Whales and Ships – a composition from sounds captured at the bottom of the ocean

David Stalling: In Whales and Ships, I worked with a set of data recordings from a small cluster of five stations of the SEA-SEIS array made across three weeks in April 2020, during the first lockdown period of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The cluster of stations (Brian, Eve, Gill, Maude, and Tom) is located within and close to the undersea Porcupine Basin, southwest of Ireland, where clastic sedimentary material accumulates and discharges into the deeper ocean. The stations are distributed over a wide depth range (from 1000 to almost 4000 meters), with the underwater landscape changing quite dramatically in this small area.

Sifting through the many hours of relatively quiet seismic recordings I found that changing the acceleration factor of the data revealed very different sound worlds. It was a bit like diving in the ocean with limited visibility at different depths, or excavating layers of historical strata in an archaeological dig.

While I assumed that this month of lockdown should have been among the quietest on Earth in recent times, with very little traffic, it struck me how much anthropogenic din still permeated the waters throughout these recordings. In the midst of the cacophony, several fin whales with their distinctive, rhythmic calls, attempt to communicate with each other.

The work was assembled in a non linear fashion, reflecting the different layers of time in the fabric of the material.