Heike Vester | Marine Mammals and Fish of Lofoten and Vesterålen

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Marine Mammals and Fish of Lofoten and Vesterålen

by Heike Vester

This collection was recorded by marine biologist Heike Vester, founder of Ocean Sounds, to encourage appreciation of marine mammals. Vester recorded in Norway and presents the sounds of Killer Whales, Pilot Whales and other species.
Genre: New Age: Environmental
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Carousel Feeding Killer Whales
7:10 $1.99
2. Calling Pilot Whales
8:35 $1.99
3. Atlantic White-Striped Dolphin Group
6:50 $1.99
4. Post-Feeding Calls of Killer Whales
0:34 $1.99
5. Echolocating Male Sperm Whale
3:27 $1.99
6. Harbour Seal Pup Calling for Its Mother
1:22 $1.99
7. Basking Shark and Mackerels Feeding on Plankton
1:11 $1.99
8. Acrobatic Atlantic White-Striped Dolphins
3:48 $1.99
9. Pilot Whales Resting in Vestfjord
9:39 $1.99
10. Seine Feeding Killer Whales
6:19 $1.99
11. Carousel Feeding Killer Whales #2
5:45 $1.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Lofoten is a remote group of islands located at Norway’s northern coast and besides of a lot of fish, they also seem to attract musicians and scientists to register impressions of nature. Remember Stapleton & Potter spending some time at the islands resulting in multiple hours of an enigmatic mixture of field recordings, manipulated sounds and other sonic debris, creating mental pictures of this tiny spot on the globe. Gruenrekorder’s take is somewhat different. Whereas their sound art releases deal with field recordings, often from the more desolate & exotic locations around the globe, processed in the studio before being released this is one in the field recording catalogue, documenting sounds in nature often not heard by humans or at least without any special interest, sometimes they can be sounds brought into existence by human (Swiss mountain transport systems) or just nature itself (water beetles of Pollardstown Fen).

With the ocean sounds captured here the listener will be allowed to hear intriguing aural phenomena, all stolen when mother nature wasn’t watching. Alien-like communication between killer whales, a seal pup calling for its mother, dolphins in ecstasy and a lot of echolocation clicks make up for most of the 11 tracks. The effect of these kind of snapshots of nature can be very rewarding once perceptive listening is left behind, allowing for the sounds to fill up the space.

Responsible for the recordings is Heike Vester, a German biologist specialising in bio-acoustics of marine animals, dedicated to preserving life in the here and now. In case that for some species she doesn’t succeed, this probably is still a successful attempt to leave some kind of aural legacy to whoever might be interested in some future still far away from us.

Cheryl Tipp | Wildlife Sounds Curator at the British Library

‘Marine Mammals and Fish of Lofoten and Vesterålen’ is a collection that fits perfectly within the Gruenrekorder field recording series. The driving force behind this publication was Heike Vester, a marine biologist who in 2005 founded the organisation Ocean Sounds with the aim of encouraging a greater understanding and appreciation of marine animals. From 2005-2008, Vester recorded the sounds of species encountered by her team in Norwegian waters and presents a selection of these recordings here.

Species such as Killer Whales, Pilot Whales, Harbour Seals and Atlantic White-striped Dolphins form the core of this publication, but the listener also gets to eavesdrop on an echolocating male Sperm Whale and the sounds of a Basking Shark and mackerel feeding on plankton. There are certainly some star recordings in this selection, most notably the carousel feeding Killer Whales (track 1) and Pilot Whales resting in Vestfjord (Track 9). The variation and clarity of track 1 is quite astounding and makes for a beautiful recording. The accompanying booklet explains the method of carousel feeding:

“The whales herd the herring tightly together and chase it close to the surface, where they hit it with their tails to kill or stun it.”

This recording features a range of buzzes, clicks, whistles and calls as well as the occasional tail slap and, placed alongside the description, is highly evocative.

The booklet definitely deserves a mention. Each track is well described and all but one is accompanied by a photograph. I think it’s fair to say that most of us need a certain degree of assistance when trying to identify the sounds of marine species. The booklet proves very helpful in a case such as this where the subject of the recording is not immediately obvious to the general listener.

The first track and last track are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Both feature Killer Whales, but where as the first is beautiful, the last is plagued by the constant sound of boat noise. We tend to think of the ocean as it’s portrayed in track 1; however the sad truth is that track 11 is the more realistic of the two. Concerns over the effect of noise pollution on the marine environment have been steadily gathering momentum, so closing with this track creates a powerful and poignant ending to the compilation.

