The Grammar of Musical Language

The grammar of musical language is rich in both form and content. On the one hand it expresses such physical and mathematical constructs as frequency, rhythm, amplitude, and harmony. On the other, it evokes a rich spectrum of patently unquantifiable concepts such as emotion, timing, and communion. The movie, Close Encounters seems right on target when it represents music as the obvious first stage in establishing a dialogue with extraterrestrials.

We choose the orcas as our prime subject because they possess a brain every bit as sentient as our own, if not more acoustically sophisticated. Furthermore, the orcas, in contrast to most dolphin species, vocalize in a frequency range close to the confines of human hearing. They seem to talk to one another in two distinct modes: the frequency modulated whistle and the pulsed click train. The first term is another word for melody, the second is rhythmical.

We chose the orca as our subject because, in all honesty, the orcas also chose us. We moored our boat/recording studio in one spot for a month or more each year, transmitted live music into the water through a specialized sound system, and then waited for the whales to come to us. Over the month's duration they choose to do so with increasing regularity.

Some choose to interpret these pieces as a quirky direction in avant-garde music. Fortunately, the very best interspecies dialogues are often the most musical. But there is not much "avant-garde" about it. The so called Primitives have been talking and singing with animals since before history. Consider this cassette an electronic update.

To order the cassette, send $11 US to Interspecies Communication, 273 Hidden Meadow, Friday Harbor WA 98250. The book, Dolphin Dreamtime, is $10 at the same address.

Jim Nollman's e-mail:

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