Story of the week--THE MUSIC OF THE SPHERE ---more or less once a week I'll post a freebie story here on NORMAN SPINRAD AT LARGE---one time non-exclusive reprint rights only

For decades I tried to write a story from the viewpoints of dolphins or whales and failed. For decades people have tried to speak to dolphins in their own language and failed. This story, first published in Asimov's Magazine, is about why. Dolphins and whales don't have languages because they don't need them. They've got something much better.
        

                   THE MUSIC OF THE SPHERE

                                           by Norman Spinrad

In the 1960s there was a band called Blue Cheer whose claim to be the loudest rock and roll band on the planet went unchallenged.  They would play in intimate club venues standing right in front of the same monster speakers used in stadiums.  They were so loud that many aficionados of their recorded music fled in physically agony from live performances.

Mario Roca wasn’t even born then, and their recorded music he found primitive and tedious, but he was fascinated by the legend and he had heard that there had been more obscure bands who had brought jet engines on stage just for the decibel count.

But why would audiences and the musicians themselves court deafness to experience it, even when the music itself was mediocre at best?  Perhaps especially when the music was mediocre or worse.  What was the appeal of bad music played so loud that it was an excruciation to the ear?  What secret was buried in the wall of noise?

One could, of course, define loud mathematically by decibel count, and one could define it physiologically by what human eardrums or even nervous systems could or could not bear, and the militaries had sonic weapons which took effective advantage of this.

But this was noise, unmodulated chaotic white noise, not music.  The goal was pain, not pleasure.  

Mario Roca was an electronic composer-musician. Who wouldn’t be, when any sound made by any analog instrument that had ever existed and an infinity of others that hadn’t could be either sampled and edited or synthesized from whole electronic cloth, perfectly reproduced in its full subtleties and glories, and layed out on a keyboard, up to and including a Stradivarius violin, an African talking drum, an antique Gibson guitar, or for that matter whole full symphony orchestras of a single composer-musicians own creation.

Was Mario Roca a popular musician, an avante garde musician, or a classical musician? As far as he and his audiences were concerned, the distinctions were meaningless, except, of course, in Roca’s bank account.

By that definition, by what he commanded for performances, by his download sales figures, Mario Roca was a popular musician, not quite a pop star, but far from feeling any economic pain.  He was an avante garde musician if one defined avante guarde as always seeking to push the edge of all possible musical envelopes and some that hovered on the other side of possibility for the moment.

But he was a classical musician in the sense that he believed that music should be beautiful, should be pleasurable, should resonate positively with the human spirit, should not assault it with atonal noise in the name of theory, and that in some way that he did not yet entirely understand, the western musical scale, with its chords and harmonies, be it “longhair,” “rock,” “country,” “reggae,” whatever, as well as time-mellowed Indian, African, and Arabic musical structures, when successfully performed, resonated synergetically with an elusive something in the depths of the human psyche to produce that esthetic and spiritual ecstasy.

As far as he was concerned, any so-called “music” that didn’t was noise.

If he could somehow learn why this was so, he should be awarded the unfortunately non-existent Nobel Prize for Music.  And somehow, he believed, he intuited, that understanding the mysterious appeal of even physiologically inaudibly loud music, if it was at least true musical loudness, meaning harmonic and not a sonic weapon even if it threatened the eardrums, was the key.

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Caroline Koch would not quite admit that she loved cetaceans--whales, dolphins, orcas--though she was generally acknowledged as the human species’ top expert on the clade.  But she was certainly obsessed by them, and in love with their reality, even before she made her conceptual breakthrough.  

For the better part of a century humans had been trying to communicate with these beings who shared the Earth with them and whose brains matched their own in complexity and in some species exceeded them in size, who sang long complex songs that mutated with their tribal affiliations, who stuck their heads up above the water to chatter at them in what seemed a shared frustration.

