Music may have "charms to soothe the savage beast," but in his latest album, Common Ground (A&M Records, Inc., $7.98), saxophonist Paul Winter has turned the old saying around. It is the beasts who do the soothing. Among the featured artists are a timber wolf, a humpback whale and an African fish eagle, whose utterances were recorded by conservationists, then interwoven with man-made music. The animals get full credit on the album jacket for their part in "writing" the compositions: the blurb for the selection Wolf Eyes lists "music by Timber Wolf, Paul Winter and David Darling"; Ocean Dream, "music by Humpback Whale and Paul Winter, words by Paul Winter"; and Eagle, "music by African Fish-Eagle and Paul McCandless." The creatures even collect royalties, which go to various wildlife organizations.
The album is not just a compilation of sound effects, it is wonderfully melodic. For Wolf Eyes, Winter played his saxophone in the middle of a wolf preserve in Indiana one very cold night and was answered by a wolf pack. Most of the pack soon grew tired of howling, though one she-wolf sang with Winter long into the night. The result of this duet was not only the hauntingly beautiful Wolf Eyes, but also an important scientific observation. "For four nights after Winter left," says Dr. Erich Klinghammer, director of the preserve, "we heard the wolf with whom he had been playing, howling in a manner that had been distinctly influenced by the tune Winter had played on his saxophone. It was probably the first known observation of imitative behavior in wolf-call patterns."
Of Ocean Dream, Winter says, "It was the whales' own music that originally led me to them and to the sea. I had heard extraordinary underwater recordings of their 'songs.' " Winter, who played his saxophone to gray whales from a small raft off Vancouver Island and from a rowboat off Baja California, found that the whales came to the surface, apparently to listen to him. Their interest inspired him to put human words to their music.
Winter subsequently discovered that the wolf, eagle and whale all "sang" in the key of D flat. "I've enjoyed speculating," he says, "on whether this is a lucky coincidence, or a gift from the Muse. I was told by a teacher once that in some esoteric systems, D flat is considered to be the key of the Earth."
December 11, 1978
The Common Ground album is sold in most record stores; it is also available in 8-track tape and cassette.