The whale songs used on Ocean Gray are from a field recording aunt Robin made. Robin is a poet, musician, and artist who lives on an island in Alaska. The whales in the recording are hunting fish and communicating with each other to coordinate the hunt. But there’s a lot more going on in their voices than just communication, it’s as much art as it is practical, like when we use our voices.
Each of the whales in the field recording has a lovely unique voice. Their voices are incredibly complex. What you might at first hear as single notes, on closer inspection, turn out to have significant changes in pitch and timbre buried within them. There are also subtle repeated rhythmic patterns that are easy to miss, they’re communicating complex information in a beautiful and intriguing way. Evolution certainly played it’s part in driving the assembly of their amazing voices for practical survival advantages but I think the whale’s own type of personhood has elevated their songs to the highest levels of art.
I worked on using a granular synthesis approach to incorporate their different voices into the main melodic synthesis sounds as well as using multiband compression/expansion to incorporate their voices into the percussive elements in the piece. The field recording on its own is absolutely lovely, it sounds other-worldly, almost alien. My first thoughts on how to approach it were to go dark and ethereal but there was something else in their voices, a kind of natural rhythm that any living creature struggling to survive shares. You can also hear the motor of the boat that Robin was on, she was thinking I would want to remove that, but I really liked it in there. It presented another kind of rhythm over the whale rhythms. The rhythm of the fish fleeing the whales, the rhythm of the whales hunting the fish, the rhythm of the human machines following the whales, a surreal moment where all of these species come together in time and space and are captured in an audio recording. While the whale songs sound ethereal to us, I suspect they probably sound much more practical and personal or maybe even comforting to the whales. I thought that concept would be interesting to play around with. Taking this direction probably prevented me from falling down the rabbit hole of cliche, it’s pretty easy to get trapped in a pit of new age despair when trying to incorporate whale song into human music.
It was a real pleasure and inspiration to work on this field recording but it was also intimidating. These animals are probably more deserving of personhood than humans and we have not treated them well. I hope this song treats them respectfully.