Trying to teach them intermediary languages based on phonemes humans could hear. Processing their supersonic sounds down into the humanly audible to decode them into languages, to seek out a cetacean-human Rosetta Stone.  Taking LSD with them in isolation tanks to commune on some mystical level beyond language. 

Nada. Rien de tout.  Complete failure.

Until Caroline Koch had her satori.

She was watching a mediocre 3D movie at the time when it hit her.

This was the reality of the cetaceans, or anyway a pale shadow thereof.

No one had ever decoded a cetacean language and no one ever would because there wasn’t any.  There wasn’t any because cetaceans didn’t need any.  They had something much better.

Everyone knew that whales, orcas, dolphins, had “sonar sight” like bats, like human radar, bouncing beamed sonic signals around their watery environment, and “seeing” by what came back from where, moving pictures of their environment similar, and indeed superior to, what humans perceived via reflected light.

The sounds they made weren’t language.

They were a kind of sonic television.  They send out sounds and “saw” by what bounced back.

Better than human sight or hearing, which relied on organs that were passive receivers, this was an active sense.  That projected as well as received.  And that was why no cetacean language had ever been parsed, why they didn’t need one, why, if they actually understood, they must pity humans.  

They could project real-time moving images as well as receive.  If a dolphin detected a shark, it didn’t have to shriek “shark” in some language, it could broadcast the sonic image thereof directly.

And if cetaceans could do that, could they not project the image of a shark when none was present?  And if they could do that, could they not converse with each other directly in 3D imagery, tell stories, create epics?

Were not the whale sounds far more than songs?  

Were they not 3 D moving pictures?

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The more advanced military sonic weapons projected aharmonically mixed frequencies--noise--higher than the human range of hearing to torture their victims with pain. Mario Roca had also heard that there was something called the Panic Frequency, 14 cycles per second, just below the range of human hearing and off-key, which supposedly induced panic in crowds, and may have already been used to do so if you believed the right conspiracy theory.

Mario Roca had no interest in sonic weapons or conspiracy theories, but upon reflection in his studio in the bleary hours before dawn, he had a satori that once realized had been hidden in plain sight all along.

Inaudible sounds could have drastic effects on the human nervous system, psyche, even spirit if you were a musician and credited such a level.  Loud inaudible high frequency noise could bring humans screaming and puking to their knees.  The inaudible off-key low frequency panic note could turn them into fleeing lemmings.

These were not exactly the effect that he was after.

But what if you produced inaudible low-frequency music? Meaning subaudible notes and chords or even interweaving fugal themes that harmonized and were on key?

Easy enough to do with modern musical technology.  Mario Roca quickly recorded a tune in the key of middle C, somehow always the natural default, even the great 20th Century song writer Cole Porter never learned to do anything else, and left transcriptions to other keys to the arrangers.

Mario Roca had no interest at the moment in playing with such key transcriptions, though his software could have done it all in seconds.  He simply used the same software to drop his composition written for middle C five octaves down, well beneath the threshold of audibility to humans.

That much was child’s play.

Playing it back was something else again.  He had the best amps and speakers short of football stadium gear, but even that would not have been adequate to play it back.  Five octaves down from middle C meant ultra low frequency wavefronts, and that meant very long waves indeed.  Which required huge speakers and the power to vibrate their diaphragms. He now seemed to understand what Blue Cheer had been fruitlessly and frustratingly about, even their speaker system would not have been able to play back this silent music.

But this was decades later, Mario Roca was a thoroughly electronic musician, but was still a musician, not a sound engineer, and if Cole Porter could leave the equivalent of such grubby details to human arrangers, surely he could leave the latter day version to their latter day versions, the sound engineers.

So he brought his tune five octaves up again to middle C and transformed it into a four-part fugue for electronically synthesized and tweaked organ, acoustic bass, rock guitar, and sitar, dropped it back down to five octaves below middle C, and decided to call it THE MUSIC OF SILENCE.

