Interspecies Communications

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Improvising the Blues with an Orca

Excerpted from Orcas Greatest Hits CD, Interspecies Music

Listen to this Session between a wild Orca and a guitarist recorded at OrcaLab, in the waters off the east coast of Vancouver Island, using hydrophones and an underwater speaker.

The session occurred around midnight, way back in August of 1979. The excerpt you hear occurred during an hour long jam between electric guitarist Jim Nollman and an 18 year old male orca, named A-6 by local scientists. A6. The session was produced for a film shoot on orca communication, directed by Kenji Iwashita, best known for his film, The Man Who Skied Down Everest.

Nollman started playing along with A pod's usual calls through his underwater speaker, for about an hour each night. On the fourth and final night of the film shoot, A6 ventured within a few feet of the speaker, to initiate an animated call-and-response with the guitarist. Not unlike an improvising jazz musician, he quickly started to deconstruct the harmony and the timing of 12 bar blues tune. The result was a unique interspecies dialogue.

About ten minutes into this interaction, Nollman started to focus on the chords of the 12-bar blues progression you hear. Listen closely. During this first verse, A6 responds several times on pitch and on beat, improvising in a comprehensible manner to the rhythmical, harmony-based song. In two instances, A6 clearly makes the chord changes on the downbeat. Although his response is sparse, it is not unlike the way Miles Davis soloed during his Bitches Brew Period.Orcas Greatest Hits

Orcas Greatest Hits

During the 1980s, Interspecies sponsored over 100 musicians to attempt communication with orcas off western Canada. Our CD, Orcas Greatest Hits, contains the best interactions from the project, Musicians include virtuosos, talented amateurs, and even a 75 year old man and an 8 year old girl. We used hydrophones and underwater speakers to build a recording studio in a boat, which was anchored, so the whales had to come to us if they were interested.

The Charged Border

Charged BorderFor a detailed interpretation of what occurred that night with A-6, including the entire story of our two decade-long Orca Project, we highly recommend you purchase The Charged Border, Where Whales and Humans Meet (Henry Holt, 1999). Other chapters include:
an Interspecies project to stop the killing of dolphins in Japan,
an international media event in Barrow Alaska where we successfully guided 3 gray whales from an ice hole using a Paul Simon song.
A history of relations between humans and whales, including an essay on the communication capabilities and aesthetic culture of cetaceans.