PhD candidate’s band captures the sounds of predators and prey
It all started around a campfire in the Albertan wilderness a few years ago. Dak de Kerckhove, now a PhD candidate in University of Toronto’s ecology and evolutionary biology department, would talk about animal behaviour and natural history and sing songs with his friend Adam Phipps. On one of their trips, they decided to form a band and record a double concept album, Predator/Prey, in which they could not only let a certain aspect of an animal’s life drive an entire song but they could also explore animal behaviour with no human judgement.
“I think humans are compelled by the contrast between predators and prey, perhaps because we are both vulnerable prey to some species, while being the most effective predator on the planet today,” says de Kerckhove. “I often think about how individualistic top predators are. They all have defined behaviours or bodies that make them stand apart, whereas prey species make me think of herds, schools and flocks. They seem more cohesive, more similar to each other. We show that contrast in our music.”
Predator/Prey – which also includes Carrie Phipps, Scott Everingham and Brian Moyer – has just released the two concept albums Predator and Prey with every song titled by Terms of Venery, for example: “Knot of Snakes” and “Plump of Grouse.” Each song, whether it is folk, rock or electronic, takes influence from the noises and actions related to its namesake, such as waves crashing in “Bed of Mussels” and fluttering guitars in “Piteousness of Doves.” Predator includes more nighttime noises to elicit fear and apprehension while Prey includes soothing, familiar daytime noises. They both include field recordings from all over Ontario, and songs were written and recorded throughout Canada, including “A Swell of Cicadas,” which had a full chorus in Toronto, with de Kerckhove chiming in over Skype from his current base of Inuvik.
De Kerckhove used his knowledge as a fisheries biologist and his interest in interactions between species for a lot of his writing with Phipps, who comes at it from a background of documentary films on Canadian wildlife. “Shoal of Fish is about short windows of time when many organisms come out to feed, which often occur at dusk and dawn,” de Kerckhove says reflecting on experiences he had studying lakes in Algonquin Park. “It’s an interesting dynamic because many animals have to come out of hiding to eat because it’s the only time of day their prey is available, but of course, the food chain level above them knows this as well, so while they eat, they are also in great danger.”
A similar species tale is told in “Plump of Grouse,” which is about winter starvation and how all the animals must endure lean times together. “The grouse provided a good symbol of this concept, because they provide food for animals in boreal forests throughout the winter, yet they themselves would be susceptible to a bad growing season and so would starve as well,” says de Kerckhove. “You can see grouse burst out of snow when hiking in the forest in the winter, so the animal brings that imagery to the song.”
De Kerckhove hopes that the albums help educate, but not in a formal way. “We want to inspire people to think of ecological ideas, or the similarities between animal and human lives. But we also want to entertain!” And that’s not all they’ve done: they developed a video game, where you can play as a fox who is hunting for food, while listening to their music.
Predator and Prey were successfully funded through a crowd-funding campaign and are now available for streaming or as pay-what-you-can on their website.