Whale jazz

The answer’s here, everybody, and it’s “yes”.

A clarinetist can form a double-act with a whale.

This guy‘s tried it with a few creatures. Apparently he had to break up his bird orchestra because of musical differences. Even Mockingbirds and Nightingales (which are apparently considered to be the Charles Mingus and Oscar Peterson of the treetops), as our scientist, David Rothenberg, puts it, “is going to use its own licks when and if he plays along with you.”

Birds don’t change their tunes for nobody. Get out my hayloft buster, I’m trying to shift dat swing.

But your humpback whale’s a more melodious type. If you play a clarinet at a whale, it sings back.

They do this in their natural habitat too (obviously they don’t have clarinets in their natural habitat, just blowholes and a crazy dream). If you leave a group of whales singing a song together, in a few days they’ll have written a concept album. There’s actual evidence (of a sort) about this. They leave the Indian Ocean singing one song, and turn up in the Pacific warbling another.

And so, David Rothenberg’s great experiment was born. And so was the greatest scientific illustration ever committed to a paper:

That guy looks like a jazz version of Mr Benn. As if by magic, the 40-ton floating virtuoso appeared.

And of course he started to sing. Of course he did, says David Rothernberg: “Not only should I not be surprised that the whale is imitating me, I should expect it. If he didn’t do it, then I would want to question the theory that whales learn songs from other whales.”

But then he comes up with a sentence that, if you’re a person of any musical ambition should have you weeping at how small and insignificant your dreams really are.

Aim higher. Be like David.

David wonders whether a whale might actually work some of his clarinet stylings into his blubbery oceanic repertoire, essentially he wants it to swim off whistling a jaunty snatch of Rothernberg tune.

“That,” says David, “would indeed be the highest compliment an interspecies musician could receive. Not praise from one’s peers, but a piece of my music in the group mind of the whales.”

See: ambition.

But for now, he’s settling for something a touch more modest: “already there is no doubt that the whale’s live music has influenced what I play. Performing along with a whale, I try to inhabit the rhythm and shape of the song which a written or printed description cannot contain.’Get inside the whale,’ said George Orwell. ‘Or admit that you are already there.'”

Isn’t that a nice thought to go out and start your Thursdays with?

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~ by David Thorley on February 10, 2011.

One Response to “Whale jazz”

  1. […] of music to represent absolute zero, I’d do it with a theremin, a choir of sperm whales (we know they can do it), and a pneumatic […]

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