Dinosaur Song: ASU Student Travels To Perform With Dinosaur Skull

By Annika Cline, Mark Brodie
Published: Tuesday, November 3, 2015 - 4:51pm
Updated: Thursday, November 5, 2015 - 9:23am
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(Photo courtesy of Sharif Razzaque)
Courtney Brown plays "Rawr," the dinosaur skull she created as a way to replicate the sound of the Corythosaurus.
(Photo courtesy of Sharif Razzaque)
The skull has a system of balloons and ropes that the player uses to change the pitch.

Sadly, humans can’t travel back to the Cretaceous period and record actual dinosaur sounds. So, a grad student at Arizona State University settled for the next best thing.

Courtney Brown created a Corythosaurus (kuh-RITH-ah-sore-us) skull — that was one of the duck-billed dinos — so she could simulate the sound it might have made when it walked the Earth more than 70 million years ago. She blows through a device to send air through the skull’s nasal passages.

"So this is like two skinny balloons attached to two brass tubes," Brown said. "But, also you can get very deep sounds with this, too."

This might be a good time to mention Brown is not studying paleontology. She’s actually studying interdisciplinary media and performance at ASU. And yes, she does play the dinosaur.

"I call it Rawr. It’s a musical instrument. So you can play it like a musical instrument, it makes different kinds of sound," Brown said.

Brown got the idea while visiting a dinosaur museum, where she heard recreations of dino calls based on CT scans of fossils. Her musical mind thought, "Why not make one of those fossils playable?"

"That would be the interesting part is that, I could make the skull and larynx, and it could be a physical thing," Brown said. "When you blow into the dinosaur, in a sense you can become the dinosaur, much like in the way when you like, know how to play an instrument and you play an instrument - that instrument becomes a part of you."

The project received an honorary mention at the 2015 Prix Ars Electronica, a competition for the fields of digital animation, art, culture and music. Brown also travels with the skull to perform on stage.

"Occasionally I can get real melody-type things, which is something that’s only happened over lots of practicing," Brown said.

She’s headed to Virginia this week to perform a piece called "How to Speak Dinosaur: Courtship." It’s an imaginary meeting between the Corythosaurus and a tuba. David Earll plays the tuba.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The photo credits on this story have been updated to reflect the correct spelling of photographer Sharif Razzaque.

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