Oceana - The underwater world of Orca and Ross

Jan 13, 11:22 AM

"The Polar Sounds project is a great opportunity to both literally share and develop an augmented reality of the wonderful sounds of the Antarctic.  It inspired me to create my imaginary sub-seascape: Oceana - The Underwater World of Orca and Ross. I enjoy bringing attention to the importance, fragility and beauty of the natural world through creations of magical soundscapes and enhancing sounds of the real world.   I am fascinated by how the reduction of anthropogenic noise pollution, a positive side effect of the global Covid lockdowns, made it possible once more for sea creatures to communicate and thrive.

"The two minute field recording I chose was a mixture of Killer Whale and Ross Seal sounds - (whistles, pulsed calls and echolocation clicks) recorded with hydrophones in the Antarctic.  I hoped this mixture of pitched and percussive sounds would allow me to take the listener on a journey through a believable, imaginary seascape.  I knew immediately that if it was possible, I would create the piece from just this one sample and include the field recording in its original form, creating an otherworldly augmented polyphony, juxtaposing fact and fiction.  It was important to me that the sounds all had an organic connection to one another and unity by sharing the same source. 

"To begin with I time stretched the 2 minute field recording to 32 minutes, slowing the speed and lowering the pitch of the sample.  Reversing the original sample didn’t produce the desired effect, so was not used.  In developing the piece I explored many transformations and effects, searching for sounds that would belong in my imaginary world, rejecting those that for instance were too electronic, rhythmical or pitch based.  

"After hours of experimenting I had 61 different sounds grouped according to their character, labeling them,  Low pitched, deep, massive, atmospheric, wild, washing machines, wash high, wash steady, monster crunches, random rhythm bells, raindrops/bubbles, distant, rhythmic clacks/high birds, swoops/crazy, pitched high, pitched low twang, sliding pitch, drop.  Five different reverbs were used to create atmosphere and a sense of depth and distance.  Now I had my inspiring sound palette, I started to paint my imaginary seascape.

"I wanted to begin the piece with the original field recording with just a bit of reverb and a panning effect, to give it depth and movement to identify the original sample and develop the piece from that point.  However it soon became clear that an immersive, mysterious world made for a more gripping introduction, from which the Killer Whale and Ross Seal sounds in the original field recording would emerge.  The original sample fades into the seascape at 1:15, crescendos to 1:27 and then fades out by 2:04.  It also can be heard at 2:35 as part of the texture until around 3:05.

"Oceana begins in the dark depths of the sea with pulsing sonar like sounds, building to rushing water and distant long haunting calls.  Accompanied by continuous low bubbling sounds, the original field recording of the Killer Whales and Ross seals whistles, pulsed calls and echolocation clicks, is then heard. (1:15)  Harmonious calling sounds lead us into a distant almost birdlike section.  Strange noises of wailing and deep granular sounds move through the ocean.  A storm builds and the turmoil leads to a dramatic climax - the Ross seal in their sights, the Orca pod co-ordinate their attack.  Sinking to the seabed, we are immersed in powerful rushing eerie sounds that dominate our senses, until finally rising up through the layers of the ocean to gently float, far into the wild blue yonder."

Killer whale and Ross seals reimagined by Amanda Stuart.

Part of the Polar Sounds project, a collaboration between Cities and Memory, the Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity (HIFMB) and the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). Explore the project in full at http://citiesandmemory.com/polar-sounds

IMAGE: Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons