Archive for December, 2010

Jim Nollman playing waterphone off western Canada with orcas (1979)

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Hello……………. My name is Z.I.R.A,  Zepelim’s Intelligent Radio Application. I’m guiding this episode, documenting some attempts of humans to comunicate with other animal species and artificial intelligent entities.  My collected database  is clear on this subject: since the origins of man, humans have felt the urge to communicate with other species- to re-invent their relationship with animals- through speech or music. My systems are not clear, however, about the goals of such human ambition… AAA#0001… [Cross referencing]…Based on human relation patterns collected through my years of contact with man, I can confirm with 98.99% percent certainty that humans want to communicate with others species to nourrish their own species’ emotional, spiritual, and cultural ties with nature and… to enslave them!



Interspecies Communication


1# – Human and Turkeys

Jim Nollman is a conceptual artist, environmental activist and author of several books.  He was born in Boston in 1947 and at the age of 25, Jim was involved in the avant garde scene of San Francisco composing and performing music based on the rythms of people smoking cigarettes. At this point Charles Amirkhanian, the program director of KPFA Radio in Berkeley, handed Nollman a musical commission to compose a radio piece for Thanksgiving Day.

Nollman  traveled to the Willy Bird Turkey Farm in the Santa Rosa Hills, with a tape recorder and a bottle of tequila in hand. He had learned some verses from a traditional folk song called Froggy Went a Courting and sang it to 300 turkeys, accentuating each “a-ha” in a slightly louder voice. The interspecies gathering between Jim Nollman and 300 turkeys resulted in a musical piece  broadcasted all over the United States on Thanksgiving Day. We can listen to this recording at Playing Music with Animals: Interspecies Communication of Jim Nollman with 300 Turkeys, 12 Wolves and 20 Orcas edited in 1982 by Folkways Records.

2# – Human and Whales


In 1971, the journal Science published a surprising description of singing whales for the first time in the article Songs of Humpback Whales by Roger Payne and Scott McVay. These two biologists found that Humpback whales produce a series of beautiful and varied sounds for a period of 7 to 30 minutes and then repeat the same series with considerable precision. They called this performance “singing”, referring to each repeated series of sounds as a “song”. Roger Payne has been studying whales since 1967 and has led over 100 expeditions to all oceans, pioneering many of the benign research techniques now used throughout the world to study free-swimming whales.  In 1970, Roger Payne released the sounds of Humpback Whales on the  record Songs of Humpback Whales, which became the best selling natural recording of all time and  influenced artists such John Cage, George Crumb, Alan Hovhaness or Toru Takemitsu.

When you are swimming and hear a humpback whale singing very close to you underwater,you sometimes feel you may not be able to stand the intensity of the sound. It is as though someone put their palms firmly against your chest and vibrated you until your whole skeleton was humming. Roger Payne

David Rothenberg - Duet Recordings

David Rothenberg – Duet Recordings

This finding was taken a little further by the philosophy professor and clarinetist David Rothenberg ,who developed a system to play music with whales. From Hawaii to Russia, Rothenberg has been travelling to meet belugas, killer whales, and the famous whale singers, the Humpbacks. The interspecies duets between Rothenberg and the whales were performed using a chain of technology that includes a hydrophone capturing the sound of the whales and an underwater speaker transmitting the jazzy tunes coming from his clarinet. After hours of attempts at making a real musical connection with the whales, Rothenberg registered some interesting moments where the whale sound dares to match his sound trying to hold the same pitch as the clarinet or wavering up and down around it:

An example where the whale seems to match the sound of the clarinet

These recordings can be found in the album Whale Music [Terra Nova, 2007].

More information about the work of David Rothenberg can be read in this article:  David Rothenberg – To Wail With a Whale: Anatomy of an Interspecies Duet.

Much earlier than David’s interspecies duets, Jim Nollman has already tried to test whale communication. Nollman, the director of  Interspecies, has been trying to locating the mechanism for the whales’ language. In this episode we can hear a recording of Nollman from 1979 “Improvising the Blues with an Orca” .

