May 17, 2019

Sir David Attenborough turns 93; launches remix competition


Attenborough: Superstar DJ? (Wikicommons; licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Never one to stand still, the naturalist, broadcaster, and Genuine Living Legend, Sir David Attenborough, has launched an unusual competition to mark his 93rd birthday earlier this week.

Mark Savage at the BBC reports that Attenborough is seeking a producer to remix a field recording he made 70 years ago in Indonesia, as part of the pioneering Zoo Quest series—which was accompanied by a series of books, among the first of approximately 28 volumes that the naturalist has so far written himself.

The recording, which consists of a snippet of Balinese sacred gamelan music recorded in a remote Indonesian village in the early 1950s, is taken from an album of Attenborough’s field recordings from across the globe, and has been made available to download by Songlines magazinewho are running the competition alongside the PRS Foundation.

Attenborough has long been admired for his extensive collection of animal and bird specimens, as well as writing and drawings from around the world—and recently it came to light in an interview with Songlines that his music collection wasn’t bad either, consisting of many recordings that are now effectively one-of-a-kind:

“The traditions that had been developed over centuries were still continued with no knowledge of Western styles of music, which since then have enveloped the world … So these sounds which I captured with that clumsy tape recorder 60 years ago have a quality that you wouldn’t be able to replicate today.”

Judging the remix competition will be a panel of experts including hip-hop star Ghostpoet, former Catatonia singer and BBC 6 Music doyenne Cerys Matthews, and veteran world music DJ Gilles Peterson. The winner will be announced in the December issue of Songlines, and will perform their track at Hackney’s recently-opened EartH venue.

This isn’t the first time Attenborough has ventured into the world of contemporary sound: he collaborated with Bjork in 2013 for the film The Nature of Music; Radiohead and Hans Zimmer provided music for the recent Blue Planet II series.

And although he remains committed to ending the “climate catastrophe” (we’re doing our bit, too: check out our edition of The Climate Report if you haven’t already), only the hardest of hearts would begrudge Attenborough a good party—if anyone deserves one, he does.



Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.