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Caroline Koch had enough grant money to hire a small team of computer geeks to transpose cetacean ultrasound images into visual images of a kind, no sweat, they told her, once you knew that images, not language, were what you were looking for and had figured out the correct pixel pattern of the raster.

Caroline Koch’s lab was located on the California coast between Santa Barbara and San Francisco, where she could study dolphins in the wet and wild without having to hold them in captivity except for special purposes, and where, in season, she could do likewise with the migrating Grey Whales, and this not being the whale season, so what had been recorded and decoded was dolphin sonic traffic.

When they played back that first video, it was both a breathtaking marvel, and something of a disappointment, though in retrospect one she should have anticipated.

The disappointment was that the images were in black and white.  They couldn’t even give her false color like weather satellite imagery because “sonic vision” by its very nature could not distinguish light and hue variation. The dolphin eye could, but the “melon,” the sonar receiver, could not.  All sonic vision was inherently color-blind.

The marvel of it, though, more than made up for it. 

The motion pictures, the video, the non-verbal non-language communication packets of the dolphins were not only 3D, they were penetrative, like ultrasound imagery, like X-rays, like CAT scans.  

Dolphins swam and cavorted hither and yon, and while their bodies were in black and white, they were transparent to each other’s sonic vision.  Their skeletons, their internal organs, their last meals, the very feces forming in their digestive tracts, were visibly suspended within their fleshly envelopes like fruit salad embedded in pearl gray jello. And likewise the innards of the schools of fish they hunted and devoured, of passing sea otters, even of swimming humans.

And of a huge Great White shark with a half-digested seal in its gut whose image was passed around and repeated among the members of the pod like a set of reflections in a hall of mirrors, as they watched each other flee and circle the creature in something like a taunting undersea ballet.

Which was beautiful, marvelous, but also mysteriously odd.

Because as far as Caroline Koch knew, and she knew this territory quite well, there were no Great Whites anywhere near these waters.

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The sound engineers were easily enough able to design speakers that could vibrate five octaves down from middle C all right, in fact they had fun with the fantasy, believing that fantasy it would remain, like Frank Lloyd Wright’s fantasy blueprints for a mile high skyscraper.  

The speakers wouldn’t have to be 5000 feet high and wide, a mere 200 feet would do, hah, hah, hah, but the amps that powered them would have to be built around the kind of cryogenically-cooled superconductive electro-magnets used in advanced atom smashers, or they would suck up enough electricity to black out the entire west coast grid.  

You could do it, all right, if you could pay for it, hah, hah, hah!

                                                 #                                       

Having found the key to entrĂ©e into the sonic conversational realm of the dolphins on an imagery level, Caroline Koch set about trying to make “grammatical” sense of it before attempting to join it.

This was more difficult than she had imagined.  It was easy enough to get what the dolphins were perceiving in real-time and retelling each other. Moving images of tasty fish schools, followed by coordinated preying behavior.  Suggestive sexual invitations that were accepted or declined.  Births and deaths.  The comings and goings of the bottoms of boats and the placements of fishing nets to be avoided.  

But at least half of the traffic seemed to have no reference to anything in their otherwise observable real-time realm, and was much more complex, to the point of chaotic incomprehensibility.

Almost.

Watery dolphin dances about the great crystalline roots of icebergs morphing into majestic copulations of mighty Blue Whales, battles with pods of orcas playing the fools such creatures were not, what seemed like speeded-up lifetime biographies of individuals, being born and nursed, feeding and making love, dying, even assignations with female human swimmers, and often enough all of it interrupting threads as if competing for status, or interweaving harmonically like Bach fugues.

Scientifically and intellectually incomprehensible to the human psyche, and yet so attractive somehow that Caroline Koch found herself watching it for hours and hours beyond such thoughts, beyond thought itself, immersed in...immersed in...

Immersed in its beauty.

And finally she emerged from one of these seances with a satori that made what Saul experienced on the road to Tarsus seem like a minor revelation.

