Composing with cetaceans: Countering human exceptionalism through a practical zoömusicology | Intellect Skip to content
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Posthuman Voices: Channels across Time and Shared Memories
  • ISSN: 2057-0341
  • E-ISSN: 2057-035X

Abstract

There is something paradoxical about the fact that while whales and dolphins produce some of the most complex vocalizations on Earth, they have little political representation or ‘voice’ and despite the success of past anti-whaling campaigns, continue to face existential threats from entanglement, ship strikes and underwater noise pollution. In this article, I argue that this paradox is sustained by a belief in human exceptionalism – exemplified by the claim that music is unique to humans – and review biological and musicological evidence that contradicts this claim. Overcoming the paradox may require more than logical argument, however, and I survey the use of humpback whale song field recordings in works of human music, analysing them along the dimensions of ‘distance’ and ‘difference’. I argue that although it is important to recognize the continuity between human music and humpback song, a more effective use of whale song recordings also requires attention to be paid to the differences between human and whale vocalizations to avoid the risk of collapsing into naïve anthropomorphism. Such an animalcentric compositional voice would operate according to the ideals of ‘difference without distance’ and ‘proximity without indifference’ to facilitate empathic relationships between humans and other animals.

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2022-08-01
2024-02-25
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