Chelsea composer is searching for pets with pipes


By Ashley Winchester

L2, a Chihuahua, and Lucy, a beagle, love to sing. Urged on by their owners, L2 and Lucy broke out into a noisy cacophony of yips and howls accompanied on piano by Kirk Nurock. A star is born? Could be.

At an audition last Sunday afternoon, six dogs and one cat tried their paw at performing for a chance to be included on a cross-species CD produced by Nurock. L2 and Lucy are the latest canines to make the cut in the Chelsea composer’s search for “musical” animals. The two selected dogs will be joined by a third, Dewey, a Chinese crested who auditioned last month, in further callbacks.

Over the next two years, Nurock will be working with household pets from throughout New York in his Chelsea music studio to prepare the CD, in which jazz musicians will improvise with live animals. In addition, producer and director Burrill Crohn will be creating a documentary on interspecies communication based on Nurock’s work throughout the auditioning process.

“I’m looking for something very specific that not all animals can produce,” Nurock said. “I look for a frequency of sounds, if the animal can produce a sound often and easily, and a communication across the species. I also listen for the spirit and energy in the animal. I am very invested in cross-species communication. L2 was superb, and has lots of melodic shape.”

A Julliard graduate, Nurock orchestrated for both Dizzy Gillespie and Leonard Bernstein, but found his musical passion was pets. Over the past 20 years, the contemporary composer has been exploring the world of what he calls “natural sound” in producing music that, he feels, forms a common bond between man and animals.

“I was reading a lot of Darwin’s work, ‘The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,’ and thought, ‘My goodness, why don’t I bring in an animal?’ So for the next 10 years, that’s what I did.”

Nurock has collaborated on works with the Bronx Zoo and Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, and composed several live performances including “Howl” (1980) which combined three dogs with a chorus of 20 voices; “Sonata For Piano and Dog” (1983); and “Expedition for Jazz Trio and Siberian Husky” (1984). “Howl” was performed at Carnegie Hall.

In researching for his 1981 piece, “The Bronx Zoo Events,” Nurock noticed most animals became mesmerized by the sudden, soft drone of an air-conditioning unit turning on every day near their habitats. The animals would search for the sound, and in some cases reacted vocally to it. Nurock now begins each audition with an imitation of the noise. He coaches “camera shy” animals to speak by keeping direct eye contact as he combines the soft and high drone with noises the animals themselves might make.

“It’s an eye thing as much as a vocal thing,” Nurock said as he hummed and howled in demonstration. “It catches their attention and they react to it.”

Nurock has found that owners who talk to and “sing” with their animals on a regular basis create the most interesting sounds. Dewey’s owner barks and howls along with the dog to produce what Nurock calls cross-species communication. Selection to Nurock’s chorus includes a long-term commitment to practice outside the studio leading to eventual concerts and workshops.

In addition to the tryouts and to raise money for his project, Nurock has been conducting workshops in “cross-species” music over the past month. These workshops explore and combine sounds from the animal kingdom, free jazz improvisation and texture-based choral singing.

“Some consider this to be ‘radical’ work, but I’ve never really seen myself as a radical,” Nurock said. “I love the potential of all the variety of nature sounds and the beautiful contrasts. The universe gives an amazing array of sounds. The music of our planet is exquisite just as it is.”

Nurock will be conducting many more auditions throughout the year, in search for an animal that “truly responds to the music.” He is particularly interested in forming a dog-cat-bird trio, and is looking for a larger variety of musically inclined animals. Nurock can be reached for audition appointments at 212-929-2707, or by e-mailing animalsong@aol.com.

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