Interspecies Communications

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Everyone agrees that orcas are among the most acoustically sophisticated of species. How does an orca relate to human music played live into the water? A few sour orca scientists have commented that the whales certainly do hear this music, but that they probably relate to it as one more source of human-caused noise. Others contend that the orcas are playful beings, and that they could relate to music by playfully interacting with it. Still others assert that orcas may be our intellectual equals, and that music is one of the few creative ways we can hope to greet these animals, to demonstrate to them that we actively wish to make contact. It's like the famous film line, "You got me at hello." By actively seeking contact, we suggest to the orca tribe that humans can do far better than simply add noise to their lives.

Interspecies.com has been producing field projects for 30 years to bring creative musicians into contact with wild orcas. Here's one potent selection from our audio library. Decide for yourself what's going here. wimpy button.

The Interspecies Newsletter
October and November 2010
   
Love. Ecstasy...And how much does this guy weigh?
Beginning and End

Our nonprofit organization, Interspecies.Inc — the little train that could— is starting to lose steam. Unless something unexpected manifests over the next year, Interspecies may be officially disbanded. I plan to continue publishing this newsletter for another year, but only because I enjoy the writing. I'll keep our web site intact, at least until the current server contract expires in September 2012. After that, i may reconstitute it in my own name, to serve as the public front for my own music, writing, and drawings. In the spirit of these scheduling goals, I have recently notified our long-term sponsors that the organization does not seek any funding for next year.

My writing in this newsletter is usually cautious about leaning on the first person. This time I can't escape it, and this particular newsletter is all about me. Indulge me. Keep reading and you may discover something that relates me to you in a way we both never considered.

All About Me

A neighbor of mine once sang: "Time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking, into the future". It's been a good run. Six months ago, my wife Katy retired after a career as an occupational therapist for young children. I exist in the light of her large aura, and her statement of change prompts me to consider the same move. It is, after all,what we elders think about when they reach sixty-three. But her and my situation are also a bit different. I created a career on little else besides vision. An art career may be understood as an ongoing series of creative accidents, learning when to let things happen, and keeping at it when others find reason to quit. In fact there may be no logical reason to quit, because artists don't actually choose to be artists, and often keep at it through a flaw of reason that causes us to understand adversity, isolation, failure and even success as imaginative challenges. It explains why artists are outsiders. We make our way in the world, and remain engaged in it, when by every measure of success that our society affords, this career should be called failure. When societal success occasionally overtakes a few of us, the subjective version of reality which defines both art and adversity, still feels the same. Nothing changes but the number of emails we receive and the cash flow.

Jim Nollman on Japanese TV
Jim Nollman on Japanese TV speaking against the dolphin drive fishery. This was Interspecies first field project, (1979) funded by Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, and Animal Welfare Institute.

I've spent 35 years traveling the world under the Interspecies umbrella, and have every intention of continuing now that the umbrella is closing. Over the years I have gotten to play on a big stage, acted the part of interspecies pioneer in a slew of nature films, written books published in several languages, and produced hugely fun musical expeditions on every ocean. I may even have succeeded to better protect three or four ecosystems, although let's face it, protection is always temporary depending on who's in charge. I have performed in musical events from Helsinki to Tokyo to Sydney to Tenerife, both above and under water. And as I say, all this work was done through the auspices of Interspecies.com. It was all done in the service of the one good idea I have had in my life. It is not only possible to communicate with whales and dolphins through music, but it is ethically and culturally critical that we human beings try it as best we can.

 

I did it the best I could

Over the past 4 years I have slowly moved away from my reliance on Interspecies to support my family. This occurred when I became the recipient of a creative accident to contract as whale consultant to the US Navy. I like the challenge of my new role. I am also sobered by my newfound capability to actually protect cetaceans, rather than just envisioning, from the outside, what protection might look like. I appreciate my co-workers in their sincerity to transform, from the inside, the way the military perceives environment. The good news is that some in the military no longer consider the ocean as merely the medium for floating their ships. They promote environmental health as a key component for any realistic concept of national security. Personally, I consider this current Navy whale work as the evolution of the same whale work I did for so long through Interspecies. Between the Navy contracts and the siren call of my own retirement, it makes no sense for me to keep on as administrator of Interspecies.com.

dog and dolphin
A day at the Monkey Mia Beach— 1985 (Chia Gawain)

There's a fuzzy side to all of this, which I wish to declare openly. Just as I have played some role in a general movement to understand cetaceans, so I also intuit that cetaceans have exerted some unknown role in making it possible that I got to do it. Don't ask for details.

