Cello and Chuckwills

photo of Hank Roberts playing his celloHere is a bit of a surprise for everyone. This is a prototype collaboration with my friend and consummate cellist Hank Roberts. Several years ago, Hank visited my studio and selected a soundscape that he liked—an insect chorus graced by the songs of Chuck-will’s-widows, which I had recorded in Florida. Hank took my recording to his home studio and then composed and recorded a wonderful accompaniment, playing not only cello, but also guitar:

I like this piece a lot. Hank has conjured up a very compelling and creative mix that blends beautifully with the sounds of nature. It is not our final mastered track, but I thought I’d put it up for comments anyway. My plan is to partner with five or six local musicians to create a CD containing around 15 music+nature mixes, done in a style that I believe most of my friends will really like. I believe we’re off to a good start with this one, don’t you?

Do you like this composition? Let me know what you think (by commenting below) as it might have considerable bearing on the unfolding of the concept.


  1. Lang

    you would be most welcome to visit, (our accommodation is third-world standard, as hosts we are generally disorganized and socially inept), but over the years we’ve had a couple of nature sound recording enthusiasts stay over while listening out for various critters. I’m pretty keen on audio monitoring of biodiversity (eg we use it for bat and frog surveys) – but generally I’m too lazy to do much recording stuff, and just listen and play along.

  2. I’d really love to hear more music like this.
    I thought I was the only one mad enough to sit out in the bush and play music with birds, frogs etc. I see you have just been in Queensland, – we live at a little place called Dagun, on Wurraglen Nature refuge, next to Amamoor National Park.
    Perhaps the most amazing singers around here are pied butcher birds, which have a very ‘western’ song in an easy range for humans to copy. Local birds teach and learn songs from each other, and from new visitors that pass through their local social circle. As individuals get used to you, they will actively improvise and interact with you. I have done this for many years while working in the bush here, and for two years had one individual hanging around the house who would also sing counterpoint duets against a tin whistle – as long as it was in the correct pitch. Several of the local frogs are also pretty interactive and listen and respond to humans. However, the most dominant musical influence in the bush here (to my ear) is the ‘rhythm section’ of the insects, which has a completely different tone pallet and rhythmic structure for different places in the landscape and different times of the day and seasons – but distinctly recognizable for each place in the landscape.
    Next time you are in Qld – you would be welcome to visit. I am looking forward to more music now I have found this website.

    • Steve: The bird I most wanted to record was Pied Butcherbird, yet I never stumbled upon one in a good situation. I heard a distant one in Pilliga Nature Reserve near Coonabarabran, NWS, but that was it. During my next visit, PB will be a focus bird and I’ll definitely head up your way and look you up.

      I hear you guys finally got a big slop of rain. It was very dry when we were in the Brisbane area in early October.

  3. This blend is a tad bit heavy on the music and too soft on nature sounds, for me. But a slight remix giving the nature track more prominence with a more subdued musical track would be perfect to my ear! Consider me a buyer when this comes out! The music itself, by the way is fantastic and well played! Kudos!

  4. PPK would love your work. Too. Exquisite, the real thing. The tools have come a long way in the course of our lifetimes and you make real good use of them, for sure.

    • Thank you David! PPK would be astounded at the tools. I am astounded at how far it’s come in my lifetime. The tools help move nature recording more firmly into the realm of art, which delights me to no end. Ansel Adams would be pleased . . . dodging and burning in the realm of sound.

  5. It brings me to tears. Absolutely beautiful. Thanks Hank. Thanks to the Chuck-will-widow’s. The insects. And you Lang. Well done.


    • David: glad you like it. I’ll pass on the word to Hank. I hope to pull together an entire CD of music+nature mixes over the next couple of months. I’ll be posting all the tracks on our blog to get everyone’s reaction.

  6. I live in the deep south, and to my ears this recording sounded very “natural.” With our mild weather and laid-back life style, it is not uncommon to hear a musician out on a back porch in the evening playing a guitar to the accompanyment of crickets, katydids, frogs, and even a mockingbird, who cannot help but sing on a moonlit night. Of course, not many think to try to take advantage of that natural accompanyment the way your friend did.

    I loved this and every other recording you have shared in these daily “offerings.” Finding these little treasures in my email box each day brightens my morning immeasureably. Please let me know when you have your new cd’s ready to go because I am an avid fan!

  7. I loved the cello and nature sounds composition…It works for me! Thanks so much for all your postings…..LC

  8. My introduction to nature-soundscapes dates 50 years (ahem) to droll yankees. In deep winter I would listen to birds on a may morning, or the frog pond, for days. With that pre-history, imagine my delight at discovering your work, offering so much more in every way. Solitudes never cut it for me … artifice? cliche? But when cello sings it warms my soul, and Hank’s performance is a treasure. Doubtless the consistency of chuckwills’ voice made a tantalizing loom on which to weave his art.

    • Sharon: I couldn’t agree more. BTW, on the wall of my office is an old album called “The Edge of the Meadow,” by none other than Droll Yankees and published in 1969. I love the cover photograph showing hills and meadows, hedgerows and forest. The Droll Yankees productions, along with those produced by Allen and Kellogg, represent the legacy that got me into this business of nature sound recording.

  9. To ‘disclaim’ my comments, I am not musically trained, so no doubt miss much that others will garner. While I find the creative scoring and rendering fascinating and adventurous, delightfully fresh at unexpected turns, your sample is built over a soundscape I had not heard and I found myself often distracted from the music by struggling to hear the voices of the vocalists who felt to my ears as if left to the background with the implements granted superimposition. That may seem a jumble, but it’s what comes to my consciousness so I’ll leave it for you to parse and/or disregard. So long as you offer mixed media such as this enticing endeavor, as an option or addition to your line of natural animal and environmental scapes, I will be thrilled. I would like to have both, the background and the instrumental modification, available for comparative listening.

    • Sharon: Rest assured there will be LOTS (10-15 or more) of pure nature titles in my forthcoming series upon launch and perhaps only a single nature+music title, if it’s even ready by then. However, note that other businesses, such as the well-known Solitudes CD series, discovered early-on that nature+music titles were far more popular to the general public than pure nature titles. If you browse the Solitudes catalog these days (www.solitudes.com), you’ll notice virtually all the titles are now music+nature, and one must dig deep into their site to find pure nature, which is all very old stock. They have hundreds of titles. Personally, I think their music+nature mixes are generally awful; they sound very contrived to my ear.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.