“Whale music meets ambient” might be something you’d expect to see over the CD rack next to the rain sticks at a Nature Company in 1996. But it is, in a simplistic nutshell, what a project born in L.A. called Pod Tune is all about. And this “experimental” whale music is connected with a larger belief that marine sounds can improve your physiology.
The LP is a compilation of various instrumental composers and producers who were given access to whale-song recordings and interpolated them into new compositions. Harold Linde, one of the project’s co-founders — along with Rob Ganger and Jessica Gardner — released the Pod Tune LP last year to solid reviews. Linde, an L.A. native, is a multimedia producer who has worked with such organizations as Rainforest Action Network and Greenpeace, and he wants to reinvent the conversation about environmental issues.
Linde recalls an early experience with his dad’s rigid music tastes, which later helped give him the confidence to follow through with the experimental project. When Linde was in high school, he “introduced my dad, who had never owned a modern music album in his life, to Pink Floyd. He would listen to Henry Mancini and old James Bond soundtracks, Perry Como, that type of thing. And on a ski trip when I was young, I remember playing some Pink Floyd for him, and there was this ambient universality to their music. And that always stuck with me. Pink Floyd was edgy and thought-provoking, and I thought that if my father could listen to that, then it would be possible to take something even more esoteric and other-worldly and somehow work with [it].”
Even though he believed he could open ears, Linde was a little wary of the stigmas attached to new age and environmental music. Funnily enough, he admits, “I don’t like new age music, particularly in some contexts. It’s not that I’m opposed to the conversation, but new age music doesn’t appeal to me. On the other side of the spectrum, very earnest environmental music can also be off-putting and very narrow.” He cites Brian Eno’s ambient projects as a touchstone, because those records “were so beyond a particular time and space. Not just ambient in terms of environment but also ambient in terms of temporality.”
Linde and his co-producers reached out to various heavy-hitters working in ambient and ambient-adjacent spaces, which turned out to be easier than they had anticipated. “I was surprised and very happy how easy it was to make contact with and work with musicians in the ambient world, because they’re not limited by the confines of celebrity status," he says. "Having worked with very well-known entertainers, it’s such a morass. I directed a PSA once with R.E.M., and it took a year to schedule the hour to shoot them. And it wasn’t that they weren’t committed, but it’s just the complexity of their world and how to interface with that.”
When the master recordings came back, the producers were excited. Except for one track where the artist had the brass to take out the whale sounds entirely. “I’m not going to name names, but there was a popular new age musician that we contacted. He agreed to make a song for us. And he ended up not using any whales. He was singing on behalf of the whales. It didn’t follow with the spirit and intention of the process.”
The first thing you'll probably think, listening to Pod Tune, is: Ambient music based on whale songs has no business being this good. But taking a look at the pedigree of the artists involved reveals it’s not a fluke. Environmental musicians, classical composers and avant-garde minimalists round out the classy manifest, including Wilco keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen, percussionist Greg Ellis (Mickey Hart, Juno Reactor), U.K. dubstep-turned-ambient composer Roly Porter and Disintegration Loops mastermind William Basinski.
But it’s not just music for music’s sake, or a pro-environment PR stunt. Instead, Linde argues, this whale music taps into a deeper philosophy outlined by author Wallace J. Nichols in the subtitle of his best-known work: Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, in, on or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected and Better at What You Do.
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Nichols and his supporters claim that they have charts of the human brain that demonstrate actual improvement in activity after exposure to water or sensations relating to water and marine lifeforms. While that might raise a skeptical eyebrow or two, it does seem to make sense. Take a listen to this album a few times and try to argue that it doesn’t put you in a placid state.