The Whale Listening Project

Fri, 02/14/2020

Due to University policies regarding COVID-19, these events have been postponed to Fall 2021.



“The Ever-Evolving Songs of Humpback Whales”

Dr. Roger Payne and Katy Payne

Johnson Museum of Art, Lecture Hall


The long and haunting songs of humpback whales changed history 50 years ago through the release of a recording: “Songs of the Humpback Whale.”  Hearing the voices of these animals affected audiences, stimulating the "Save the Whales" movement -- spearheaded by Roger Payne -- to regulate and partially close the global whaling industry, and to raise interest in whales among artists and musicians. It also stimulated whale song studies which have continued ever since on breeding grounds in all oceans, as we've learned that whales are improvisational composers, whose communal song rapidly changes in every breeding season and thus is always unique both to time and place. All of this has recently become of great interest to the musical community.

Roger will present the discovery that whales sing and some of the events that revealed the social and political impact on people in several nations.  Katy will present some of the Paynes' findings about the whales' ever-changing songs, recorded by themselves and others over two decades in the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans.




Premiere of Siren - Listening to Another Species on Earth

Experience the meeting of human, artificial, and humpback whale intelligences in a performance by Annie Lewandowski and Kyle McDonald, in consultation with Kevin Ernste, Bill McQuay, and Kent Hubbell. Post-concert talkback with Chris Gabriele and Dr. Adam Frankel from the Hawaii Marine Mammal Consortium, Katy Payne, and Annie Lewandowski.

Sage Chapel





“Whale Song: A Workshop” with Katy Payne and Daniela Gesundheit

Sage Chapel


Katy Payne and Daniela Gesundheit facilitate an environment within which a primary experience of the compositional techniques and structures at play in humpback whale song can emerge. Together, we will employ leaderless collaboration and experimentation to examine and illuminate the vocalizations of one of the world’s largest living mammals, and to see what we might discover about group identity, distance, competition, innovation, and empathy in the process. All singers, all voices, welcome.

“The Whale Listening Project” was made possible through the generous support of the Atkinson Center for Sustainability, the Cornell Council for the Arts, the Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity, Media Art Xploration, and the Department of Music. Thank you to Keeton, Becker, and Bethe Houses for providing accommodation for our guests. All events are free and open to the public.

Whale song spectrogram