Songs of Thalassa

Earth is teeming with life, all literally bursting with sound. On land we hear these sounds every day and most people are familiar with the noises of the forest: the hooting, chirping, moaning, howling, tweeting, clucking, whistling, squawking and hooting that creates a complex sonic melody. The sound of nature is everywhere but we don’t always take the time to listen.

Music in Nature

Writing SOT I was inspired by Bernie Krause’s fascinating book, The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places. Krause describes the sounds of the natural world as being as carefully orchestrated as the most beautiful classical score. Each song, each voice, is created in a way so they can be heard distinctly; so the animals can hear and distinguish one from the other. They do this against a backdrop of waves, water, and wind. These are ancient sounds, as old as the universe, as old as time. There are also sounds underwater made by a great number of animals. While snorkeling or diving on a coral reef you can hear the music generated by the myriad sounds of parrot fish biting the rocks, butterfly fish nibbling on coral, triggerfish munching on plankton, the snapping of shrimp, and the gurgle of anemones. 

Bernie Krause refers to the collective sounds that animals make as a Biophony, which is unique for each environment and changes with the weather, time of day, and season. Partitioning of sounds occurs across the acoustic bandwidth as animals adjust their vocalizations to avoid overlap with the vocal territory occupied by other creatures. It is similar to different band members playing different instruments that occupy different note ranges. Actually, these similarities may not be a coincidence.

An epiphany from his observations was that the biophony is a proto-orchestra: an ordered soundscape that may have been the inspiration for the origin of human music. As Krause writes in his book (P. 104-105):

Close links between humanity and the soundscape have always been an essential lens through which we understand the world. … Those of us living close to the natural world have learned the permutations of these dynamics well. It is likely that buried deep within the human limbic brain is ancient wiring that springs to life every time we reconnect with these delicate webs of acoustic finery. It didn’t take early humans long to find useful ways of incorporating biophonic information into hunts, ceremonies, language, and the dialoguing exchanges of music — our first organization of sound.

These sounds should be appreciated for the music they make, the symphonies they conduct, and the way they resonate with our souls. in SOT I made natural music the centerpiece of the book and a key component of how Sage connects with the planet and discoveries music role in the universe.

Music in Songs of Thalassa

The sounds of the Nesoi and other Thalassa creatures were inspired largely by Earth’s cetaceans. However, unlike on our planet, I endowed the Nesoi with sounds in three different ways: whistles, clicks and creaks, and songs. The whistles were used to communicate in air, the clicks and creaks were used to navigate underwater, and the songs were used to communicate underwater. On Earth, these traits are generally only found in a single group at a time but the Nesoi are special and are highly evolved on their homeworld.

Their creaks and clicks of the Nesoi were similar to the sperm whale and used for echolocation.

Creaks and clicks of a sperm whale

Their beautiful underwater songs were like male humpback whales during their underwater swims.

Humpback whale song: like the song of the Baleena

I envisioned the Ceti to use sounds like blue and fin whales.

Sounds of a Blue whale
Sounds of a Fin whale

While the Baleena sounded more like Humpbacks.

Humpback whales songs

When the Nesoi, Ceti, and Baleena all joined in a chorus I imagined they would sound something like this, although much more beautiful.

Chorus of sounds

But many living things make sound, indeed a mixture of well-blended music is typical for healthy ecosystems. Listen to a recording of a living coral reef in Fiji that Krause captured with a hydrophone.

Coral Reef in Fiji

I imagined the Nesoi whistles sounded like Beluga whales.

Whistles of the Beluga Whale

However, Nesoi whistling is a form of sophisticated communication that I based on the Silbo Gomero whistled language in the Canary Islands. It was created to communicate across the deep ravines and narrow valleys that radiate through the island up to three miles. Similarly, it would work on Thalassa in the cave systems and among nearby islands. Of course, Beluga may be communicating too but we just don’t understand it ,yet.

Check out Silbo Gomero:

Further Reading:

  • Au, W. W. L. et al. 2006. Acoustic properties of humpback whale songs. J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 120, 1103–1110.
  • Glotin, P. H. et al. 2018. From biosonar coda to whales’ songs phylogeny Scaled AcoustPartie du Biodiversity Mission Interdisciplinaire du CNRS. Online presentation Accessed 2018.
  • Krause, Bernie, 2016. The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places. Back Bay Books, 304. pp
  • Parsons, E. C. M., Wright, A. J. & Gore, M. A. 2008. The Nature of Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) Song.

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