Who loves strange animals? I do, that's for sure. I've always loved animals... all animals--cats, dogs, giraffes, elephants, dolphins, whales, etc. But the fact is, those particular animals (which I now classify as usual creatures) have been written about, sung about, and shown in nature shows bazillions of times--a good thing, for me, considering it's what I seem to always get sucked into while flipping channels or surfing the Internet.
However, for my own personal endeavors, I veer away from mainstream interests with just about every muscle I have (which isn't much). As a musician and composer, I collect odd-ball instruments--claviolas, theremins, daxophones, stylophones, and just about every other "ophone" you can think of. And then, using these instruments, I write music that has a tendency toward crooked-circus waltzes and Eastern European melodies. Before I had even finished working on my 2007 album, Songs For Ice Cream Trucks (which, as the title suggests, is a collection of new jangly jingles inspired by my frustration from hearing the same song over and over again coming from outside my New York apartment), I was already contemplating a follow-up project, Songs For Unusual Creatures. After all, I grew up loving Camille Saint-Saëns' Carnival Of The Animals--an orchestral suite dedicated to such common animals as turtles, swans, kangaroos, and even my person favorite, the pianists. Why not come up with my own carnival of animals, but using unusual musical instruments, and focusing on the lesser-known creatures to roam the planet--dugongs, glass frogs, anglerfish, Chinese giant salamanders, magnapinna squids, and more. Soon enough, I was full-steam ahead with the project, spending just as much time researching the world of beastly oddities as I was composing and recording the songs that they inspired. And the more I told my friends about the project, the more suggestion I started to receive.
Maia Weinstock, who runs The Online Anteater website insisted that I include giant anteaters. (A photo of Salvador Dali walking his giant anteater through the streets of Paris convinced me.) Writer Dave Eggers told me one of his favorite animals was the star-nose mole. David Harrington from the Kronos Quartet suggested I check out the Weddell seal for its sci-fi-sounding underwater sounds, and then asked if the group could play on the album. Hmm, perhaps I should invite other guest musicians to perform on the album. Margaret Leng Tan, the brilliant toy pianist, and longtime accomplice to John Cage would make the perfect sound for the Jesus Christ Lizard (which, incidentally, gets its name from its amazing ability to walk across water). Wade Schuman from Hazmat Modine could perform on the Solenodon song (harmonicas blasting through thick distortion, why not!). It was all coming together.
Before I had even completed the album, Chronicle Books asked if I would be willing to compile a nerd-ball almanac of sorts, writing about 50 of my favorite unusual animals. Why yes, of course! Why stop now? Onward with the Guineafowl pufferfish, Texas Horned Lizard, Echidna, and Long Eared Jerboa? And how about the sea pig, pink fairy armadillo, blue-footed booby, and mimic octopus? Herewith, are selections from my book Unusual Creatures [Chronicle, $16.99], with hopes that it gets you equally as excited as I am about the magical world of strange animals: