Human - non-human

Human - non-human

A musical meditation on the future of our planet
Concerto for Anssi Karttunen and Ensemble Variances by Thierry Pécou
Works by Toru Takemitsu, François-Bernard Mâche, Claude Debussy...



Are animals capable of being creative, just like humans? That's what both François-Bernard Mâche and Thierry Pécou seem to ask themselves, inviting birds and whales to sing along and have a dialogue with their music. They are not the only ones. Whether we look at ancient Greek myths (Szymanowski) or modern mythical stories like Moby Dick (Takemitsu), the natural world and the intelligence of animals have always been puzzling humans. In his Méditation sur la fin de l'espèces for cello solo, ensemble and recorded whale song, Thierry Pécou is showing his concern for the future of our ecosystem, in a time mankind is putting his own existance at stake.

The cello, played by the indefatigable Anssi Karttunen, acts as a mediator between the ensemble and the deep-sea sounds … and the results are strikingly beautiful, sometimes discomfiting, and in the end profoundly elegiac.

The Guardian

Concert Festival Présences, Radio France, 2018


Note of intent

We make a traditional distinction between human beings, and non-human creatures. But is it really that black and white? Certain scientists, like anthropologist Philippe Descola, question this strict division between culture and nature. It is more than just a theory; in animist societies, the beings of nature are considered as persons, and we know the growth of a forest can be significantly influenced by human actions. Another scientist, naturalist and bio-acoustician Bernie Krause, is convinced sounds (shouts, songs) of certain animal species may not only have a functional character but also an aesthetic or expressive aspect. 

Myself, I am intrigued by the whale song. I want to use those pre-recorded songs as a texture and shape for a concerto for solo cello and small ensemble, while staying as far away from any "new-age" approach as possible. I will focus on analysing the different types of sounds (some of which are beyond the audible spectrum of humanity) with a form of scientific rigor, using sonograms. Sometimes the sounds will get into a dialogue with the soloist, or even merge with the ensemble; what I would like to establish is that the audience starts questioning this strict distinction between humans and non-humans themselves, make them wonder whether these huge mammals of the sea might indeed be doing more than just singing their songs. Perhaps they are even wondering what we human beings are… Who knows? 

- Thierry Pécou


Claude Debussy

Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune for flute, clarinet and piano, arr. Michael Webster

François-Bernard Mâche

Sopiana for flute, piano and processed sound

Toru Takemitsu

Toward the Sea I pour flute alto and guitar

Thierry Pécou

Méditation sur la fin de l’espèce for solo cello, ensemble and processed whales sound


Toru Takemitsu, François-Bernard Mâche, John Luther Adams, Claude Debussy...

Number of people

Ensemble Variances

flute, clarinet, violin, cello, double bass, electric piano and piano (1 player), guitare (electric and acoustic) and electronics (pre-recorded sequences)

Whale songs

recorded by Olivier Adam, edited at Groupe de Recherche Musicale (GRM)


Co-production Wigmore Hall London, Radio France Paris.

The Ensemble Variances receive support from Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication - Drac Normandie, Région Normandie, Spedidam, Sacem, Ville de Rouen, Odia Normandie, Onda. The Ensemble Variances is member of Fevis, Futurs Composés, Bureau Export and Profedim. It is member of Groupement d'Employeurs Solstice, supported by Région Normandie.