ecosystem together with the beat designed for that environment. It’s called "beast mode." Orion chooses the Madagascar Rainforest. The first animal in that ecosystem is the indri, a type of lemur.
“‘A small group of indri wake up in the treetops and begin their morning shoutouts,’” Orion reads from the website description. ‘“Indri are large for lemurs, with booming voices amplified by enlarged throat pouches.”
Next, Orion chooses the lesser vassa parrot. He finishes up with the Madagascar long-eared owl, the red-fronted coua and the souimanga sunbird. “When you mash them up with all the ecosystems together, it sounds better, almost like it’s sort of made for the beat,” Orion says.
“Animal voices have evolved over millions of years to occupy different acoustic niches in an ecosystem so they don’t compete with one another.”
Ben Mirin says that Orion is on to something. “I would agree with his observation,” he says. “Animal voices have evolved over millions of years to occupy different acoustic niches in an ecosystem so they don’t compete with one another.”
Making yourself heard is critical to surviving in nature. That’s how whales find mates across the ocean and coyotes defend their territory in the desert. Animals living in the same environment are already tuned to work well together so everyone can be heard. Mirin is excited about tapping into that existing symphony of sounds.
"[M]y instruments are already mixed. So, instead of being a solo musician, I get to be a messenger for the finely tuned orchestras of the natural world.”
“As a producer, that means my instruments are already mixed,” he says. “So, instead of being a solo musician, I get to be a messenger for the finely tuned orchestras of the natural world.”
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Mirin says he wants Beast Box to help people create a connection with the natural world.
“At the end of the day, understanding and connecting with nature is critical to falling in love with it, and we can’t save what we don’t love,” he says. “So, I would hope that this opens a pathway for you to find your own sense of connection and love for nature, so that you can be inspired to protect it — because this is a collective future we all share.”
This article is based on a report by Bobby Bascomb that aired on Living on Earth from PRX.
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