David Rothenberg and Michael Deal - New Songs of the Humpback Whale - CD
Packaged in a deluxe, heavy duty 6-panel digipak with an insert containing an essay from David Rothenberg and whale song visualizations designed by Michael Deal. Produced by David Rothenberg. Artwork and visualization by Michael Deal.
What record album was so important that ten million copies of it needed to be pressed at once? You guessed it: Songs of the Humpback Whale. In 1979 National Geographic Magazine inserted a flexible "sound page" inside the back cover of all of its editions in twenty-five languages, and that is supposedly how many they printed. No human pop star has ever received such magnanimous treatment, so what is it that is so special about the song of the humpback whale?
Well, for one, humans knew nothing of this fabulous sound until the US Navy released its classified recordings at the end of the 1960s, at the very moment the world was most poised to listen to the unknown, the psychedelic, and the trippiest of sounds. Humpback whale song fit the bill perfectly. From high wails to deep growls to rhythmic scratches to tearful moans, it encompasses the full range of emotions in the longest song performed by any animal, a tune that can go on for nearly twenty-four hours at a time. People are often moved to tears when they hear such intensity for the first time. Some cannot believe it could ever come from a place as silent as the sea. This song inspired the global movement to Save the Whales which continues unto this day.
People tend to assume humpback whale song just a "whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaooooh" and leave it at that. But if you sit down and listen to a complete humpback performance you will find that the long moan is only one note in a complex composition, with distinct phrases, repetition, structure, organization, shape and form akin to many kinds of human music. This is no random outburst of cries and whispers, but a song with power, verve, identity, and design.
It is a desire to go beyond memory and into the sounds of reality that has led us to release New Songs of the Humpback Whale, which aims to gather the best recent recordings of scientists and whale listeners the globe over to give all of us a chance to assess what has happened to whale song over the past few decades. One can hear gradual changes in humpback song from year to year, with some phrases lengthening, others shortening, others disappearing altogether as new variations appear. The change can be heard month to month, and even week to week within a single season. Today's whale songs should sound quite different from what he fondly remembers from the sixties. But is their musical culture going downhill? Or is it on the rise? Or just changing? Can we humans even tell the difference?
To tell the difference, infographic designer Michael Deal has created a new way to visualize humpback whale song, based on sonograms familiar to sound scientists, but simplified into colorful glyphs, making the structure of this grand underwater music easier to understand than ever before.
Though humpback whale song did not evolve for humans to appreciate, it may be no accident that we do. Upon hearing the great song for the first time, whale scientist Roger Payne said he heard the size of the ocean, "as if I had walked into a dark cave to hear wave after wave of echoes cascading back from the darkness beyond.... That's what whales do, give the ocean its voice."
David Rothenberg, author of THOUSAND MILE SONG, about making music with whales, veteran of live whale-human interactions on the CD WHALE MUSIC, has now scoured the world for the finest recent recordings of the solo songs of male humpback whales, some of which can go on for nearly twenty four hours.
- Whale song visualization prints by Michael Deal available here
1. Madagascar Whale One 10:09 - [recorded by Salvatore Cerchio 1990]
2. Madagascar Whale Two 10:29 - [recorded by Olivier Adam, 2007]
3. Tonga Whales 9:45 - [recorded by Glenn Edney, 2008]
4. Maui Whale One 11:41- [recorded by David Rothenberg, 2007]
5. Maui Whale Two 8:01 - [recorded by David Rothenberg, 2010]
6. Madagascar Whale Lower, Faster 5:12 - [recorded by Olivier Adam in 2007]