stringed instruments

Sound Systems


The links above lead to other pages in this series on interspecies instruments.

Before was founded, Jim Nollman's music with other species, was mostly an acoustic and experiential affair. He sang with turkeys, blew a shakuhachi flute with wolves, and played a variety of drums with dolphins.

In 1979, after a difficult winter working with Greenpeace on a media event at Iki Island Japan, he concluded that outside efforts (including his own project) could never stop the slaughter of dolphins, by merely exposing the issue, prompting international outrage. At Iki, the fishermen informed him that they would stop killing dolphins, if there was some way to redirect the dolphins away from their boats. Nollman returned home to research audio signaling as a way to alter dolphin behavior. That spring he founded Interspecies, to facilitate the development of "The Iki Machine", and to fundraise for a return to Iki Island.

The photo on the left, below, is the prototype behavioral modification system. The round gray speaker is by Lubell labs, with whom Interspecies has enjoyed a close working relationship for over 30 years. The photo on the right shows Nollman (in the white shirt), along with Interspecies' acoustician, Russell Frehling, testing sounds and underwater hardware on the deck of an Iki island fishing boat. Yes, that is a 1970's vintage synthesizer in front of Russell.

Indeed, our tests did succeed to redirect dolphins from fishing boats, although the research ended prematurely for various unforeseen political reasons. Today, Iki island hosts a thriving dolphin watching tourist industry.

Searching for a benign method to warn cetaceans away from US Navy ships during sonar testing, the Department of Defense has recently expressed a keen interest in the Iki Machine that first prototyped in 1980. The Department's 2007 call for proposals cites this page on

As the newly incorporated began to sponsor communication research around the globe, we also devoted significant portions of our yearly budgets to develop the world's best sound system for interspecies communication with cetaceans. The gray box, seen on the shelf in the left hand photo below, is the brilliant work of acoustic engineer, Mike Sofen. Designed and upgraded over a 5 year span in the 1980's, this waterproof pelican box is, essentially, a 12 volt audio mixer that includes connection capabilities for batteries, tape recorders, hydrophones, underwater speakers, headphones, and three or four musical instruments at the same time. All the external connectors are waterproof. The turquoise surface of this box can also be seen on the right, in front of Finnish researcher, Rauno Lauhakangas.


Both pictures, above, were shot during different phases of our beluga research program on the Russian White Sea. In 2003 we set up shop on a Russian sailboat, and focused two weeks to modulating beluga calls and transmitting them back into the water in near real time. This digitally based research was handled by an Apple G4 powerbook running Logic and Reaktor samplers. The photo on the right was taken in 2002, when we participated in a Finnish/Canadian film that included our own beluga research at a remote station administered by Russia's Shirshov Oceanographic Institute.This photo shows Nollman, Rauno, and Russian researcher vasilly Kirilenko, in a large inflatable boat with a digital phrase sampler, the beluga guitar, a Tibetan bowl, all routed through the Interspecies sound system. About an hour after the above photo was taken, Rauno shot the photo below, as a beluga whale "scout" appeared. The whale eventually swam right up to the stern of the boat.


The first photo, left, above, shot in 1979, shows jim Nollman playing a waterphone off western Canada with orcas. The second photo, from 1988, shows Nollman playing his Prince guitar in close contact with orcas in Johnstone Strait off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, Canada. For a detailed account of Interspecies long term musical work with orcas, read The Charged Border: Where Whales and Humans Meet. To hear what it sounds like, buy our CD Orcas Greatest Hits. The third photo, from 2004, shows Nollman with Rauno Lauhakangas, playing dolphin sticks in the Azores. Asd the photo shows, the cachalots have assembled head-to-head in a Magdalena pattern. For much more info about these whales, visit our cachalot name page and then a page describing our field project with these animals in the Azores.

The last photo is a screen shot of a remarkable digital instrument designed by Interspecies, sponsored by ICERC-Japan, and programmed by Native Instruments of Berlin Germany. This Whale Sampler was featured in a pavilion at the 2006 Expo held in Nagoya Japan. We drew huge queues of mostly children, who played the instrument to compose melodies from humpback and orca calls, backed by beats sampled from a dozen other species including lobsters, seals, and fish.

String instruments