Composer transcribes animal sounds to sheet music

Alexander Liebermann, an accomplished composer living in Berlin, has been challenging himself to transcribe the sounds of penguins, whales, and other animals as an exercise for ear training. 

Give his videos a look/listen. Partial notes included:

Gray wolf:

The Gray Wolf (Canis Lupus) is one of the most widely distributed land mammal species. They are socially gregarious animals, and much of their social behavior is accompanied by vocalizations. Wolf pups vocalize within hours of birth, and adult wolves' vocal repertoire is wide.

Studies have shown that their mean fundamental frequency ranges between 274-908 Hz (~C-Sharp4 to ~A-Sharp5), and that their famous long-range vocalization, the howl, is used to communicate information on individual identity and location. Among packs, howling serves to advertise territory ownership and occupation, thus minimizing contact among them.

Emperor penguin:

During courtship, the male and female penguins trumpet loudly to each other, thus learning each other's call (They recognize each other amidst breeding colonies that consist of up to 40,000 penguins because of their calls). Emperor penguins typically use both sides of their syrinx simultaneously, producing vocalizations using 'two-voices'. In the videos I have seen, calls of adult penguins mostly consisted of two-voice vocalizations using three different intervals: M2, m3, M3. In contrast, those of the chicks consisted of single voices outlining numerous intervals: m3, M3, P4, TT, P5, m6.

Humpback whales:

The songs of male humpback whales are famous for their beauty. In breeding areas near Hawaii, in the Caribbean, and elsewhere, their songs can last up to 20 minutes and be heard up to 160 km away. In the North Atlantic they have been found singing identical songs in unison miles away from one another.
Their songs fluctuate between 20 Hertz and 24,000 Hertz and different melodic gestures (unit labels) have been discovered. This short example features three modulating cries (524-1415 Hertz) and two ascending moans (162-271 Hertz). What is very interesting to me is that the modulating cries contain an augmented triad, whereas the ascending moans consist of a tritone.

Uirapuru (musician wren):

Whilst every single wren has a unique call that is sung with 'eventual variety' (repeating a song-type several times before switching to another), they all demonstrate a common preference for perfect consonances (P8, P5, P4) over dissonances and imperfect consonances. That is one of the reasons why a vast majority of us will perceive it as *tonal*.

To me the most fascinating part was to find similarities between rhythmic units of the wren call and Brazilian music. One example is the syncopated pattern '16th, 8th, 16th' (m. 3,6), which is typically associated with Samba. Coincidence? Maybe… The history of Samba is definitely more complex than a simple bird imitation, but one has to remember that animal imitations are used in music from around the world, and that several cultures have credited birds and other animals with the origin of music (the Tuvans, the ancient Chinese, etc.). All I am saying is, parallels between nature sounds and music are more common than we think.


The voices of male nightingales are some of the most beautiful of the bird kingdom. Their songs vary by season and circumstances, but they are the richest, loudest, and most magnificent in late spring, when they sing to attract a mate and to proclaim territory. To secure and establish a territory in time, male nightingales always return from their overwintering grounds before the females.

Songs of the common nightingales can be grouped into two distinct categories: whistle songs and non-whistle songs. The frequency of whistles can go as high as 8 kHz (~B8), which is one octave above the highest note on the piano!

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screenshots via Alexander Liebermann/YouTube