Tuesday, August 28, 2007

haven't written much here this summer. this is, in part, due to my spending four whole months in buffalo, where Exciting Events happen approximately once per century, and in part because of the whales. when I am not listening to whales sing I am admiring the stunningly beautiful spectrograms I made from the recordings of whale song. and when I am not doing that I commenting on how much that dog or that baby or that grinding lawnmower sounded like a whale or thinking about how much I will miss my daily whale-song infusion when I go to england.

here is one of my prettiest spectrograms (it was even prettier before word and paint ground it up). this picture is especially clear. most of the others have quite a bit of background noise fuzzing up the picture, boats and water and extraneous whales. the first sound is a bit like I imagine an overly dramatic bird's death rattle would be. I call it the gutteral sound since not everyone shares my appreciation of morbid things. the next three, relatively high-pitched downsweeps, I call balloon sounds, because they sound like that annoying squeaking noise you get when you fill up the balloon and let the air out through a tiny hole. this pattern is an example of one of the five patterns, or themes, I found present in the recordings from last spring.

my professor says I may have found something publishable! I spent most of july mapping sequences of patterns across recordings for each of the last two years. other researchers have found that in a given year and region, whales tend to cycle through a series of five or six 'themes' in a predictable order. that is what I found. but because whales are animals, not machines, a certain amount of variation within this structure is expected. some say they're playing around, some say they're learning, some say they're inventing new sound patterns. whatever they're doing, the variation should stay within the bounds of the specific structure for that year. however, I found that some whales kept repeating patterns that were structurally distinct from the themes. a fascinating find.

so, today I began what I'll spend the next 3.5 weeks doing - finding the product of duration and peak frequency for each sound in each recording to map the patterns in a more objective and verifiable way. it takes about an hour to do 100 sounds. today I spent almost 4.5 hours and the 400 sounds I covered took me about seven minutes into the first 30-minute recording. and I was totally having the time of my life. I'm so glad I've decided to spend the rest of my life doing this stuff. sitting in an empty lab with only the smell of rats and the sounds of whales to keep me company really caters to my avoidant-like tendencies.

guess this has turned into a rambling essay on auditory psychobiology. my apologies. maybe I'll write my next one in whale. that would make it more interesting, n'est-ce pas?

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