It was invented imagery.

No wonder the cetaceans had never developed language!  Human language was a pale shadow of this mode of communication, but this was much more.  It was fiction and visual fantasy, dance to inaudible music, biography and pornography, comedy and tragedy.

It was art. 

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“You’re out of your mind, Marco,” was the unanimous response from the suits and bankers whenever  Marco Roca pitched the project. “A budget that would bankrupt a Third World banana republic to finance a live performance of something that no one can hear and can’t be marketed on any recording medium because not even a stadium system could play it back? Where’s the payback?”

“We could tour it with our own sound system...”

“Tour what? We’d have to tour it for a year at primo ticket prices just to break even, and why would anyone shell out a grand just for a cheap seat for a live performance of something they can’t even hear?”

“For the experience.”

“What experience?”

“We can’t know until we do it, now can we?” was Marco Roca’s standard but heartfelt response that unanimously went over like a fart in a flowershop, “This is really experimental music.”

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Technically speaking, actively entering the dolphin discourse was no big problem.  Once dolphin ultrasound imagery had been decoded into human visible television, the code being already cracked, it was easy enough to reverse the process and code human visible television imagery into dolphin ultrasound imagery.

But just as dolphin ultrasound imagery was color blind, what Caroline Koch could send back was all surface, not penetrative, and, she suspected, therefore something like a chimpanzee talking to humans via touch-screen icons in terms of sophistication from a dolphin viewpoint.

She sent video of dolphin pods, which attracted attention, but what came back was what seemed like deliberately crude imagery of her footage transformed into grossly explicit 3D penetrative cetacean orgies.  Sincere prurient invitation, or the dolphin version of dirty jokes?

When Caroline Koch sent real-time video of herself, she got back her own body stripped naked to the organs diving through the air-ocean interface and swimming towards the stationary pod.

She tried stock footage of  many humans swimming with dolphins, and what was returned was breathtakingly beautiful bi-species ballet, dolphins and humans dancing harmonically to unheard music, morphing into something that would have turned both Busby Berkley and Rudolf Nureyev green with envy, with her own naked avatar cavorting with perfect grace among them.

Eventually, dolphins began to take a shared lead, clearly, or so it seemed to her, trying as hard as she was to establish rapport, some kind of true communication.  

Atrocity images of dolphins entangled in drag nets from the delphine perspective, replete with penetrative visions of their lungs flooding and their suffocating organs deteriorating, to which Caroline Koch could frame no decent response.  Lovely footage of  the wild life flitting about a tropical reef which she answered with hummingbirds and rain forest top canopy footage.  Delphine births and human births. Dolphins swimming with sea otters among the waving fronds of an underwater kelp forest, humans strolling through deep woods with their dogs.  

All this seemed to be some kind of communication or esthetic interchange, which, she suspected, amounted to the same thing for the dolphins, but Caroline Koch had no coherent notion of what she was trying to communicate to them, let alone what they were trying to communicate to her, save perhaps both of them simply trying to say this is our world, show us yours.

Or just perhaps this is our world together.

Caroline Koch, scientist, knew all too well this was unprofessional anthropomorphizing bordering on tree-hugging pathetic fallacy, but still....

Could they understand it?  She didn’t know.  But she was an experimental scientist, was she not, and it was worth a try.  

Best to try it from their world on up.  Kelp forests, coral reefs, teeming with aquatic life, fish, sea otters, seals, dolphins themselves soaring and dancing through them.  The surface of the ocean seen from above, with dolphins breaching, leaping, whirling in the air, splashing back beneath the sea in fountains of foam.

 That much the dolphins experienced themselves directly, and Caroline Koch had already shown them woods and rain forest footage of the human realm, which she now replayed, reinforcing the message, or so she hoped, by quick intercuts of recorded delphine videos of their own realm.

Nothing came back, as if creatures struggling to understand the meaning were eagerly waiting for her to go on.

