Music Under Ice

Every January for the last several years I've tortured friends and family with an emailed list of my favorite and least-favorite movies of the year. I won't be doing that this season, because I neither liked nor disliked most of the films I did end up seeing, which were few (is there anything worthwhile to say, good or bad, about a conventional music-video fantasy like Slumdog Millionaire? But I digress...)

My favorite film of 2008 might have been Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World, a documentary about life in Antarctica which is alternately beautiful and hilarious. Anyway, if you saw the film, you know that he visits the PALAOA research station, where they use hydrophones submerged far under the glaciers to record sounds of animal life. Their website has a live audio feed which you can listen to as a mp3 stream in real time. From the site:

This transmission is not optimized for easy listening, but for scientific research. It is highly compressed, so sound quality is far from perfect. Additionally, animal voices may be very faint. Amplifier settings are a compromise between picking up distant animals and not overdriving the system by nearby calving icebergs. So you might need to pump up the volume - but beware of sudden extremely loud events.

A constant hiss pervading the signal is partly due to electronic noise as we push the hydrophone amplifiers to their limits, but also the natural ocean background noise made audible here through the use of ultra sensitive hydrophones. Additional broad band noise caused by wind, waves and currents adds to it on occasion. There a three sources of click-like interference: switching relays, electrostatic discharges caused by snow drift, and sferics produced by thunderstorms tens of thousands of kilometers away.

You may not hear much on the first try. I've just had it on for the last couple hours, and all I heard was the aforementioned clicking noises and the occasional loud splash, presumably caused by icebergs succumbing to global warming. There's also the chance that the microphones won't be turned on when you visit the site. In such cases, listen to THIS, a 19-minute recording some guy made directly off the website, when lots of whales were swimming and singing under the ice. It's lovely and magical. Make lots of return visits to the audio feed, and you might get so lucky. Think of it as a whale-watching tour, but with your ears. For free.

Suit up and dive in HERE.

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