Photograph by Cameron Venti
“I am lured by the sounds of waves and winds and by colours so rich and plentiful they are almost impossible to name. The sea is charged and changeable and reflects sunset flame or auroral neon back to the heavens. Songs of death and loss echo in deep aquamarine and cobalt blue storm waves while crystal-bright, lace-edged surf on a summer’s day usher in joy and jubilation. There is no day to match another; no colours or sounds are the same, and there are no rational feelings to accompany the onslaught of changing light and form.”
Annie Worsley (The Inner Sound)
Many sounds come to mind when one thinks about the sea but the first would be the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. This sound is comforting and stimulating at the same time, it is strong, but has the inherent melancholy of those who know their end is coming soon. Open-ocean waves have their unique sound as well, with the strength and depth of what seems limitless. The rhythmic murmur of the waves has a calming influence over us, decreases our stress levels, helps us to fall sleep, pray or meditate, and enhances our thinking process for problem solving or subconscious activity. Scientists say this is due to the broadband created by water, which means most audible frequencies have equal amounts of energy and block noises, creating “an acoustic oasis”.
Creaks and squeaks of masts and rigging, waves against the hull and the sound of the wind filling the sails are addictive for those who love sailing and cannot conceive their lives away from it. These sounds become familiar for the seafarer, who feels nostalgic in their absence. Enjoying the seascape, reading a book on a boat deck or singing a traditional shanty make us connect immediately with the sea around us. Sea shanties, once a tool to create community and provide rhythm to the work while helping with arduous tasks, are currently an entertainment and almost a mantra to connect with the ocean, due to their constant tune and tempo.
Underwater, the so-called silent world is in fact full of sounds that the inexpert diver cannot identify but are part of the subaquatic daily life. Fishes produce different types of sounds for a variety of reasons: feeding, attracting mates or as signals to predators or competitors, for example. Dolphins and whales use echolocation for navigating and hunting, and whales “sing” to communicate. Scientists have discovered that the humpback’s song is “an ever-changing melody which continuously evolves over the course of each breeding season” and the complexity of these songs is still beyond our understanding. Whale songs are a way to connect with the ocean and its creatures at a profound level. They are a form of communication in the community for creatures that have the capacity of behaving altruistically, can be intuitive and empathic and even have a sense of their abstract selves and their place in the universe (“Deep-Singer, Story-Keeper. Voices from the Ocean” by Jay Armstrong, Elementum, Edition One, 2016.) Many of the records of whale songs are currently used for meditation. They are almost inadvertently used as inspiration for contemporary classical music, such as the piece Flugufrelsarinn versioned by Kronos Quartet. Ethereal and deep, it is a wonderful reminder of our connection with the sea.