So she did.  The surface of the sea as the viewpoint majestically rose, revealing the subtle curve of the planet. The same thing, but over a continental land mass.  And then the famous Big Blue Marble image of the Earth as captured by astronauts on the Moon.  Animation of the planet slowly revolving in the black sea of space, dwindling away into one more point of light all but lost in a brilliant starscape.

 And then Caroline Koch stopped and waited.  It seemed like an eternity before a response finally came, and when it did...

Underwater video of a continental shelf dropping off into the deep abyss, with immense shadowy motions on the edge of perception, many, many pods of dolphins, circling, waiting, summoning spirits from the equally vasty deeps, or so it seemed to Caroline Koch.

And they did come when the dolphins called.  Whales, a great river of whales rising majestically from the deeps, a parade, a promenade of whales, such as the oceans had not and could not ever really see.  Grey whales.  Sperm whales. Right whales.  Chachlots and baleens. Species who had never swam together.  The whales of the world.  And among them the Blue Whales, the greatest creatures Planet Earth had ever spawned, the grandfather and grandmother monarchs of the seven seas. Of the world entire as far as the dolphins were clearly telling her.

For one thing was quite clear.

This could not possibly be reportage.  This could only be art.

And as if to drive it home, the transmission began to throb, to oscillate at a very slow and very long rhythm, like a slow-motion tsunami circling the globe, like a majestic sine wave a thousand miles from end to end arising from the deeps.

And then the whales were riding it like surfers far beneath the surface of the sea, indeed not far above the sea bottom itself.  And then it seemed that the whales themselves were transmitting, in unison, in chorus.  Whether this dark and curved landscape was the bottom of the seas as perceived by the whales, or their sonic vision thereof as received and retransmitted  or the artistic interpretation of their songs by the dolphins, was impossible to tell.

The  abyssal landscape itself throbbed in locked harmony with the slow majestic beat of the oscillating transmission carrying it.  Whales, dolphins, schools and shoals of fish, swam along it, above it, far above it, a long subtle sine wave tide of life, rising and falling almost imperceptibly.  And then an image of this flow of the oscillating aquatic biosphere reduced to tiny abstraction as it circled the rocky globe of the Earth that lay beneath the sea.

They knew!  Somehow the whales, and the dolphins through them, knew that the world was a sphere.  That much was stunningly clear.  That much humans also knew.  But it also seemed clear to Caroline Koch that these cetaceans intelligences, these cetacean spirits, were trying to tell her something that humans did not know.  And what it was she could not understand.  And wondered if humans ever could.

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Marco Roca decided that there was nothing for it but to go public.  Maybe there could be a series of foundation grants.  Maybe the military would see some unpleasant use for the system needed to play THE MUSIC OF SILENCE.  Maybe some studio would see a movie in it.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.  

So he made the rounds of the talk show circuit. He already had some access as a fairly well-known composer and musician and he could play THE MUSIC OF SILENCE transposed up into middle C.  And once the story behind it made the supermarket press beside Hollywood scandals and two-headed pigs, he had ready access to one or two levels below the top.

About ten minutes or so before the next guest got to spiel.

And this time the next guest was the famous marine biologist Caroline Koch.  He had heard of Koch and her breakthrough with the dolphins, who hadn’t, if vaguely, it was a cause celebre, if truth be told, a couple of levels above his own.  He watched the footage she had brought with her diffidently, in fact not without a certain picquish envy.

Until she ran the whale song sequence and he found himself tapping of his forefinger in time to the oscillation of the video images as he beheld the slow sine wave of the parade of aquatic life. 

It was a rapid rhythm of about eight beats per second but the movement of the whales was a slow sinuosity--

His mouth actually gaped open.

“And what is this that the whales are saying to us according to you, Dr. Koch?” the interviewer demanded somewhat snidely.

“To tell you the truth,” Koch replied in squirming discomfort, “I really have no idea.”

But Marco Roca did.  He knew. 

