Interspecies Communications

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A Method to Our Madness

Music provides the form and structure of our realtime interaction between species. In this excerpt, listen as an orca responds to a human song with harmonically accurate phrasing. This phrase is atypical of the whale's usual repertoire.

This next excerpt displays a different relationship. Here, a guitarist responds to phrasing initiated by the orcas.

We never chase the whales. We anchor our boat, and only transmit from this location. If the whales are interested, they swim to us. We never transmit louder than the volume of a 10 horsepower outboard.

Because our goal is interaction between species, we never play recorded music to the whales. Although a whale may be able to reflect the mood of a recording, and alter it own call in response, a recording has no capability to do the same.

Whale Communication: Page 1 of 4: Basic Issues

From The Interspecies newsletter


humpback waveletThis is the first of four pages on the subject of whale communication. Page one focuses on some of the challenges of the research into "interspecies" communication. Page 2 details the potential of investigating "intraspecies" communication — i.e. language — as an indicator of cetacean consciousness. Page 3 examines certain types of calls and how they might be used socially. Page 4 discusses the speculative future of this research by mainstream science, and why we believe that's current techniques will eventually flourish generally.

We also include some excerpts, (to the left) to let you hear these calls, and these interactions. Likewise, the image to the right is not an eyeball, but a wavelet graph of a humpback whale call.

On the Water...

Imagine a silent boat floating freely, far from human noise-making activities. Underwater speakers and hydrophones dangle over the sides. Musicians onboard listen intently through headphones to the cetaceans that are cruising nearby. The musicians play through the speaker, and then interact with the calls the animals make in reply.

Spend a week, or even a month moored in the same place, playing the same time each night, to get on "whale time" to develop the acoustic relationship. Never chase the whales. If the tape recorder is kept rolling, after ten hours we researchers might generously record 10 worthwhile minutes of interaction that could be called interspecies communication. Those ten minutes arer sometimes so sophisticated , that the musicians realize that the whales can certainly interact on a very high level, any time they wish. Researchers learn very fast to be content with the whale's own less than fulltime commitment . has been producing field projects like this for 30 years. Our work has taken us to interact with orcas in Canada, belugas in Russia, cachalots in the Azores, pseudorcas in the Canary Islands, dolphins in Japan and Mexico, humpbacks in Alaska.

...And Off the Water

After 25 years, we have accumulated a large library of the these recordings. As funding permits, we are now archiving this media onto a hard drive.

Interspecies director, Jim Nollman often presents an intellectual history of this research to audiences around the world as a Powerpoint presentation. Lately, striving to give audiences a more direct experience of whale sounds, he has been performing underwater concerts where the audience float in a heated pool,with the sound playing through underwater speakers to enter a person's body by vibrating the skull and plexus.

This new medium demands a new format. The layering and looping techniques of Techno music do the job exceedingly well. A few years back, Interspecies received a small grant to produce a source CD of hundreds of underwater animal sounds, with the intention of offering them to composers to create their own computer music. The animals represented include beluga whales, blue whales, orcas, dolphins, seals, walrus, lobster, fish, as well as re-samples, and even a spoken account about the process of interspecies communication.

This eventually developed into a collaboration with, entitled The Belly of the Whale Project. You can download a few of these samples, in mp3 format, to create your own techno music. We'd like to hear the result.

The Belly of the Whale Project of 2004-2006 was a perfect example of Interspecies' ongoing sponsorship of artists to re-connect with nature. It began with 40 composers from 10 countries. By the end, we had a 2-6 minute piece of music from 16 composers , created primarily using the samples on our source CD. Interspecies and Greenmuseum eventually released a commercial CD. We also exhibit these compositions on our websites. We also have a DVD showcasing a music video from the project. Email us if you'd like a copy.

The next page focuses on whale language.


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