The Giveaway

I do not know if Interspecies.com has a future. Our board of directors, myself included, would be content to simply give the nonprofit away. Certainly not to anybody. We would need to be certain that the person so "gifted", would devote even half the energy I have given this organization during its three decades of existence.

I can not say precisely what I hope Interspecies might become under someone else's aegis. However, I do have a few ideas about what I would not like Interspecies to become. I'd be sorely disappointed if this nonprofit became a promoter of newage ideas about dolphins. After years of producing events out on the ocean where musicians attempt to communicate with free-swimming cetaceans using rhythm, melody, and language, I do know a few of the things of which toothed whales are capable. And yes, certainly this view differs somewhat from what mainstream science is willing to recognize for any and all non-human species. But Interspecies must not promote the remolding of dolphins into demigods possessed of mystical powers and otherworldly origins. Actually, Interspecies was chartered to develop a research and educational program that integrates art and science. If you peruse the essays on our web site, the emphatic focus of our charter becomes self evident.

Jim Nollman in Paris
Performing at the ICERC conference — Palais des Congrès de Versailles, Paris, France, 1999

Nor would I be content if Interspecies.com transmuted into another "environmental group" advocating a cetacean protection program. Such organizations operate by drawing the usual political lines in the sand, mobilizing members to protest, and attending government functions as observers. They inevitably espouse polarization as both a corporate focus and a fundraising mechanism. Media defines the adversary, describes the evil, and then pleads for support to keep fighting the good fight. In a world already too full of trauma and exploitation, surely everyone who cares about the planet's future, once in awhile needs to draw that same line in the sand. But to stay true to a vision of sanity, we also need to balance "the fight", by holding a compassionate center. Unfortunately, media does not prompt either mobilization or effrontery quite so well when its message is nuanced by balance. By framing a message for action, environmental success sometimes means we think just like the despoilers. I believe polarization is a flawed strategy. Long term change only comes when despoilers agree to change. I have came to understand that the most honest way to succeed at making environmental media is to keep it personal, to become a warrior, to take a lifelong view of a problem and remain patient to solve it in increments. Within this specialized service, the warrior eventually becomes a brand for the wisdom that represents a life-enhancing commitment to speak on behalf of nature.

Once again, to read more about what Interspecies represents, read this page. If you're hungry for more, then go to this page.

 

orcas greatest hits
CD Cover for music produced by Interspecies with wild orcas from 1984-2001

Music From Interspecies

Interspecies has produced 2 CDs. Orcas Greatest Hits was produced originally as cassette in 1988, and subsequently as a CD in 1997. It has sold about 5000 copies, entirely by word of mouth. In 2004 we collaborated with Greenmuseum.org to co-produce Belly of the Whale, a CD of digital music recorded by 17 of the world's best known digital composers. Almost all of this music was created using samples of underwater animals, that originated within the Interspecies audio library.

One thing on my mind lately, is to have Interspecies produce a new CD of music with whales. I regard this as one important piece of unfinished business. No title, so far.

The new, as yet unrealized CD, would include unedited realtime music with whales, some of which is far more refined and communicative than anything contained in Orcas Greatest Hits. It would likewise include re-sampled realtime music with whales, which showcases specific vignettes where the interaction is especially pronounced. It would include a few digital pieces created entirely with animal sounds. These run the creative gamut, from idiomatic pieces, such as an Indian raga created with humpback calls and dolphin clicks, and a dawn chorus of birds unlike anything heard in any dawn on this earth. You can hear both of these pieces and more at our web site. If you agree that this CD should be produced, now, by Interspecies, and also have the wherewithal to sponsor such a project, please email me, and lets discuss how to make it happen.

