Chatting with Ben Mirin was one of those unforgettable meeting-of-minds moments. Ben has recorded a Noah’s ark of animal sounds in the wild and then remixes this non-human chorus with his own beat boxing. It’s entertaining, but it’s more than that. Ben is on a mission to use music to make people care deeply about our natural world–protecting endangered species and restoring habitats.
This resonated with us. One of the core ideas we emphasize in our work is “active listening” — opening up your ears to hear the world around you fully. We want you to become attuned to the wealth of information that sounds carry to our brains but also to become aware of the feelings these sounds stir in us.
In our 45-minute conversation, we cover some of the diversity of Ben’s output. He shares video from Indonesia of the amazing vocal prowess of male birds of paradise. We get to enjoy a video of Ben’s beatboxing video from the National Arts Center of Canada’s Great Orchestra Field trip, featuring sounds from the rainforests of Kalimantan. He walks us through “BeastBox,” a game he created with the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, where you too can be a wildlife DJ. (Visit Ben’s website and click on the BeastBox link.)
We talk about his journey using music technology to create his work. I ask about an idea to create a Hyperscore instrument set using bird songs with varied pitches and timbres and Ben launches into a discussion of the “acoustic niche hypothesis.”
Now working on his PhD at Cornell, Ben shares stories about his field research in Java, where there is a booming trade in songbirds. The local people prize their feathered divas, training and entering them in American Idol-style contests complete with judges, cheering spectators, and prize money that could support a family for ten years. It’s a big business that brings jobs and money into the local economy, and people are passionate about their birds, but it’s also having a devastating impact on wild bird populations. “We all love birds,” he says. He wants to build on the shared love of these wonderous creatures to “plant the seeds of conservation.”
Click on the image below to watch.