"Whale songs include a strange range of sounds, from the bowed bass beats of a giant sub-surface fiddle to the feedback squelches of an electric guitar. But we have trouble perceiving the structure by which the sounds are organized because the notes seem cast out in slow motion, with relatively long silences between each unit of sound. To better appreciate the patterns, we can speed a song up by ten times, allowing us to hear a compressed version that sounds like the song of a bird. To help see the patterns, we can use color to denote matching units. The set of shapes resembles the notation of Gregorian chants written in the tenth century. The fluid musical notes of the chants are called “neumes.” They did not represent exact pitches or rhythms, but tendencies of pattern, the same elements McVay and Payne identified in the songs of the whales."
Full story: Whale Song Explained. Humpbacks synchronize their music across oceans, and there’s sheet music to prove it. Words by David Rothenberg. Images by Mike Deal.