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The Shared Nature of the Lives We Lead

Bruce Morganti reviews the CD Grooved Whale by Lisa Walker

Grooved Whale by Lisa WalkerWhat Lisa Walker has accomplished with Grooved Whale is nothing short of remarkable: she seems to have unconsciously overcome her inclination to anthropomorphize the behavior of the animals whose sounds she uses as a starting point for her compositions—the end result being a collection of beautiful, moody, strikingly expressive pieces which pay just homage to their source.

There is no inordinate pretense here; artists are often the guiltiest of the guilty when it comes to humanizing other species. Artists are philosophers, philosophers must define things, and to define things, you need terms. For a musician it would be difficult, if not impossible, to define the sounds of the humpback whale without using musical terms. That being said, it might be best to dispense with reading the liner notes on this handsomely packaged compact disk, in which Ms. Walker details her analysis of the whales' sounds (a painstaking effort of years), using such terms as "cadence," "variations on a theme," "riffs," and "a trumpet section out on the loose." The inherent demeaning nature of such language is inadvertent, I am sure. It is clear Ms. Walker has more than an abiding respect for the whales she has spent so many hours studying and collaborating with.

She also goes a step further in her effort to blend the sounds of the two species, human and whale, by broadcasting and recording her own violin work underwater, ostensibly to better merge the two sounds. This unique approach generates a unified, rich texture to the entire work, and may be its most transcendent quality.

Not surprisingly, the most successful track is entitled "Melancholy," a deeply layered, pure-sounding menage of melodic hints combined with subtle, flowing animal and underwater sounds, some of which are electronically manipulated and some which are clearly not. The piece defies analysis more than anything else on the CD; it simply is, and therefore attains a level of abstract, unspecific beauty that tugs at the primal in the listener. It is in this piece, more than any other, that Ms. Walker makes the connection she seeks and translates it into fused, simple grace.

Other tracks come close, notably "Vertigo" and "Winter Song," both of which are understated exercises in balance, and "Transfixed," a delicate, poignant composition with hints of depth in its varied whale sounds that is a full-throated metaphor of the sea itself. This piece is unquestionably the most carefully arranged of the set, and is in many ways the most satisfying.

It is risky attempting to integrate the expressions of species. At its worst, it is shameless conceit; at its best, as in the case of Grooved Whale, it becomes a celebration of holism, of the shared nature of the lives we lead.


Bruce Morganti is a composer and music educator, and the author of several novels. He lives in the southwest with his wife, son, and two dogs.
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Grooved Whale

by Lisa Walker

   67 Minutes
   ISBN 0-945401-13-2




Tenakee Feeding Call
  • Listen in RealAudio
  • Listen in MP3
Hawaii Gruv
  • Listen in MP3
Backwards Unfolding
  • Listen in MP3
Winter Song



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