How does a whale sound on a stick? Alexander translates animal sounds for anyone who wants to play their song

In the middle of all the days that were the same and prone to the depression of imprisonment in March 2020, Alexander Libermann surrendered to the videos of animals swarming on the Internet. In his homeland in Berlin, to which he returned in early 2020, the musician was “very depressed”. “One day I saw a video of a dog howling while playing the piano. I was curious about the sounds he made, they were similar to the notes he played on the piano, ”he recalls. What did you do next He took an agenda and began to transcribe the sounds the animal was making “as a simple exercise of pleasure” in the impossibility of getting lost in nature.

Alexander Liebermann, a 31-year-old German-French, plunged into a new universe of sound. “I’ve started watching more animal videos on YouTube. At least there was no lack of time, ”he tells P3 between laughs. The sounds that I transcribed for the staff and turned into notes that can be played by other musicians became successful on the Instagram page I shared them on.

“I found videos of animals that I knew, such as whales, but completely ignored their calls. It was really moving, ”recalls the composer. “Why didn’t I know more about it?” He asked himself. It was the starting point to devote yourself more to reading more about the sounds animals make, from scientific articles on the subject to a musical analysis. The “surprising” facts did not keep us waiting. “Did you know that some of the notes that the nightingale sings are beyond the reach of the human ear? They outperform the piano or any other instrument that can be played. “

In order for these animal-broadcast melodies to be on an agenda “many steps are required”. The first is obvious: find and choose a video that shows animals vocalizing sounds. “It’s a very subjective decision, it depends on the pace and the tone.” And also from the sensation that the sounds evoke in the young composer, you can immediately hear the time and manage to put it on paper. “Sometimes I hear a tonic that the animal is doing and I’m more prone to a stronger hit. At first I used dates, but the new transcriptions don’t have them – neither does animals, ”he jokes. “I start by writing the animal’s rhythm. Once that’s done I can work on the sheet music and for that I use the ear, the piano and sometimes software to slow the rhythm down when it gets really complicated, ”he says. “With penguins, for example, it is impossible to hear at the original speed.”

However, Alexander says: “I’m not an expert, I only approach this as a musician. What I can add is very limited. “As a musician, you can acquire knowledge:“ I’ve learned a lot, it’s inspiring ”. The professor, who was imprisoned in Berlin for almost a year and had taken lighter isolation measures for a few months, realized that “the centers of the world of classical music are always big cities, winter gardens and concert halls”.

“We have distanced ourselves from the sounds of nature in general,” admits Alexander, who lived in New York for seven and a half years, where he studied and taught music theory and ear training at both the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music. Almost always surrounded by buildings, cement, and cars, little attention to the natural elements he, like many of us, woke to during the narrowness imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

One of the most responsive guidelines was that of the penguins, “using two tones at the same time”. “I didn’t know penguins made such noises, it’s crazy,” continues Alexander, who hopes to be able to influence other musicians. “Maybe someone will care more about wildlife after seeing this.” It has already happened: “Great musicians shared the project, Greenpeace too. I was very moved, something bigger than I expected. “

Among the messages from people who “admitted to crying when they heard the wolf sing” and who believed they recognized a sonata for viola in the sound produced by the penguins, Alexander also received some less positive comments. “There are people who don’t understand what I am doing, they say it was already done by Olivier Messiaen,” he explains. Messiaen, a French composer and ornithologist born in the early 20th century, became famous for “incorporating bird calls into his music”. The difference between the two, says Alexander, is that Messiaen made chords out of the melodies of the birds. “I approach these sounds as a transcriptor, not as a composer. I don’t add notes, I don’t develop or harmonize them. I’m just trying to show in a pure way how sounds can appear on an agenda. If other composers want to use them in their music, great. But that’s not my goal. “

The guidelines are available online on Alexander’s Instagram for those who want to get started.