"Working with this recording by Diego Espeleta of howler monkeys and birds taken at dawn at the Reserva Conchal in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, was an exercise in recalibrating expectations of musicality in sound.
"The howler monkeys' growls and barks are guttural, not really what we conventionally associate with singing or music, and indeed sound quite scary in their unfamiliarity. Or is it that they sound scary because of their similarity to horror movie sonic tropes? Apparently howler monkeys are not aggressive or scary animals and, this being dawn, assumedly their sounds, as with the birds, are those of family and friends waking up and discussing what's on for the day in the jungle, a place of opportunity.
"So, for a human listener perhaps there's a mismatch between hearing and expectation, one that is culturally constructed. Given that human music is a human construction, this problem carries over into using this recording as source for a musical composition, although I'm not sure why I decided it had to be a 'musical' composition. Anyway, the sounds of the monkeys seem to range over three semitones in conventional well tempered tuning, so I used this as the basis for the chords in the composed piece, which is constructed entirely from the sounds in the recording, no other sounds are used. Such a chord, of three semitones next to each other, is often used in horror movies and such to give a sense of tension and scariness, and generally is completely avoided in music for its fingernails-on-blackboard effect. Instead, I've used it as the basis for what I hope is an immersive sonic journey of awakening to the possibilities of a new day in an unfamiliar place, where paying close attention causes senses to slow down, and unlearning what we've learned about sound might make music more malleable or momentous, to make time, or even perhaps provide a portal into other inner worlds. But it takes time, so if it just sounds like fingernails, just turn it off."
Costa Rica howler monkeys reimagined by Adam Nash.