Hermit Thrush Song Play

photo of Hermit Thrush with a sonogram of its songAs most of you realized when I posted “Hermit Satori – Thrushen Dream” two days ago, the featured recording was a series of Hermit Thrush songs slowed down and pitch-lowered, allowing us humans hear the intricacies that we believe the thrushes themselves actually hear.

It is so much fun to play in this way that I went at it again this morning, developing a brief 26-second “composition” constructed of Hermit Thrush songs and its nasal “way” call. My creation begins with the nasal call, followed by partial song phrases that I’ve tied together to create a melody that gradually flows upward in pitch before dropping down and then rising again at the end. I hope you like it:

Hermit Thrush Song Freeform Composition by Lang Elliott

The original recording from which I drew the call and songs is featured below. It was made by my friend Ted Mack in 1994. Given all the background sounds, you may wonder how I got such clean renditions of songs for the composition. Well, this is the magic of modern software, which not only allows me to pitch shift and time stretch (or compress), but allows gives me the tools I need to eliminate or greatly reduce the background sounds.

Hermit Thrush by Ted Mack, July 25, 1994, near Paul Smiths, NY

The only sound in my composition that is not of the Hermit Thrush is the pure tone at the very end. That’s part of the song of a White-throated Sparrow. I liked the way it sounded, so I decided to end on its note.

You may ask why I’m messing with nature like this. And here is my answer:

I really don’t think I can improve upon the natural. I’m just goofing around with melody and patterns, recombining for the fun of it, and perhaps also to help folks (myself included) hear the incredible “musicality” inherent in the Hermit Thrush songs. By pitch-lowering, stretching, and recombining, I not only delight myself, but also bring forth some of the magic which is obscured (in terms of human hearing) by the high pitches and quick pace of the natural songs. But primarily I’m just having fun, goshdarnit!


  1. Thank you for your extraordinary gift to hermit lovers.
    I have been obsessed with this bird call since my first backpacking trip in NH in 1975. To hear it slowed down toreveal the amazing nuances of the song is pure magic.
    Friends have a camp in northern NH where this fine fellow does his lullaby every evening and i find myself going to bed early just so I can drift off to sleep transported by the gentle, liquid song.

    Thank you, thank you.

  2. Wonderful recording, our (my wife and I) favorite sound during the summer here in Speculator, NY (Adirondacks). I am the promoter for the Hamilton County Tourism Birding Festival which we host each year n June. Thank you for the great sound clip!

  3. Fortunately, I have a day job (I’m a doctor). Most people who try to make a living at bird video will tell you: it’s next to impossible, and the rare return you get is small. As you know, however, the satisfaction is huge. Best of luck.

  4. Thanks for the comment. I just went through a bunch of your videos on the Music Of Nature site, and just have to ask. How do you get those birds to sit on open branches and sing away?! You must have some kind of a feeding site, but why do they sing there? And there is never any wind. That black and white warbler blew my socks off, and the woodcock…you must have gone off-planet for that one. Are you using a DSLR? You have set the bar very high.

    • Yes, I’m using DSLRs, most recently a 7D, coupled with a 500mm lens and a 1.4X or a 2X teleconverter and on occasion with both converters stacked. I generally work on calm mornings and avoid panning because of all the shake involved. Sometimes I have the IS engaged; it greatly reduced jitter in a light breeze, but at the expense of “wandering” a bit during a shoot. For forest songbirds I utilize playbacks, which gives one a fighting chance. Finding a little bird in the viewfinder is a trick and so is focusing, the latter being helped by a Zacuto Z-finder magnifier.

      These days I haven’t been doing much video, mostly because I can’t figure out exactly what to do with it in terms of making money. When that becomes more clear, I will probably gather lots more video.

  5. Lang,
    I love your stuff, thanks for putting this up. Have you tried adding just a few miliseconds of reverb to the Hermit Thrush. It makes it a little fuller, and more ethereal. I do it whenever I film one.

    • Steve: Yes, I have reverbed them and played with them in many otherways. In this instance, there is a natural reverberation that I rather like, so I decided not to mess with it, other than doing the pitch-shifting, time-stretching, etc.

  6. Wonderful! This is truly masterful. The etherial quality is awesome. Very well done.
    I can just imagine a symphony constructed like this from the voices of many species of birds. Mind blowing possibilities.

  7. I love the Technical Era. It gives us soooo many opportunities to make a wonder. You are a Technocrat, I am sure in your brain is a special section for understanding those things. Thank you for your nice Freeform Composition 😉

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