A stranded whale has always been an omen, informing us of the vitality of the oceans. Such event is deeply embedded in human society since part of the electricity reaching our cities is generated from whale remains. Our electric grid however, does not allow tracing the direct source of the electricity we use. The electricity generated from burning whale remains gets lost between electricity from all types of other sources. While the function of collecting different sorts of electric energy is understandable, this uniformity causes the abstraction of energy in our everyday experience; making it anonymous and domesticated.

Recognizing energy derived from a whale as a potential source for spiritual experience the idea of making a ‘whale battery’ was conceived. After a stranded whale got rendered into electricity, a battery was charged directly at the power plant. In the sound installation Salvage this whale battery drives a pianola (player piano), slowly discharging with every performance. As the battery is activated, the keys of the pianola automatically start to move. It plays a composition based on scientific recordings of whale communication. These whale sounds are faithfully translated to the tones played by the pianola.

Over the last ten years teams of scientists around the world have studied the communication of humpback whales to measure the impact of the increasing ocean noise caused by commercial shipping and seismic sonar blasts. Results have shown that many whales communicate less, becoming more solitary, while simultaneously their tone frequency drops lower over time.

Sound Installation. Electricity generated from burning whale remains, Tesla lithium-ion batteries, pianola, audio transcript on pianola roll. Duration of a single performance: 7 minutes.

Many thanks goes out to the generous advise and support of: Thomas van Dijk (E-Stone Batteries), Pepijn Kamminga (Naturalis Biodiversity Center Leiden), Nick Pyenson (Smithsonian Institution), Rendac, Peter-Jan Schouten (EV Europe), Kasper Janse en Yvo Verschoor (Pianola Museum Amsterdam), Paul Rosero Contreras, Mondriaan Fund, Creative Industries Fund and Stroom Den Haag.

©2024 Vibeke Mascini. All rights reserved.