Will Montgomery | The Wire / Issue: #311

German label Gruenrekorder has put out some of the strongest of recent times, putting its name behind relatively low-profile recordists as well as bigger names. Heike Vester’s Marine Mammals and Fish of Lofoten and Vesterålen is a set of straight nature recordings, documenting various whale species, along with basking sharks, seal pups and more. But this is no New Age whale song trip. Much as electroacoustic Improv can help you hear air conditioning units differently, these strange squeaks and clicks often sound machinic, pushing the listener into a vibrant soundworld reminiscent of David Tudor’s Rainforest IV. Other sounds have the off-world oddness of VLF recordings of distant electrical storms. […]

Ed Pinsent | The Sound Projector

Ocean Sounds is Heike Vester, whose Marine Mammals and Fish of Lofoten and Vesteralen (GRUENREKORDER GRUEN 066) is a beautiful collection of recent field recordings of whales, dolphins, sharks and seals in their marine habitat. Vester is a marine biologist and she’s also committed to preserving life on this planet “by trying to minimize human destruction”. The CD, partly supported with money from the World Wildlife Fund, comes with a full-colour booklet packed with photos and contextual information about the mammals and their behaviour. An extremely moving and wonderful record which is great to listen to. One thing that’s interesting is that unlike Chris Watson, another noted genius in this field, Vester is not especially interested in showing us the drama and danger of nature, and instead what comes across is a deep serenity and peace that we human beings could do well to emulate.

Frans de Waard | VITAL WEEKLY

Behind Oceansounds we find biologist Heike I. Vester, who is specialized in ‚bio-acoustics of marine animals‘, following various studies in that direction. In the winter months 2003-2008 she studied Killer Whales in the northern Norway, and currently vocal behavior of killer whales. This is what is captured on this CD: the plain sounds of killer whales during post feeding, ‚echolocating male sperm whale‘, the ‚harbour seal pup calling for its mother‘, ‚basking shark and mackerels feeding on plankton‘, ‚pilot whales resting in Vestfjord‘ and such like. Its of course for an untrained, non-bio acoustic ear such as I have, but lots of these sound quite similar. I have not passed the test to be a biologist I guess. The high chirping sounds (which we may remember from John C. Lilly’s CD for Silent Records, here without any other instrument of course) is one that we are quite familiar with. It makes a nice musical sub aquatic trip this CD. It seems that pieces flow into eachother and tell us a story, but perhaps I am just doing my own interpretation. Very nice work, best enjoyed as ‚one piece‘. (FdW)


Diving in the deep end is CD called Marine Mammals and Fish of Lofoten and Vesteralen. Which is exactly what you get on the disc itself so technically the artists are the fish and marine mammals themselves, although a lady called Heike Vester was on recording duties. I’d like to think they get some of the royalties (maybe Flipper could get an extra fish one day?) This is a serious CD featuring various different types of whales, dolphins, seals and err…. Mackerel all recorded in varying states around the coast of Norway for your evening maritime enjoyment. This is very much for fans of Chris Watson and if you’re into wildlife sounds then this has your name embroidered on it. There’s no music on this record…. Unless you call the sounds/songs of these animals music which you may or may not do. It’s really interesting though and some of the sounds dug up by mother nature herself are way more interesting than what a lot of folks can come up with with their computers and latest plugins. It looks like some of the royalties go to the WWF (not the wrestling dudes) so it’s all for a jolly good cause. Comes in a nice digipack with a booklet inside explaining everything in the correct amout of detail. Nice!

Innerversitysound | Cyclic Defrost Magazine

Nature attunement in acoustic fields is not new and there are many varied takes on the subject field. Often a good deal of window dressing accompanies the arena to appeal to the listener, presenting the ‘drama’ of nature, where often it is merely the imposition of narrative upon the subject that is the area of study. However this is quite another matter.

It was recorded by Heike Vester, a biologist, whose field is bioacoustics of marine animals. She has studied Killer whales in Northern Norway and is in the process of completing a doctorate on the vocal behavior of killer whales. She is also the founder of Oceansounds, a private research, education and conservation group focused on marine environments.

This recording has very crisp digital sound and has a detached matter of fact presentation. It concentrates mainly on Killer Whales but there are tracks documenting Pilot Whales, Dolphins and seals. It is not a new age extension of nature romantic tendency that mires itself in kitsch. No doubt the attunement of such interests have lead a lot of people to this field but Vester’s focus would be in regards to ‘evolutionary cognitive anthropology’ as a scientific pursuit. Listening to the field recordings of marine environments outside the purely scientific interest is a different act, yet there is a listening history unconstrained by scientific endeavor. As a field recording exercise its technical prowess is apparent and may very well appeal to all musical types who need sound archival works when the need to insert killer whale noises into the mix.

Heike Vester states that her “main interest is to preserve life on this planet by trying to minimize human destruction…” and this is a work co-produced by the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Tobias Fischer | tokafi

Subaquatic explorations: Even the most accomplished and proficient Sound Artists will be amazed.