Eight beats per second.  Or rather, he knew, without measuring it against a metronome, 8.15.

The whales weren’t moving to the rhythm.

Not 8.15 beats a second, 8.15 Hertz per second.

It was a musical note.

It was a pitch-perfect C.

Five octaves down from middle C.

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Caroline Koch had known of Marco Roca, in fact rather liked his music, but psychically preparing herself to go on after him she hadn’t paid much attention to his MUSIC OF SILENCE presentation though she had vaguely heard of it, and she was bemused and somewhat flattered when he insisted on buying her a drink after the show.

When she found out why she was poleaxed.

“It’s music,” he told her. “The rhythm of the image oscillations is 8.15 beats per second,  which makes no sense if you take it as a bass-line, but 8.15 vibrations per second is a C-note, five octaves down from middle-C.”

“Like THE MUSIC OF SILENCE....”

“Exactly.  There’s something about the key of C that’s harmonic to the ...well, soul, if you will.  I don’t know what, but I know it’s true, and so do you, and so does everyone on a deep level, and so, it would seem, your whales included.”

“They’re not my whales, they’re the dolphins’ whales, and it’s not whale song, it’s the dolphin version.”

It was Marco Roca’s turn to give her a blank quizzical stare.

“I checked it against the whale song sound print parameters. Not whale pattern, dolphin pattern.  Not whale song, dolphin art.”

“I don’t understand...”

“I’m not sure I do.  But I think the dolphins are saying something about the whales, and it seems, well, worshipful, to a human at least, but of course that’s hopelessly anthropomorphic. Or something about the whale...soul...or how they regard themselves....or....”

Caroline Koch shrugged her shoulders in frustration.

“So why don’t we sing directly to the whales and let them sing their song to us themselves!” said Marco Roca.

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Marco Roca considered himself a “serious” musician, but he wouldn’t have thrived as such so well for so long without also being a showman, nor was he very shy or self-contemptuous about it, as witness his current and thusfar futile talk show campaign to secure financing for a performance of THE MUSIC OF SILENCE.

And now this woman, and her dolphins and whales, had dropped it into his lap.  

“There’s some kind of whale migration along the coast of California, isn’t there? he said. “And humans have a thing about whales....”

A blank uncomprehending stare.

“There’s my audience!” he proclaimed.

“The Grey Whales? You can’t get the financing to play THE MUSIC OF SILENCE to a paying human audience but you expect to get it to play a concert to whales?”

“They’re bankable!” Marco Roca exclaimed.  

Caroline Koch gave him a look that would’ve told anyone that she thought he was crazy.

Like a fox.

“We set up grandstands in good position on the California coast, with conventional stadium speakers and video screens, with your gear to do the receiving, and the necessary underwater speakers to transmit THE MUSIC OF SILENCE for the whales. The humans hear what I’m playing in middle C and see the whale transmissions through your equipment on the screens, and I play it for the whales five octaves down.  Admission to the live performance at top dollar!  World-wide live broadcast rights!  Recording rights! Ring-tones! Depending on what happens, I’ll jam beyond the fixed composition with the whales and get enough for DVDS!”

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“The cliffs above Malibu would be ideal,” Marco Roca told Caroline Koch.  “Or San Francisco Bay?”

“You don’t get it,” she told him.  

“Don’t get what?”

“The Grey Whales don’t travel in great parades, that’s delphine artistic license, they’re separated from each other by miles, whale-watchers consider themselves lucky if they see half a dozen in a day.”

Marco Roca gave her a look so unlike any she had ever seen on a human face that she didn’t know what to call it, a true magician’s divine madness, perhaps, or hubric madness pure and simple.

“Then I’ll just have to call them together.”

“You expect to...to just call the whales to you?”

“Yes I do,” said Marco Roca. “THE MUSIC OF SILENCE will call their spirit from the vasty deep.  And yes, they will come when I call.”

