Horn Calls from Outer Space

About six years ago, I started taking piano lessons. For reasons too involved to explain right now, it’s been a transformative experience. These piano lessons inevitably interacted with the rest of my creative and musical life, and as a result I’ve been writing a piano method for the past couple of years. The method is full of concepts, exercises, compositions, and improvisational prompts. I’m intoxicated with its possibilities, and every day I spend hours practicing the piano and learning my own method.

One of its chapters centers on the Horn Call. Here’s a little graphic representation of the Call, scored for two horns. It doesn’t matter if you don’t read music; you can enjoy its visual prettiness and let your imagination do the rest.

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At first this appears to be a banal musical figure of a few notes, but behind its simplicity lies the power of an archetype. For the sake of brevity, we’ll call this archetype Hunting. Like all archetypes, it manifests itself in a thousand ways, in your life and in everyone else’s. There’s the actual hunting, which you may or may not have done: killing a deer, for instance, or hunting down the mosquito keeping you awake on a summer night. You hunt for a solution to a problem, you hunt for clients when you’re self-employed, you hunt for meaning in a seemingly incoherent blog post you read every month. These are all manifestations of the Hunting archetype.

Forests, castles, kings and queens, princes and princesses, lakes, brooks, caves and grottos, wind and snow. The Hunt is a whole world, with its own objects, actions, and rituals. You’ll need a horse and a dog. And you won’t go on the Hunt wearing your pajamas; no. It’s going to be tweeds and boots, unless you’re hunting with a blowgun in the rain forest, where tradition and convention (plus high heat and humidity) require that you be naked.

By JialiangGao www.peace-on-earth.org - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3781580

By JialiangGao www.peace-on-earth.org - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3781580

The Hunt also comes with its own sounds. Horses galloping through the forest, dogs barking, birds screeching, wolves howling, firearms blasting, hunters shouting, hunters swearing. In the midst of it all, horns blaring an ancestral tune: the call to action, and above all the call to the attitude required to undertake the action. This is the Horn Call, a hypnotic and transporting soundplay.

Like Hunting itself, the Call exists in a thousand variations. For the sake of argument, we’ll say that the Call started its life as a blast of primeval sound, not different from the cry of a goat celebrating its territory, its mate, its hunger, its vital energy. According to this theory that I’ve just made up, the Horn Call is bestial by birth, and it unites hunter and hunted.

Over time, the primeval Horn Call becomes transformed, refined, cultured. But even at its most distilled, the Call has the power to transport a listener to an elevated domain, paradoxically divine and animal at the same time. In Greek mythology, Pan is the god of the wild and shepherds and flocks; and he has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat. Pan is a god and a goat; the Horn Call unites the hunter and the hunted. Therefore, a few notes played at the piano and manifesting the archetype of the Call will make you travel far, far away in space and time, connecting you with eternal Nature and reminding you that you, too, are half-god and half-beast, half-hunter and half-prey.

In the realm of the Horn Call, there’s a land encompassing the mountains of Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. It’s home to a multitude of archetypal sounds and traditions. While researching my piano book’s Horn Call chapter, I listened to an alpenhorn ensemble, playing a chorale in the mountains above Berne in Switzerland.

Then I listened to an excerpt from Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony. Josef Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) was an Austrian composer of extremely elaborate orchestral and choral works. Inside the elaboration, however, lives the primeval forest and its hunting grounds. Listen and travel, to the Austrian Alps and beyond!

I hesitate to tell you what happened after I visited Bruckner, as it might reflect poorly on my research techniques and, by extension, my piano method; and, by further extension, my very person. But YouTube, seeing that I was exploring the Alps, suggested that I listen to some yodeling, the vocal tradition where the singer passes quickly back and forth from chest voice to head voice. And I went where YouTube wanted to take me.

I heard a marvelous trio of women yodelers, one each from Austria, Switzerland, and Germany.

I listened to a German guy yodeler. By the way, you don’t yodel naked; no. The voice requires an outfit.

There are kid yodelers visiting the Ellen DeGeneres show, yodelers in country music, yodelers of every age and background. You could spend the rest of your life just watching yodeling clips on YouTube. But allow me to speed up your quest and take you directly to the ultimate Horn Call from the ultimate Hunter: the Japanese chicken yodeler. I think you should try to do this at home, naked or otherwise.

©2019, Pedro de Alcantara