Beijing band searching for sounds from under the sea
Published: Feb 07, 2024 11:44 PM
A Bryde's whale off Weizhou Island in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, seen on January 20, 2024 Photo: Courtesy of Whale Circus

A Bryde's whale off Weizhou Island in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, seen on January 20, 2024 Photo: Courtesy of Whale Circus

A Beijing based post-rock band has traveled to Weizhou Island in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region to collect the sounds of endangered Bryde's whales so they can incorporate the sound into their music.

The band, Whale Circus, is led by Li Xingyu and has six members. They have been collecting sounds from all over the world for many years, and integrating these sounds into their music. In 2016, the band launched the "Amazon Voice Searching Project" and went to the Amazon rainforest to record the sounds of nature. For their project "Journey to the West" in 2018, they journeyed through Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to collect the sounds of local nature and traditional instruments, and later made a three-episode documentary based on the journey. 

The latest trip is the first stage of a four-part project titled "An Elegy for the Ocean - Sound Journey of Sailing," which aims to explore mysterious sounds from the deep sea in different regions across the world and convert them into various artistic formats.

"We hope to use the collected sounds of the Bryde's whales as a thread to link academic and cultural exchanges among different countries through joint research or artistic collaboration. Hopefully, these efforts will enhance the public's knowledge about marine life including Bryde's whales and raise awareness about protecting their habitat, the sea," Li told the Global Times. 

The collected sounds will be released in forms such as music performances, vlogs, documentaries, and podcasts. The band will also create a new audio-visual performance based on the sailing journey, and they plan to take it on tour in the summer. They also plan to collaborate with art institutions and museums on exhibitions and public education activities, Li said. 

Weizhou Island in the Beibu Gulf, is home to many forms of endangered marine wildlife. The Gulf of Thailand is about 1,000 kilometers away from the Beibu Gulf, and it boasts a well-preserved marine ecosystem and rich food resources and is another essential habitat for the whales.

The Bryde's whale is mainly distributed in tropical and subtropical waters, with a body length of 10 to 12 meters and a weight of up to 15 tons. They were discovered in waters off Weizhou Island in 2016. The island is among the country's few coastal areas where the whales frequently appear. 

Chen Mo, an associate researcher from the Guangxi Academy of Sciences who has been studying the species in the waters near Weizhou Island since 2016, also traveled with the band for the exploration. 

Currently, the waters around Weizhou Island are the only nearshore sea areas in the country where large whales can be stably observed, so the significance of the appearance of Bryde's whales is related not just to Weizhou Island but also the natural resources in the entire region across Guangxi, said Chen. 

In terms of research collaboration on protecting the Bryde's whales, Chinese research institutes, including the Guangxi Academy of Sciences, have teamed up with the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) of Thailand to share information and resources. For instance, in 2019, the Guangxi Academy of Sciences jointly conducted field surveys with their Thai counterparts in sea areas near Weizhou Island and the Gulf of Thailand. Protecting Bryde's whales has become an important field of cooperation between researchers from China and Thailand.

"Music is a very important form of communication, so I hope the Whale Circus can arouse more people's interest in the ocean," Chen added.