REVIEWS: North Atlantic Humpback Whales

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1994:

N o rth Atlantic Humpback Whales, recorded by Paul
Knapp Jr. Compass Recordings (POB 8173, Bridgeport, CT
06605), 1992. $10.00.
As the do-wop chorus behind Paul Winter, Mannfred Mann,
Country Joe and others, whales have a CV comparable to that of the little-
known Diana Love, who sang on even more hit albums than the Beatles
before getting a star billing in her 29th year of rock-and-roll. Paul Knapp
Jr., an active member of Cetacean Society International, rectifies the
musical injustice to whales with his tape North Atlantic Humpback Whales.
The whales sing uninterrupted and unspliced on side A, picking up a back-
ground chorus of popping and crackling pistol shrimp on side B.

Some listeners may be surprised that the whales’ style more
resembles country-western than jazz, folk, or rebel rock. But humpbacks
aren’t longhairs. Playing their equivalent of a singles bar on a Saturday
night, they mingle barnyard sounds with a refrain reminiscent of bed-
springs, making their intentions clear. Philosophizing about what it all
means can wait until Sunday morning––or maybe they already know.
That’s my interpretation. Our almost-four-year-old son Wolf may
have another, listening to North Atlantic Humpback Whales in studious
silence for hours with his head slightly cocked, as if he hears a message
that has eluded all the PhDs who have spent the past 20 years trying unsuc-
cesfully to crack the linguistic code of whales––if indeed there is one.
Whatever Wolf picks up, though, he does not translate into English.
“They’re just whales,” he tells me. “They’re just whales singing. Play it
again.” So we do, he listens, and I wonder.
––Merritt Clifton
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