Sounds of whales, ice and desolation

Heike I. Vester
Ocean Sounds – Marine Mammals and Fish of Lofoten and Vesteralen
[Gruenrekorder]

Andrea Polli
Sonic Antarctica
[Gruenrekorder]

German experimental label Gruenrekorder continues to put out some fine releases that go that extra mile to document the sounds of our dying planet.

Although “Ocean Sounds” is not credited to any one person, it’s only fitting to put Heike I. Vester in the spotlight. Heiker is a biologist, coordinator and founder of Ocean Sounds organization that specializes in preserving bio-acoustic sounds of marine animals. Her specialty is vocal behaviours of killer whales. Recorded for the most part in northern precipices of Norway, “Ocean Sounds” is split between the sounds of the killer whales as well as those originating from pilot whales, dolphins, harbour seals and basking sharks. It’s great to hear these mammals being recorded with such closeness and ear for detail. You can hear the tails slapping as the killer whales are feeding on herring using a method called carousel feeding. Whales herd the herring, bring it to the surface and then hit it with their tails to kill or stun it. The high-pitched buzzing sounds clatter in very electronic manner. These are in fact the whales communication methods which they use to find the herring. Then we have the male sperm whale who is echolocating [method which is used to locate squid or fish in depths up to 2 km below sea level]. The sounds are soft and percolating; resembling a tea pot on low boil. Atlantic white-striped dolphins are a delight to listen to. As they perform an acrobatic show for Heike, one hears an enticing sequencing of clicks and soft snaps. Other than producing a crucial document, Heike shines a spotlight on mammals that rival with human kind for intelligence.

Moving from one pole to the other, we find ourselves in the midst of “Sonic Antarctica”. Recorded by Andrea Polli, the disc is a living document of some of the scientists that live there for extended periods of time. But this isn’t just pure field recordings. According to the album jacket, the album “features natural and industrial field recordings, sonifications and audifications of science data and interviews with weather and climate scientists.” Complete with brisk winds, crackling ice, what we have on offer are talks by scientists on weather conditions and life in Antarctic. “I Don’t Have the Data” features a number of these scientists discussing how crucial it is for science to have a role in saving the eco-system of the ice-covered continent, while winds billow in the background. “Countdown” has a different set of scientists discussing their love of their jobs, interaction with elements and their fascination with weather patterns. All the while, Andrea Polli creates a rough-sounding snow storm that encapsulates the conversation. “No Boundaries” features more clicks and high-pitched short-wave radio signals that are meshed with further confessions from the scientists. If anything, “Sonic Antarctica” serves as a day-in-the-life of scientists working persistently on this cold, cruel continent.

– Tom Sekowski

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