In terms of building suspense, Herman Melville might have been able to learn a thing or two from Heike Vester’s blog. Giving up her native Germany and moving to an uncertain future in Norway was the easiest part. Since then, however, marine-biologist Vester founded her own organisation („Ocean Sounds“) dedicated to the the rescue of the earth’s marine environement right in the heartland of one of the few countries left to still allow commercial whaling. Fearlessly, she confronts hunters, moving her boat in between harpunes and mink whales to try and prevent unnecessary killings. With a tear in her eye, she notices the absence of Orcas in the Vestfjord only to embark on a new project and head for Chile instead. And when her warnings are ignored and a colony of cormorants is scared away by curious spectators and „uncontrolled tourism“, her writings are filled with sadness and cropped-up anger. You wouldn’t think this woman could ever have a boring day in her whole life.

All the more so, since her acoustic explorations are equally intriguing. Because the world of the whales only seldomly reveals itself to us on the surface, its sound characteristics, too, are particularly fascinating and represent a terra incognito awaiting further investigation. Vester has taken on the challenge of diving down and making it heard. Wherever she goes, a digital recorder is close by her side. Wherever she points her gaze, a microphone is following her movements. And when exciting scenes are taking place right in front of her bow, she documents them with the excited curiosity of a child and the unfaltering hand of a scientist: Killer Whales embarking on their „carousel hunts“ to catch Hering or feasting on fish from a broken net, for example. Dolphines challenging the acrobatics of circus artists before calmly floating through the water to rest. A „harbour seal pup calling for its mother“ or Orcas voicing their satisfaction after a long and extensive dinner. There is a liveliness and natural dramaturgy to these moments which requires no Disney-like embelishments to lend them an air of organic suspense.

From a phonographer’s perspective, recording marine mammals is both a particularly challenging and especially rewarding job. Their timbres and techniques are unique and recognisable on the one hand and appear to share a lot of common characteristics on the other. „Buzzes, calls and whistles“ are their shared communication tools and only subtle nuances between species reveal their true identity. From the joyous clicks of Pilot Whales swimming in the immediate proximity of Vester’s ship to the quiet gurgles of Mackerels feeding on Plankton under the bridge of Henningsvaer, from the microtonal hiss and crackle of a male Sperm Whale using echolocation to the softly creaking gabble of white-striped Dolphins, this cosmos of quiet, crystaline and concentrated sounds is a minimal music lover’s heaven. Even the most accomplished and proficient Sound Artists, meanwhile, could benefit from observing the richness and diversity of these seemingly starkly reduced signals and the maximum of expressivity drawn from a tiny set of source materials. It is hard to imagine how Vester has managed to come close enough to these shy animals, but she certainly has and it is this intimacy which lends these up to nine minute long studies their narrative plasticity.

Not all is just harmony here, though. In the hands of the right artists, phonography can be an extremely effective political tool and just like Budhaditya Chattopadhyay’s „Landscape in Metamorphoses“, Heike Vester in not content with merely providing some comforting feel-good noises as a spiritual backdrop your next lavalamp session. „Marine Mammals and Fish of Lofoten and Vesterålen“ is not just a document of what is, but also of what should remain. It presents us with a wealth of life, sounds and inspiration to show us what we’d have to do without if it should perish. The album accomplishes this without once striking up a schoolmasterly tone and by instead taking listeners on a trip and allowing them to learn by experience. It may not be the most typical approach in the land of field recordings, which is unfortunately still sometimes haunted by cliched images of flowerpower hippies recording bees in a field of flowers. But it is certainly the logical result of an artist whose life would make perfect food for a movie.


Filing this one as a compilation is obviously a little bit unusual though there are various “artists” involved, even if they are whales of various kinds (killer, pilot, sperm), dolphins, and seals. Gruenrekorder spares no expense in presenting its latest field recording release, with the CD of sounds (recorded by biologist and Ocean Sounds founder Heike Vester at Tysfjord, Vestfjord, and Vesteralen) complemented by a full-colour digipack and mini-booklet of explanatory text and photographs. In one track, the high-pitched cry of a long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas) rings out ten metres away from the boat while another whale answers in the distance. Elsewhere, the echolocation clicks (the echoes of an animal’s high-pitched sounds are used to determine the direction and distance of objects, such as the location of sea food like squid or fish) of Atlantic white-striped dolphins (Lagenorynchus acutus) and male sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) are heard, as well as the plaintive sound of a Harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) pup calling for its mother. If track ten sounds more tumultuous, it should as it documents a feeding frenzy involving sixty killer whales and a herring net that broke free from a seiner (a large vessel that catches fish using a seine, a large, vertically-hanging fishing net). Not only is the “compilation” compelling on listening grounds, it’s educational too. We learn, for example, that killer whales (Orcinus orca) feed on herring using a method called “carousel feeding” whereby the whales herd the herring together, chase it to the surface, and then hit it with their tails to kill or stun it. Here and in the other ten pieces, such detail renders the creatures‘ whistles, clicks, calls, and squeals more meaningful in enabling the lay listener to visualize the scene.

