Wednesday, March 25, 2009

BOOKS FOR MANIACS: Thousand Mile Song

This might be the strangest music I've ever heard. It might not even be music.

David Rothenberg plays music with whales. Actual, living-in-the-sea whales. No, this isn't one of those corny '70s New Age albums with whale song sound effects dropped in. He actually traveled around the world, went out on boats, dropped a speaker and a mic into the ocean so he could hear the whales and the whales could hear him, and played clarinet along with their songs.

He may be crazy. He's the first to admit that. Since no-one knows what whale songs are for, he could be interfering with some important function they may have, like navigation. Plus, it's illegal. This possibly irresponsible activity led to the occasional confrontation, even shouting matches, with whale lovers he encountered on this scientific/artistic voyage.

His fascinating book/CD from last year,
Thousand Mile Song, recounts his travels from the Pacific Northwest, to the Caribbean, to sub-Arctic northern Russia, listening to whale songs, playing along with them, and seeing what happened. Along the way we learn many fun-to-know facts about whales and their songs, e.g.: they have structure. They are not random noises. And these songs change - a whale will "write" a new tune, which will sometimes catch on with other whales, and they ditch the old songs. And different kinds of whales have different styles. Killer whale and beluga songs are as different as, say, punk and r'n'b.

So there's a scientific component to all this as well - to see what happens when an interloper drops in with his music. Occasionally, as in the case with today's mp3, it seems like the whales might be responding. This track, named after the boat
Rothenberg was riding on when he made this recording, could be abstract electronica, or maybe a free jazz improvisation by someone like Sun Ra or Albert Ayler. But it really doesn't sound like anything you've heard before.

David Rothenberg + whales: "Never Satisfied"

I read this book last summer whilst listening to the cd on a hotel balcony overlooking the ocean, as seals were barking on the beach. You should try it!


r-tine said...

I don't know whether this is music... but it is very interesting... as usual. Thx a lot!

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