And now for something completely different. For your listening pleasure, click on the button below to hear a recording of the Appalachian fiddle tune, Kitchen Girl, recorded on mandolin, guitar, drums, bass, lemur, bearded seal, fur seal, yellow jacket, and beluga whale. wimpy button

orca and human
Interspecies Logo, by Jean-Luc Bozzoli (1987)

 

Worthy New Links

One Nature is a brand new web site, from Ireland, focused on the unity of all life on earth. A mix of meditation exercises, poetry, and music, it's worth a look.

The BBC reports this month about Bottlenose and Guyana dolphins, two distantly related species, which often come together to socialize in waters off the coast of Costa Rica. Both species make unique sounds, but when they gather, they change the way they communicate, and begin using an intermediate language. This raises the distinct possibility that the two species are communicating in some way.

After two years of haggling, The New York Times reports in an editorial, that this summer the International Whaling Commission had been expected to replace the current moratorium with limited hunting quotas. In an attempt to thwart this disgrace, those IWC members who oppose the so-called compromise are now (finally) arguing something quite new within the scientific community; that the evidence is high and mounting that the cetacean order includes species second only to humans in mental, social and behavioral complexity, and that "maybe we shouldn’t talk about what we’re harvesting or harpooning, but whom. Whaling not only kills individual whales, scientists said. It can disrupt social networks an ocean wide and tens of thousands of Moby and Mabel Dicks strong." I'd only add that maybe the only incorrect thing about this new position is that the whales have been relegated to second place.

Underwater acoustics, in all its varied manifestations, has always been one of Interspecies subjects of interest. So we point out the latest example of an ongoing flaw in multi-billion dollar nuclear submarine technology. These ships can cumulatively blow up the planet, but they can't yet detect the ocean floor well enough to stop running aground. This the second sub to run aground in three years. Imagine the public uproar if 2 out of every 100 Toyotas or Fords crashed because of faulty brakes. Now imagine the uproar if all those crash-prone Fords and Toyotas each carried enough nuclear weapons to destroy a medium-sized country.

Differentiating between individuals with different knowledge states is an important step in child development and has been considered as a hallmark in human evolution. Recently, primates and corvids (crows, ravens, etc) have been reported to pass knower–guesser tasks, raising the possibility of mental attribution skills in non-human animals. Yet, it has been difficult to distinguish ‘mind-reading’ from behavior-reading alternatives, specifically the use of behavioral cues and/or the application of associatively learned rules. This newly published paper shows that ravens (Corvus corax) observing an experimenter hiding food are capable of predicting the behavior of bystanders that had been visible at both, none or just one of two caching events.

Composer Laurie Anderson has composed a 20 minute work especially for the hearing range of dogs – who can hear frequencies far outside the human audio spectrum. Taking the idea of the apparently inaudible dog whistle to new artistic heights, our canine friends will be treated to a glorious cacophony of sound, by Ms Anderson and her husband Lou Reed, while all we the human audience will hear is the lapping of the water outside the Sydney Australia opera house. The next morning will be an inter-species social gathering on a scale never seen before in Australia. Breakfast can be purchased on site including freshly brewed coffee and egg & bacon rolls, while you watch dog demonstrations and be surprised by some very special guests. You get the idea, now read a review of the event in Billboard Magazine. Want more. Read this English review from an Italian Opera Magazine.

I spend a few minutes each month checking out the Internet Magazine: Our Amazing Planet. A recent issue tells us that a noisier coral reef is going to be a healthier reef, a new study finds. Researchers from Exeter University and the University of Bristol's School of Biological Sciences, both in England, found a clear association between overall noise level generated by a reef's denizens and the amount of living coral present: Healthy reefs mean more coral structures, more fish and other creatures calling that coral home; and more inhabitants mean more noise.

Two film makers with big Hollywood credits and a production company called Quiet Heart, are now fundraising to produce a documentary about the never-ending plight of whales as a result of the ongoing Japanese "industrial" hunt. Entitled A Whale Like Me, the trailer for the film does a lot more than simply dwell on the gory details. It also shows us some inspiring underwater footage of living whales. Hopefully the film will get made.


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