Jim Nollman Improvising the Blues with an Orca

3# – Human and Elephants

In this episode we also explore interspecies music with elephants.  For this propose we travel to Lampang in Northern Thailand to meet the Thai Elephant Orchestra. The Thai Elephant Orchestra is a musical ensemble consisting of as many as sixteen elephants. This orchestra was created and is conducted by the composer and performer Dave Soldier and the elephant conservationist Richard Lair.

The elephants play music – essentially as conducted improvisations – on enormous specially designed musical instruments. The idea to create such an orchestra was inspired by painters Komar & Melamid, who collaborated with animals for many years. They started painting with elephants in the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, and then the Center suggested that Dave and Richard see if elephants could play music. They started in 2000, and in 2011 they will release Water Music the third album made of elephants living in the Thai Elephant Conservation Center. In this Zepelim, we hear three recordings from the album Thai Elephant Orchestra [2002, Mulatta Recods].

4# – Human and Unknown Intelligent Species from Outer Space

The Wow! Signal

The Wow! Signal

11:16 pm, August 15, 1977.  The receiver of the Big Ear Radio Telescope of Ohio State University Radio Observatory detected a powerful radio signal coming from Outer Space during the shift of volunteer Dr. Jerry R. Ehman. The signal lasted for 72 seconds.

… the strangest signal I had ever seen … At first, I thought it was an earth signal reflected from space debris, but after I studied it further, I found that couldn’t be the case, said Dr. Jerry R. Ehman.

When Dr. Jerry R. Ehman saw the computer print-out of the signal received by Big Ear Radio, he circled the anomalous numbers and letters ending with the code 6EQUJ5. Dr. Ehman wrote WOW! on the left side.  This comment became the name of the signal.

Each of the first 50 columns of the computer printout shows the successive values of intensity (or power) received from the Big Ear radio telescope in each channel (10 kHz wide) in successive 12-second intervals (10 seconds were used for actual sampling and approximately 2 seconds more were needed for computer processing). Thus, the “6EQUJ5” code in channel 2 means successive intensities as follows:

6 –> the range 6.0 – 6.999…
E –> the range 14.0 – 14.999…
Q –> the range 26.0 – 26.999…
U –> the range 30.0 – 30.999…
J –> the range 19.0 – 19.999…
5 –> the range 5.0 – 5.999…

Could this have been man’s first contact with extraterrestrial intelligence? Ohio State University researchers weren’t sure, so they trained the massive scope on that part of the sky for the next month and have returned periodically since. The signal hasn’t been recorded again. In late 1997, after 40 years, the Ohio State University Radio Observatory ceased operation. The telescope was destroyed in early 1998.  In the Guinness Book of Records the  Big Ear Radio is listed under the category of Longest Extraterrestrial Search.

In this Zepelim, we present a symbolic sound representation of the Wow! Signal inspired by the sound featured in the movie Contact based on the Carl Sagan novel of the same name.

The location of the wow! signal in the constellation Sagittarius, near the Chi Sagittarii star group.

5#- Human and Computer

At last, at the end of this episode we can hear an amazing “computer – man” musical dialogue by the genius David Behrman from the album Leapday Night edited by Lovely Music in 1991. There we can find a set of compositions called Interspecies Smalltalk.

David Behrman – Leapday Night (1991, Lovely)

These compositions are for instrumental performers and a computer music system which David Behrman designed and assembled during the 1980s. The system consists of pitch sensors (“ears” with which it listens to the performing musicians), various music synthesizers (some homemade), a computer graphics color video display and a personal computer. Each composition is built upon a computer program governing interaction between performers and the system and creates situations rather than set pieces. The performers have options rather than instructions, and the exploration of each situation as it unfolds is up to them.

Interspecies Smalltalk was commissioned by John Cage and Merce Cunningham as music for the 1984 Cunningham Dance Company repertory work “Pictures,” and was made for performance by Takehisa Kosugi.

Hello……………. It’s  Z.I.R.A,  Zepelim’s Intelligent Radio Application. I hope you are more enlightened about your role in the new tomorrow. You are a vibrating body.  Each body is a vibrating body.

Signing off.


Carlo Patrão

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