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Field Projects

IC was formed to develop strategies for transforming human perceptions about nature and animals. Now in it's 22nd year, IC successfully fosters a creative connection with animals and habitat through music, art , publishing, and personal quest. We're best known for playing music with whales. Over the years, our field projects have carried us to several oceans and many foreign countries. Here's a few of our better known projects.

1. Russian Beluga Project

IC is currently collaborating with the Russian Academy of Science, and Canaz Media Productions on an ambitious project of interaction with beluga whales inhabiting the north coast of the Russian province of Karelia, adjacent to Finland. This sub-arctic land along the White Sea is rich in petroglyphs carved in the granite bedrock, depicting ancient Finns honoring their animal totems.

Some of these glyphs show shamans interacting musically with beluga whales. Herds of beluga whales are still sited just offshore of the site where we will base our study. Because the area was once nearby to the USSR’s most infamous Gulag, these animals have not been hunted for at least the past 75 years. As we approach the millennium, the Umba River mouth remains one of the few places on earth where the endangered beluga is thriving. For more info about this very exciting project, read A Karelian Journal from our online library.

    2. The Orca Project: (1976-1992)

An exploration of the musical common ground between orcas and human beings. The project was based in the straits off Vancouver island, with over 200 people participating overall. Our orca Project has been the subject of magazine stories, TV shows and videos. Sponsors included The Threshold Foundation, ABC News, and The Slifka Foundation. To facilitate contact between species, IC developed a unique underwater sound system, mounted in a boat, serving as a telephone line to the whales. This gear remains available to other groups attempting to interact with wild cetaceans.


3. Alaska Humpback Project. (1996-present)

During the winter months, in tropical waters, male humpback whales sing their evocative songs to attract females. The best singers––perhaps those who tell the best story, or who embellish the basic melody most creatively––attract the biggest audience. No one knows what they are singing about, although it has been postulated that individual songs bespeak the singer's lineage. In the summertime, on their feeding grounds of southeast Alaska, both genders sing. This variation of the song may actually stun schools of herring upon which the whales prey. Humpback biologist, Roger Payne, compares humpback songs to epic poems, pointing out that each unique song contains distinct rhyming elements. A song may last up to twenty minutes and then get repeated, verbatim. In 1996, IC set out to explore this nonhuman musical aesthetic by embarking on a study of humpback songs in collaboration with biologist Fred Sharpe of the Alaska Whale Foundation. By first identifying the humpback singers most curious about human music transmitted into the water, we then design routines that encourage greater interaction. For the future, we plan to Utilize MIDI (computer) equipment to analyze and modulate their songs for playback, co-creating a music that contains elements of both human and humpback songs. This unique collaboration of artists, scientists, and whales is permitted by the US Marine Mammal Commission.


4. ZeroCircles Project (1998-99)

Conceptual artist, Daniel Dancer, oversees this far-reaching project of constructing zeros out of found materials in several US national forests, as a means of symbolizing and promoting the "zero cut" proposal which would end all logging in the US forest system. Now, with over 50 zeros completed in 50 forests around the country, his art has attracted much media attention as well as many other artists and children who are creating their own zeros. For more info on this very worthy project, read ZeroCircles in our online library.


5. Japan Cetacean Consultancy (1992–present)

For several years now, IC has been consulting closely with the Japanese ICERC network, promoting events, art and media to help transform public perceptions about whales and dolphins. This longterm program has been overwhelmingly embraced by the mass media within Japan. Images of leaping whale and smiling dolphins can now be seen on subway and airport kiosks, while whalewatching and dolphin swim programs are springing up in many places. In 1996, the IC/ICERC team demonstrated the potential of interspecies music on a whalewatching boat that had only recently been converted from whaling. The on-deck viewing platform was actually built over an old harpoon mount. For more info about IC's japan connection, read Not Touching Ferns in our online library.


