The Whale Listening Project Sept. 23-26

Fri, 02/14/2020

The Whale Listening Project will take place in-person at Cornell University from September 23-26, 2021. Both the Keynote and Panel will offer virtual access for remote participants. The Workshop will be limited to 35 participants on a first-come first-served basis.


Thursday, September 23, 2021

7-8pm, followed by 8-8:30pm Q&A

“The Ever-Evolving Songs of Humpback Whales”

Dr. Roger Payne and Katy Payne

Introduced by Dr. Charles Walcott

Johnson Museum of Art, Lecture Hall (register here for the virtual option)

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.


Thursday, September 23 - Sunday, September 26, 2021

Siren Listening to Another Species on Earth

Produced by Media Art Xploration

Johnson Museum of Art, Gallery 8 (in person only)

In Siren – Listening to Another Species on Earth, composer and performer Annie Lewandowski, artist and coder Kyle McDonald, and set designer Amy Rubin explore humpback whale song in a meeting of intelligences – humpback whale, human, and artificial. Their visually and sonically immersive piece reveals the wounded flourishing of the humpback whale, a species who continues to sing even as the menace of entanglement threatens its very existence. Siren celebrates the beauty and conservation legacy of the multi-platinum record Songs of the Humpback Whale on its 50th anniversary, while providing a window into the creative minds of our ancient mammalian relative in a contemporary experience of its ever-evolving song.


Friday, September 24, 2021


“Hawaiian Humpback Whales: Scientific and Creative Perspectives”

with Chris Gabriele, Dr. Adam Frankel, Annie Lewandowski, Kyle McDonald

Johnson Museum of Art, Lecture Hall (register for the virtual option here)

Hawaii Marine Mammal Consortium (HMMC) biologists Chris Gabriele and Dr. Adam Frankel and Siren collaborators Annie Lewandowski and Kyle McDonald present on diverse aspects of Hawaiian humpback whales. HMMC will discuss their current conservation, research, and education efforts in Hawaii; Lewandowski and McDonald will discuss the inspiration behind their installation Siren.  


Saturday, September 25, 2021


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

Lincoln Hall B20 (in person only, space is limited)

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, participants 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, the Johnson Museum of Art, 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