Interspecies Communications

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Tibetan Lama and Orca Song

You heard it here first)

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Obviously, a degree in marine biology or cognitive science does not make one an expert in communicating with orcas. In our own research, we have always promoted the idea that anyone with a good idea about how to aesthetically engage these animals, deserves the opportunity to try it out.

In 1986 we invited five musicians onto our boat/studio, with the intent of forming an ensemble to interact with the whales. Nancy Rumbel was a classically trained oboist who would eventually win a Grammy for newage music. Jonathan Churcher was a rock and roll drummer from the Canadian Yukon. Mickey Remann was a violinist steeped in the German avant-garde. I was the fourth. My own music is all about connecting to whales. on guitar and mandolin. Five was a Tibetan Lama named Senjur, abbott of the Vajrayana community in Vancouver BC. Several times during our month-long stay in Johnstone Strait, we set him up in the cabin of our boat to chant his Buddhist prayers through an underwater sound system into the water. Om mani padme hum.

Whereas the Western musicians elicited either a clear response or complete disinterest from the whales, the Lama's chanting often caused the orcas to draw very close to our speakers, and then turn dead silent. In 30 years of producing musical field projects with the orcas of A pod, no other human has ever tranformed these very vocal orcas into a rapt audience.

While this recording was being produced, two whales from the local A pod, were spotted and identified huddled next to our underwater speaker for several minutes, listening in silence. One of them was A6, whom you can hear in another recording on this website, although produced 7 years earlier. The other whales was A-6s mother, named A-2 by the local research community.

Midway through the excerpt, listen closely as either A6 or A2 "informs" the rest of their pod, where they are located. Being so close to our own recording hydrophone, this call is piercing, while the rest of the whale calls sound far away. The excerpt was recorded from a dinghy 100 feet from the boat speakers, on a night with a wild wind and current. The roar of water flowing against the hydrophones was so severe, that when I listened to this recording the next day, I deemed it an utter loss, and packed it away for 14 years.

Recently, I've been listening to many hours of old cassette and DAT tapes, and editing the most promising excerpts for this website. To aid the process, Digidesign donated to Interspecies a noise reduction filter that's done wonders for this music, not unlike peeling layers of varnish off an old painting. What you hear has been filtered for noise, with compression, EQ, and a little reverb added to soften the harsh edges.

    —Jim Nollman for Interspecies

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