The Whale Listening Project will take place in person at Cornell University from Thursday, September 23 through Sunday, September 26, 2021, organized by the Department of Music. As part of this initiative, the Johnson Museum will host the immersive, multimedia art installation Siren—Listening to Another Species on Earth and two associated programs, all open to the public.

The long and haunting songs of humpback whales changed history fifty 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 Dr. Roger Payne, PhD ’61—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.

At the Johnson, Siren—Listening to Another Species on Earth will be on view on the first floor from September 23 to 26. Produced collaboratively by sound artist Annie Lewandowski, artist and coder Kyle McDonald, and scenic designer Amy Rubin, the installation explores humpback whale song in a meeting of intelligences—humpback whale, human, and artificial. Siren celebrates the beauty and conservation legacy of the multiplatinum record Songs of the Humpback Whale for its fiftieth anniversary, while providing a window into the creative minds of our ancient mammalian relative in a contemporary experience of its ever-evolving song.

Siren was produced by Media Art Xploration, with generous support from the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability. The artists thank Katy Payne, the Hawaii Marine Mammal Consortium, Todd Cowen, Kevin Ernste, Bill McQuay, Kent Hubbell, Josh Biggs, Media Art Xploration, the Center for Coastal Studies, the Johnson Museum of Art, the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability, and the Department of Music at Cornell University.

"Siren—Listening to Another Species on Earth" installed at Chilmark, Martha’s Vineyard, 2021

At Thursday’s keynote lecture, “The Ever-Evolving Songs of Humpback Whales,” pioneering bioacoustics researchers Dr. Roger Payne, PhD ’61, and Katy Payne ’59 will present on their discoveries, followed by a question-and-answer session. The Museum will be open until 10:00 PM on Thursday, September 23 so that attendees will have the opportunity to spend time in the Siren installation on the first floor. Travel support for this talk was made possible through generous funding from the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability.

At Friday’s panel, “Hawaiian Humpback Whales: Scientific and Creative Perspectives,” Siren collaborators Annie Lewandowski and Kyle McDonald and Hawaii Marine Mammal Consortium biologists Chris Gabriele and Dr. Adam Frankel will present on diverse aspects of their work with Hawaiian humpback whales.

Free registration to view both talks virtually is made possible through eCornell.

The Whale Listening Project will take place in person at Cornell University from Thursday, September 23 through Sunday, September 26, 2021. It is organized by the Department of Music and made possible through the generous support of the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability, the Cornell Council for the Arts, the Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity, Media Art Xploration, and the Johnson Museum of Art. Thank you to Keeton, Becker, and Bethe Houses for providing accommodations.

All events are free and open to the public. Masks are required inside the Museum.