Around late December three years ago, Harold Linde was sitting in a darkened kitchen in Wisconsin and lamenting how Christmas music had largely become so cheesy and clichéd.
“I sort of explored the question of, ‘What would special, sacred music really sound like?’” he said. “What if whales were part of it? A humpback whale song stops you. It’s interesting. It’s special.”
But, Linde said, whale sounds by themselves are not easily digestible by the listening public, dismissed as either cacophonous and arrhythmic or merely for educational purposes. Those perceptions convinced the Santa Monica producer to pair whale sounds with complementary ambient music for a project that would invite listeners to think about the world around them.
The resulting album is “Pod Tune,” a collaborative catalogue featuring real whale sounds and original music composed by artists from around the world. The album was recently made available on vinyl at record stores throughout the region, including Record Surplus, Touch Vinyl and Amoeba Records, as well as Whole Foods Market.
Proceeds from the project will support environmental nonprofit groups such as Ocean Alliance and the Blue Mind Fund, Linde said.
For Linde, a longtime environmental activist, the album advances his goal of finding a new avenue for awareness.
Linde, who studied film at UC Irvine before earning a master’s in environmental education from Lesley University in Massachusetts, has spearheaded or worked on outreach campaigns for numerous agencies and advocacy groups, including the United Nations, Greenpeace and Doctors Without Borders.
For his whalesong project, however, he eschewed much of what he had learned from more traditional advocacy efforts.
“I was looking for a new model that didn’t position nature as something separate from ourselves, but something that embodied collaboration and mutual dependence,” he said. “You can play it in an elevator or doctor’s office, but also in an arts show or a coffee shop. Rather than having to pay attention to it all the time, it’s something you can drift in and out of whether you’re at work, doing yoga or driving in your car. It’s this idea that we are living with whales, not that they’re just somewhere out there in the deep ocean.”
Linde and co-producers Jessica Gardiner and Rob Ganger reached out to whale researchers for their project, obtaining humpback whale recordings from David Rothenberg, Kent Noonan, Paul Knapp and the Macaulay Library. They then enlisted musicians from nine countries to create original tracks with the whale sounds, including Wilco’s Mikael Jorgensen and experimental musician William Basinski.
“Our aim is to bring whales into people’s lives in an accessible and positive way,” Gardiner said in a press release. “We seek to strengthen our connection to the whales in the hopes that more people will choose to take better care of our oceans and all of the life that lives there.”
For Linde, a Southern California native who has lived in Santa Monica for the last five years, the coastal city is an ideal setting for his interests in media and environmental activism. He said the opportunities for collaboration and interdisciplinary experimentation are endless, and he hopes “Pod Tune” has similar effects at a personal level.
“The call to action here is to … experience the music and be open to the possibility that humans and other species can work together,” he said. “It’s one person at a time with that awe, wonder and curiosity to really consider the state of things.”