6. The Wild Heart (1984–present)

As much as IC sponsors field work, it also nurtures creative ways to bring its underlying philosophy before the general public. With Gigi Coyle in 1987, IC co-hosted a well-received San Francisco gallery show of artwork created by participants on various IC field projects. Collaborating with the German University, ZEGG, in 1994-95 we co-hosted three week-long whale communication workshops aboard their research vessel, Kairos. In 1996, distinguished performance artist, Christian Swenson, and IC director Jim Nollman, collaborated on a performance about animals that included live and tape music, dance, theater, slides, and costume. The resultant show, The Wild Heart, subsequently toured Europe, including a performance at an international whale conference in Brussels. C. Swenson has an extensive background in mime and dance and, in The Wild Heart, he transforms himself into the archetype of whale, raven, wolf, turkey, dolphin, rose, hummingbird, water, air to interact with Nollman's Everyman.


7. Iki Island, Japan (1977-1980)

IC consulted with Greenpeace on one of the environmental group's first overseas projects. During the preceding ten year period, Iki fishermen had slaughtered over ten thousand dolphins under the guise of protecting their fish stocks. The issue proved to be a classic case of human over-exploitation of resources with another prey species used as a convenient scapegoat. We eventually split from Greenpeace over strategy differences, and returned to Iki funded by, among others, The Animal Welfare Institute and The World Wildlife Fund. For one entire winter, an IC team worked directly with fishermen to test acoustic methods to keep dolphins away from individual fishing boats. We also collaborated closely with the media at a time when Iki was front page news around the world. Eventually, the team mediated between the Japanese Foreign Ministry and the international environmental community. Something worked, although it took far longer than any of us imagined. Today, Iki island supports a successful dolphin-watching business.


8. The Art of the Arctic: (1986-1993)

IC sponsored five expeditions to various sites in the arctic, granting several talented artists an access to beluga whales, gray whales, polar bears, and some of the most remote places on Planet Earth. The result has been documented in two books by participants, a series of radio shows, pieces by sculptor, Daniel Dancer, in a traveling exposition of earth art, and news stories related to one specific trip to help save three gray whales stuck in an ice hole near Barrow Alaska. This project was funded by, among others, The Salisbury Community Foundation, The Dolphin Connection, and Outside Magazine. Read What the Raven Said, from our online library, for a taste of the kind of storytelling that arose from this program.


9. Bathing In Music, (1986)

The German Arts Council, in consultation with IC, presented, in Frankfurt, a series of underwater concerts involving thirty musicians, dancers, and sculptors interacting with the watery environment of two adjoining swimming pools. Two sell-out crowds of nearly a thousand people per show swam in an around the underwater sculptures to a music that highlighted IC's recordings of orcas. German conceptual artist, Mickey Remann, designed Bathing in Music to translate his own experience of interacting with orcas as a member of the IC Orca Project into a context accessible to an urban audience. One concert was carried live over German TV and broadcast to Japan.


10. Sperm Whale Pilgrimage (2000-2001)

The sperm whale may be the greatest animal mystery. We discern of its behavior only what can be gleaned during the five percent of the time it comes to the surface to breathe. We do know it dives to 10,000 feet to feed on giant squid, and that males and females travel separately for most of the year in their own pods. This whale's seventeen pound brain is by far the largest of any creature that has ever inhabited the Earth and, therefore, the largest brain for which we have evidence anywhere in the universe. Given that stunning fact, the extent of our own ignorance about this being is amply demonstrated by the fact that, until thirty years ago, humans related to this potential wisdom keeper only as a repository for machine oil. Recently, we have learned that sperms may be unique among cetaceans for clicking back and forth to one another as well as at objects. Because echolocation carries information about shape, dimension, and movement, this communication suggests a language, but one composed of sonic holograms rather than words. IC is currently devising a plan to spend two weeks in the Azores, next summer, in hopes of interacting with sperm whales. Our intent is to gather together a group of artists and visionaries to meet this whale, to swim with it, and by any of several creative means to simply communicate a hopeful message of coexistence. The IC underwater sound system will be employed as an open line to the sperm whales' environment. This voyage and this meeting will be filmed, painted, and photographed, the music will be recorded, and the resultant media edited for release in several formats. For more on sperm whales, read On Their Own Behalf from the Interspecies Library.

Whale Music