On October 10th 1985, a humpback whale that was in the middle of a Mexico to Alaska migration took an uncharacteristic detour into the brackish depths of San Francisco Bay and promptly lost its way. The 40 ft, 40 ton leviathan then took a leisurely 69 mile easterly journey and eventually got stuck in the fresh water habitat of the Sacramento river – the worst place for an ocean creature – with no place else to go. The fate of the whale became an international obsession while U.S. Coast Guard boats tried to gently coax the whale into changing his direction, to no avail. Scientists played recordings of orcas and banged on metal pipes hoping to influence its path. School kids across America sang songs for the whale, which by now was given the name Humphrey.
But after 3 weeks of unsuccessful rescue attempts, Humphrey was stressed out and running out of time. In a desperate effort that inspired the climax of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, scientists filled the river with the sound of humpback whales, which miraculously lured Humphrey back toward the safety of the Pacific Ocean.
The recordings were provided by motion picture sound designer and musician Bernie Krause, renowned for work on Rosemary’s Baby, Apocalypse Now and hundreds of big name sessions with The Weavers, Stevie Wonder, George Harrison, The Doors and The Monkees to name a few.
Dr. Krause’s singular understanding of the connections between animals and music is on full display in the book, The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places.
Krause takes the reader far and wide for riveting examples of how our comprehension and creation of music has been guided by the complex influences of animals and the natural world. The book also has a soundtrack, designed to be played as you read.
Bernie Krause celebrates his 75th birthday this year and he’s spent most of his life revolutionizing the way we see and hear our world. This book is an endearing affirmation of his game changing influence and astonishing career.
By the way, there’s also a terrific opportunity to spend time with the man himself, via a fascinating video of a recent TED Talks session.
Steven A. Williams is managing producer of The Animal House, which is heard on many public radio stations across America. Steven and Ray are long time buddies and worked together at WQCD New York and KKSF San Francisco.