David Leveille | PRI’s The World

The rocky islands of the archipelago in the Norwegian Sea called Lofoten rise dramatically up out of the Norwegian Sea.
On them are scattered small fishing villages with names like Henningsvaer, a village of 450 residents, mostly fishermen, whalers and one marine biologist named Heike Vester.
Her research focuses on bio-acoustic communication among marine mammals…seals, killer whales, and other fish found in the waters of the Vestfjord. On most days, Vester packs her lunch, a G-PS, and a hydrophone (that’s an underwater microphone) and heads for open water on her zodiac:
„…and you scan the horizon for anything that doesn’t look like water. Sometimes when you see a white splash and you see it again and again and maybe you see a black fin that’s when you have found a whale… Once we’re with the whales, we hope that they’re not disturbed by us so that we can approach them slowly, stop the boat and record.“
Vester recorded this clicking sound. She says it’s sperm whales in search of a meal — their clicks travel thru the water, bounce off clusters of squid or fish, and echo back the good news. It’s called echo-location.
I recorded it in 2006 off the coast because the sperm whales don’t come into the Vestfjord they stay further out where it is quite they deep 2,000 meters where they find squid.
Now these are year-round residents in the Vestfjord . Vester says this pod of pilot whales was idling near the surface one summer day, buzzing and clicking.
They came up to the boat and they were just laying and calling and they called for quite some time you can hear they get little active, and then when it’s quiet they disappeared almost like saying goodbye to us.
Another marine mammal that likes to linger in these waters is the Orca. Vester says Killer whales have learned to loiter around Norwegian fishing boats as the catch is hauled in:
The killer whales search herring close to the boats or they wait till the fishing boats have hauled in the herring so they go and wait for the spill or steal herring directly from the net. I have reports from fisherman they say that sometimes in the morning when I woke up the horizon is black with killer whales just waiting for them to pull in the herring.
Who says there’s no free lunch? OK I saved the best for last. Vester made this recording out floating around the Vestfjord. There’s no boat engine rumbling to interfere. The Orcas speaks for themselves:
It was one of the rare situations where I actually encountered whales by myself, there were no other boats around and they were carousel feeding, It was 12-18 animals herding the herring which are usually deep it the water columns, so they have to dive down and pick it up and chase it to the surface and the buzzes are used to scare the herring under the surface they hit it with their tails that’s the tail slaps bang! and then the herring is dead and or stunned and they eat it one by one, they don’t just feed or feast on the herring no they’re very delicate, they just eat one herring and then another one.
Heike Vester has compiled 5 years worth of her recordings on new CD called Marine Mammals and Fish of Lofoten. There are no vocals. No guitar solos. Just whales, dolphins, seals, sharks and mackerel. Vester’s hope is that her audio research will promote protection of Lofoton’s unique marine ecosystem. It’s a fascinating listen. But the CD’s long and usual tracks shouldn’t be gulped down, better to savor them one by one the way Orcas eat herring.


One has to feel affection for characters such as Heike Vester, a “biologist, coordinator and founder of Ocean Sounds, specialized in bio-acoustics of marine animals”, whose “main interest is to preserve life on this planet by trying to minimize human destruction”. As naïve as this aspiration may look in this hopeless age, I often think that with a few additional millions of Vesters around the world there would still be a measure of hope for humanity. Oh, well. This CD – published by Gruenrekorder – is essentially a collection of calls and signals from the inhabitant of the seas from the Norwegian regions quoted by the title, two among the geographic areas in which Heike is active today as she studies the vocal behaviour of killer and pilot whales – the real protagonists, together with dolphins, of the whole project. The hard-to-believe gamut of emissions released – clicks, buzzes and synthesizer-like shrieks – are enjoyable alone or meshed with other aquatic elements, including the background sound of a fishing boat’s engine in a circumstance. Many of these sonorities have nothing to be envious of in comparison with certain anarchic fringes of EAI, to tell you the truth, and several of these cetaceans would easily dialogue with a Theremin – or with Thomas Lehn, if so preferred (this is meant as a compliment). A lovely edition, which nourishes a joy of existing that very rarely materializes in most everybody’s existence nowadays.

aufabwegen | magazin

OCEANSOUNDS: Marina Mammals and Fish of Lofoten and Vesteralen CD (Gruenrekorder gruen066): Hinter Oceansounds verbirgt sich die Meeresbiologin Heike Vester, die seit Jahren faszinierende Aufnahmen aus den Tiefen einfängt. Die Walgesänge und Fischtöne sind in einen größeren Soundscape eingebunden, der zum Beispiel auch Bootsgeräusche oder ähnliches mit einfängt. Faszinierend.



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