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The temporary seats atop the Malibu cliff were filled, the standing room on the beach was  sold out, pre-sold world-wide television rights, along with DVD and download rights, and various tie-ins already had the concert maybe $50 million away from breaking even. The huge underwater speakers were in place, the landside audio system had completed its sound check, the landside video screens were showing the station-break commercials, Koch’s equipment had long since completed its trials, she sat beside him behind it on the pontoon raft offshore, and Marco Roca flexed his fingers over the keyboard of his own rig, ready to begin what would be either the crowning glory of his career or a titanic career-ending financial flop.

All the ducks were lined up, whatever that was supposed to mean, except the whales.

The Grey Whale migration was well under way out there, and the leviathans had been spotted swimming southward in their usual widely dispersed pattern.  Marco Roca had grandly assured Koch and all the investors that they would come when he called with the Shakespearean line, which seemed to have assured everyone but himself. 

“Showtime,” he muttered to himself, and hit the keys with a mighty deep subsonic C major chord.

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While Marco Roca was lining up his lion’s share of the financing, Caroline Koch had been doing her bit, securing her modest share with assorted grants from universities and scientific foundations in return for “front row seats,” which had turned out to be virtual when Roca refused to let anyone but the two of them out here on the raft, and the right to put their real-time questions to the whales, always assuming that she and Roca would be able to put them.

Assuming that the whales would cooperate at all.  Cetacean biologists and people who called themselves “cetacean sociologists” wanted to know how whales could possibly know that the Earth was a sphere.  Biophysicists wanted to know why the whales broadcast an 8.15 carrier wave, a.k.a note precisely five octaves down from middle C.  Specialists in cetacean migrations wanted to confirm their theory that it was somehow orienting them, a whale equivalent of a Global Positioning Satellite, active or somehow passive being a shrill bone of contention.  Less academically credible pseudo-scientists would also be allowed to put their twenty million cents in if they layed their money down.

And now it was all out of her hands.

It was up to Marco Roca, his music, and the whales.

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Marco Roca and Caroline Koch had monitors showing what appeared on the landside stadium screens behind them and earphones that could be tuned to what the live and television audiences were hearing, and Marco Roca was hardly surprised that the audience was not exactly enraptured by an empty ocean and a steady C chord, and could well imagine that demanding rhythmic clapping and footstomping might be going on way back there over his shoulder.

But there was no point in beginning THE MUSIC OF SILENCE without the whales.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, a C-note in the same deep subsonic answered back.  Marco Roca dropped the C out of his chord.  A few moments later, without his touching the keys, it was back.

The as yet unseen whales were filling it in.  They were playing in harmony with him!  It was beginning to work!  And one, and two, and three, and then in dozens, whales were turning shoreward toward him, breaking their millennial migration pattern, as cheers broke out from the audience on the cliffs.

Marco dropped the E from his C major chord.  Nothing.  The G.  Again the whales failed to fill in.

Whales, it seemed, were Johnny One-Notes, and that note was middle C.

They were forming up into a thickening parade past his position now, like an audience filing into a concert hall, which it seemed, they were actually becoming, as the they stopped, formed up into ranks facing inward in parabolic circles.

Time to give them what they had come to hear. Or at least what he had come to play.

Marco Roca played the opening bar of THE MUSIC OF SILENCE...

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Caroline Koch marveled in disbelieving wonder, listening in rapture at the middle-C transposition of what Marco Roca was playing five octaves down to the whales.  This she had heard many times before, and while it was pleasant enough to her human ears, it had seemed classically conventional with a few twists, no work of transcendent musical genius. But now, with what seemed like hundreds of Grey Whales floating motionless in apparently equal or even deeper rapture, it was utter magic even a scientist who had dedicated her life to the study of the cetaceans, who was surely already up for a Nobel for what she had accomplished.

What she had done joyously paled beside what Marco Roca was achieving now.  And indeed a snatch of song from somewhere played back from deep memory in her soul said it all for her.

