Migaloo’s Song Sculpture – Whale Shaped Kinetic Wind Harp

Sound and music follows a harmonic structure like that found in nature. There’s connection to our organic world utilising acoustics & science, to create harmony with our surroundings. Sound as humans perceive it, is an auditory perception of the brain’s response to vibrational patterns observed by our bodies. For me the combination of art, design and psychoacoustics creates a hidden link that resonates between nature and all life. Humpback whales are described as ‘inveterate composers’ of songs that are ‘strikingly similar’ to human musical traditions, a kinship we share with these mammals and a shared language. I am building a kinetic wind harp shaped like a whale with 3 rotating wind-powered turbines rotors that will ‘strum’ the strings and play a pre-composed song entitled “Migaloo’s Song” in 3 part harmony. The sculpture is a tribute to and connection of how I perceive art, music and nature in our world.

I2017-03-31 17.54.59 have applied for the SWELL Sculpture Festival in Sept 2017, but I’m moving ahead with the sculpture regardless. I’m making a 9.7 metre long Kinetic Wind Harp & Acoustic Sequencer shaped like Migaloo the White Whale. Construction has begun and I’m looking forward to being able to play this massive instrument. (guycooper.com.au)

For whales, the mechanisms used to produce sound vary from one family of cetaceans to another. Marine mammals, such as whales, dolphins, and porpoises, are much more dependent on sound for communication and sensation than are land mammals, because other senses are of limited effectiveness in water. Sight is less effective for marine mammals because of the way particulates in the ocean scatter light. Smell is also limited, as molecules diffuse more slowly in water than in air, which makes smelling less effective. However, the speed of sound is roughly four times greater in water than in the atmosphere at sea level. Because sea mammals are so dependent on hearing to communicate and feed, environmentalists and cetologists are concerned that they are being harmed by the increased ambient noise in the world’s oceans caused by ships, sonar and marine seismic surveys.

The sculpture is a blend of the acoustic science and art to re-interpret the Humpback whale song and bring some wonder to the topic. I hope that it would inspire some viewers to further understand the interconnected world we live in and how these giant majestic mammals are similar to humans in song.

It’s the biggest instrument I’ve ever made, powered by the wind and it will play a pre-composed song in Emaj7, that follows the structure of the Humpback Whale songs.
Audio example of what it may sound like down here

I plan on tracking the harp when its finished and then getting some local musios onboard to jam and write a song with him and then drop a single and a whale at the same time.

2017-03-31 17.55.00The sculpture will be made of the following materials.

  • Steel harp strings
  • Steel tuning pegs
  • Copper piano wire
  • Steel frame, webbing and stand
  • Aluminium webbing for fins and tail.
  • Steel bells & Brass chime flues
  • Copper kinetic blade turbine
  • Steel washers & bolts
  • Tungsten welds
  • White & Blue UV Paint
  • Acrylic Feathers (white/blue)
  • Battery Powered Black Lights x4

One special whale we all know well on the Gold Coast, Migaloo the white humpback whale is a regular past Currumbin and I am dedicating this sculpture to him and the melody the sculpture produces is harmonically matched as a response to recordings of Humpback whale songs. A popular sight off Australia’s east coast, Migaloo is the world’s first documented all-white humpback whale. Aboriginal elders gave him the name, which means “white fella” in their language.

The sculpture will be playing a pre-composed melody sequence in 3 part harmony on the strings that surround the shape of the whale. 3 internal kinetic wind turbines will rotate with the wind and the outside edge of one will strum the strings as it passes around inside, generating the pre-composed melody “Migaloo’s Song” in the key of Emaj7 (See attached Score and link to Soundcloud example below). The fins and tail will also have wind chimes tuned to Emaj7, and the whole sculpture will sing in the wind. I have made a demo audio example and put it up here for you to listen. It won’t be loud or audible at around 50-60 meters away, but will be slightly louder than a normal acoustic harp up close.

The sculpture I’m building is an actual instrument to be played by the wind and also by people walking past that want to strum the strings and join in. I will be recording the sculpture in August at my studio by hand and with the wind. Then collaborating with a selection of local Gold Coast musicians to write and record a song around it. The track will be released to coincide with the festival and proceeds going to Sea Shepard (http://www.seashepherdglobal.org/)

The designs around the sculpture, the stand and on the turbine blades themselves will be based on patterns from sacred Geometry and the golden ratio.

The golden ratio is often associated with the Fibonacci sequence (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc.) wherein any number in the sequence divided by its predecessor has an approximate value of 1.618. Moreover, each number in the sequence represents the sum of the two numbers that come before it. The Fibonacci sequence can then be used to graph an infinite logarithmic spiral based on units equated to each number in the sequence. This pattern is found a lot in nature from the arrangement of pedals on a flower to the crystal lattice of material science.

The track titled “Migaloo’s Song” is an original composition from myself and is based on the same structure as the songs from Humpback whales. Our hearing system is much higher in freq, but the whale songs seem to correlates to Emaj7, the key I have written the song in. (see humpback whale harmonic chart in the pics above)

The word “song” is used to describe the pattern of regular and predictable sounds made by some species of whales, notably the humpback whale. This is included with or in comparison with music, and male humpback whales have been described as “inveterate composers” of songs that are “‘strikingly similar’ to human musical traditions”. It has been suggested that humpback songs communicate male fitness to female whales.

The whale songs follow a distinct hierarchical structure. The base units of the whale song (sometimes loosely called the “notes“) are single uninterrupted emissions of sound that last up to a few seconds. These sounds vary in frequency from 15 Hz as a fundamental, but with harmonics reaching up to 9Khz at around 150dB (the typical human range of hearing is 20 Hz to 20 kHz). The units may be frequency modulated (i.e., the pitch of the sound may go up, down, or stay the same during the note) or amplitude modulated (get louder or quieter). However, the adjustment of bandwidth on a spectrogram representation of the song reveals the essentially pulsed nature of the FM sounds.


A collection of four or six units is known as a sub-phrase, lasting perhaps ten seconds. A collection of two sub-phrases is a phrase. A whale will typically repeat the same phrase over and over for two to four minutes. This is known as a theme. A collection of themes is known as a song. The whale will repeat the same song, which last up to 30 or so minutes, repeatedly over the course of hours or even days. This “Russian doll” hierarchy of sounds suggests a syntactic structure that is more human-like in its complexity than other forms of animal communication like bird songs, which have only linear structure.

All the whales in an area sing virtually the same song at any point in time and the song is constantly and slowly evolving over time. For example, over the course of a month a unit that started as an upsweep (increasing in frequency) might slowly flatten to become a constant note. Another unit may get steadily louder. The pace of evolution of a whale’s song also changes—some years the song may change quite rapidly, whereas in other years’ little variation may be recorded.


Research taken from,

Frankel, Adam S. “Sound production”, Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals, 1998, pp. 1126–1137. ISBN 0-12-551340-2.

Payne Roger, quoted in: Author(s): Susan Milius. “Music without Borders”, p. 253. Source: Science News, Vol. 157, No. 16, (15 April 2000), pp. 252-254. Published by: Society for Science & the Public.

Wright, A.J.; Walsh, A (2010). “Mind the gap: why neurological plasticity may explain seasonal interruption in humpback whale song”. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. 90 (8): 1489–1491. doi:10.1017/s0025315410000913

idealized schematic of the song of a humpback whale.
Redrawn from Payne, et al. (1983)





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