Sounds help humans and animals find their way in their environment, find partners or track down prey. But they also give researchers important clues about the state of a system and the organisms that reside within it. Especially in the polar regions, acoustics therefore play an important role, both for the animals and the scientific teams. But there can be done something completely different with these sounds, as a project of the Alfred Wegener Institute AWI and the Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity HIFMB shows: Music.
The polar soundscape of wind and water movement, of icebergs and floes crashing on the surface, continues underwater. Clicking and whistling sounds orcas, beluga or narwhals, the barely audible but palpable low-frequency sounds of blue and bowhead whales and the melodic singing of humpback whales are accompanied by the alien-like sounds of bearded, Weddell, ringed or Ross seals. And in addition, music from a variety of styles, this is the album Polar Sounds, newly released yesterday Monday. The album can be downloaded as part of the large-scale music project “Cities and Memories”, which sees the setting to music of the earth as its goal, on the platform of bandcamp.com for a voluntary contribution to expenses.
The project was coordinated by Dr. Geraint Rhys Whittaker of HIFMB and assembled in collaboration with AWI. Acoustic data from the Arctic and Antarctic, which had been collected in the course of various research projects over the years, were used. “The soundscapes we record in the polar oceans are breathtaking in terms of the new scientific insights they have provided since we started our passive acoustic monitoring,” says Dr. Ilse van Opzeeland, AW’s marine acoustics group leader. And Dr. Rhys Whittaker adds: “We asked ourselves what we can do with this data other than analyse it scientifically. How can we share these rarely heard sounds with the rest of the world and use art to give them alternative meaning?” explains Dr. Rhys Whittaker. “These questions gave us the impetus to create the Polar Sounds project.”
Around 300 artists from all over the world responded to the call for the project and from these 105 were chosen in the end to select from a mixture of biological, geological and man-made sounds and combine them with their personal musical styles. This resulted in a collection of 105 pieces of music, which can now be heard on the released music album. “What I particularly enjoyed about working on this project is the uniqueness of these sounds and how they can create an intuitive connection between us as humans and the ocean,” says Dr. Rhys Whittaker of the result. With the album, the researchers want to draw the attention of the general public to the diversity of life in the polar regions and also to their own work. “A ‘translation’ through art breathes new life into our scientific data that goes beyond a traditional publication or policy paper by making it accessible to non-scientists,” Dr. van Opzeeland says.
The Polar Sounds project is not over with the release of the album, however, as Dr. Rhys Whittaker explains. “The next step of the project will be to present these sounds in a traveling exhibition.” And that should already happen this year. Time is of the essence as the oceans, not only in the Arctic and Antarctic, are in danger of being silenced by noise, climate change and increasing pollution. “The United Nations has declared 2021 to 2030 as the Decade of the Oceans and it is vital that we make important research about our oceans accessible to the wider public,” said Dr. Rhys Whittaker. And Dr. van Opzeeland adds: “We must make the greatest efforts to protect, conserve and restore our planet’s endangered habitats. The interaction of art and science can help by creating awareness and brings attention to this.”
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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