A History of Whale Music in One Hour

World Premiere Hudson Valley MOCA
Peekskill, NY October 13 th 2018

Composer: David Rothenberg
Cello: Michael Gilbert Ronstadt
Guitar: Eric Despard
Visuals: Shawn Lawson


1. Culture of Killers 10 minutes
Killer whales are the first animal species in which culture has been observed and proven. That is, groups of orcas learn whole different behaviors, whole different sounds, even if they live in the same exact place.

2. A Thousand Mile Song 6 minutes
The sounds of the biggest whales, blue and fin, are so deep and sung so far underwater that at times they might carry for up to a thousand miles, in less than an hour.

3. One Day We’ll Know Why Whales Sing 10 minutes
The song of the humpback whale, longest song in the animal world, up to twenty-four hours in length, is a structured, musical series of exact melodies. We have no idea why these whales need to do it.

4. Belugas Speaking Across Time 9 minutes
Beluga whales, lithe and white, talk to each other with creaks and whistles, easier for us to hear than the higher pitches of dolphins. These sounds may be closer to language than to music.

5. The Great Sperm Whale… 9 minutes
Sperm whales, like Moby Dick, make rhythmic clicks, both to echolocate and to identify their respective clans. There recordings come from Physty, one sperm whale that washed ashore on Long Island, and was nursed back to help and set free in 1981. He is the only sperm whale ever successfully kept in captivity.

6. My Pilot, Whale 5 minutes
The pilot whale, a large, dark, dolphin-like creature is also known for his complex clicks and whistles. They often swim along with boats, and are not afraid of humans.

7. Nightingales of the Sea 10 minutes
Speed up a humpback and it turns into a nightingale… what could such an accident of convergent evolution actually mean? In sexual selection, extremes make good examples. They show the possibility for total beauty is always out there at the end of millions of years of striving evolution, showing that music has always underlied the heart of all things.

  • Year 2018
  • Media: Live Coding
  • Length: 1h