All my life, I have always waited for this moment to arrive.

                                            #

Marco Roca played THE MUSIC OF SILENCE through to the end.  And waited for the whales to reply.  And after a few endless moments of true silence above the sea and below it in all octaves, they did.  

A subsonic C far louder than anything the human underwater speakers could produce, a cetacean orchestra and full chorus in parabolic formation forming a far more immense virtual speaker and singing that singular inaudible note so powerfully that the surface of the sea between it and the shore rippled with wavelets moving at 8.15 Hertz.

In human musical terms, it was nothing but a single huge note five octaves down from middle C.  Transposed upward into human audible range it was only a pleasant enough mantric drone.

But through he machineries of Caroline Koch it was revealed as a kind of carrier wave for the true song of the whales as the whales and dolphins perceived it themselves, and that was epic grandeur.

The waters of an empty sea a few feet down, and then a descent down, down, down, into the deeps, into the abyssal deeps, to the very floor of the ocean pulsing like a human heart.

No, not like the rhythm of a human heart, but the rise and fall of the long sinuous sine wave produced by an Ur-C note uncountable fathoms and five octaves down at the bottom of the sea.

 And then there were whales surfing this deep carrier wave in majestic slow motion, gently up and down, the wave made visible only by the movement of the cetacean riders. And then there were impossible shoals and schools of whales in all their tribal diversity--Grey Whales, Right Whales, Sperm whales, baleins and cachelots--riding the C note wave together, the perspective pulling back, back, back, so that they became tiny figures like blood cells circulating round and about a webwork of veins and arteries.  Back, further back still, and the whales themselves dwindled away into invisibility as the webwork of the deep C revealed itself as mapping a slowly rotating globe.

As the sonic circulatory system of the planet itself, as the guide-paths of cetacean migrations, as the ultimate bass line of their songs, not THE MUSIC OF SILENCE but THE MUSIC OF THE SPHERE, of the planet Earth itself.

The primal C.

How could the planet itself produce it?

Marco didn’t know very much geology, but he knew enough. He knew that the continents and seabeds were solid rock floating on a molten sea, and far beneath that was a globe of iron, and all of it in seething and bubbling motion, grinding, rubbing, clanging and banging against each other at wildly varying beats, producing waves and clashing wave-fronts, sonic, electromagnetic, perhaps even gravitational.

How could this chaos produce a perfect harmonic C?

The scientists would probably argue about it until they were blue in the face, but Marco Roca understood in a flash, for the answer to this ultimate question was the same as the culmination of his ultimate musical vision quest.  

It took a musician to understand that the question itself was inside out and upside down.

The true question was not how could such apparent discord produce a perfect harmonic C and the musical answer was that it didn’t.  

The note that it produced was perceived by humans as the note that most harmonized with their spirit, was the core around which their many musical scales were usually based, was the musical highway of the migrations of the whales and the dolphins of the sea and for all Marco Roca knew of the birds of the air, the vibration that soothed and guided the soul of the biosphere itself, because it was the song of the planet.

If there was a biosphere on Mars, it might resonate to E or B flat.  Jupiter might be G or F, Venus D sharp, Saturn A.

The whale song stopped. What else, after all, was there to say?

The whales remained silent and motionless waiting for a reply.

What could that possible be, save we understand? 

Marco Roca prided himself as a musician on the edge of greatness and now he had learned something that would have graced his brow with the laurel of a Nobel Prize for Music if such a thing existed, and who knows, it might just be created to justly honor him.

But there was a limit to his hubris.  He knew that he was not capable of improvising a musical reply worthy of this occasion.  So he played a piece by a composer who he could easily enough acknowledge as his master.

And the whales dissolved their unnatural gathering and swam back off to their millennial and primal dance about the planet to Beethoven’s ODE TO JOY.

Transposed to the Music of the Sphere, five octaves down in the deep key of  C.

                                End  

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