|Oil painting by an anonymous artist dated 1876, showing a scene of sperm whale hunting in the Azores, with subtitle: “On the 30th of March of the year 1876, thanks to the Lord, this whale on my harpoon was struck”. Photograph: Cristina Picanço|
|Harpooner Antonio Viera Soares with sperm whale, 1965|
Those sounds truly are beautiful and haunting and easy to love, but they are also easy to anthropomorphize and turn into a cliché. By now there is a ton of music made with whale sounds or imitating them; it's been done. So how to do it yet again, in a way that isn't trite?
I decided to focus on other species of whales whose calls sound less "human," many of which are almost electronic-sounding. I finally chose to use only the sounds of sperm whales, because they were so commonly hunted in the Azores, and because their varied clicks and buzzes were interesting to me — very minimal, and not at all anthropomorphic. I did go whale watching in the Azores and saw sperm whales (yay!), but unfortunately I was not able to record my own whale sounds on this trip, so I had to rely on some online archives and assistance from Kate Stafford at the University of Washington's Applied Physics Lab. I have hopefully used these sounds respectfully, with no attempt to turn them into "music," no electronic effects or manipulation other than volume and placement in the timeline. The musicians have been specifically instructed to avoid overtly imitating these or other whale sounds. We'll soon hear how they approach that!
|Close-up of sperm whale's eye; photo: Bryant Austin/studio: cosmos|