The Bigger The Better

In a radio interview, acoustic biologist Katy Payne described listening, being silent and open to what is really there, as her responsibility. Payne first achieved notoriety as part of the research team that produced 1970's Songs of the Humpback Whale. For the first time it was suggested that whales, like humans, are composers, just as interested in beauty, complexity, and originality. And fresh tunes spread through the ocean like pop songs. After 32 years, Payne's aural attentiveness touched land. While observing elephants in a zoo, she felt the air throbbing. Compelled to seek out these subsonic frequencies, Payne went to Africa, where she devoted her energy to the second-largest mammal on earth, founding the Elephant Listening Project (among other things, ELP has provided compelling evidence of elephants mourning). In 1992, an entomologist named Caitlin O'Connell took Payne's acoustic discoveries even deeper, when she noticed elephants relying on seismic communication. The soft pads on elephants' feet act like a drum, she discovered, allowing them to feel rumbles from miles away. O'Connell followed the low song, becoming a world-renowned elephant expert. This week, these two giants in giant mammalogy come to the Bay Area. Payne will be teaching a group of musicians the structures and techniques of humpback whale song for the program Returning Current. O'Connell will share and expand on stories from her numerous books in her talk, The Secret Lives of Elephants.

Tue., May 13, 7 p.m., 2014

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