Sunday, February 28, 2010

Readings: Monk on Sight, Song, and Cetaceans


From a tape transcription of Thelonious Monk theorizing on the subject of aquatic mammals:

“They say if you can ever make a tape of a porpoise and play it back, down slow enough, it’s the same as the human voice. They are so close to the human species. Because they have the same box here [pointing to his throat].” After explaining that they communicate at very high frequencies, Monk performs a pretty convincing imitation of a porpoise cry. He then launches into a lecture about how man might benefit from harnessing the porpoise’s ability to sense everything around them: “You know, it’s an amazing thing to study the porpoises. With the study of the porpoise, they going to find out possibilities of completely obliterating a blind man’s stick. Walk down the fucking street blind as a bat, and naked. They’ll put a little sonar thing in his ear or something that is able to tell when you’re getting up to anything, the kind of object, the texture of the object, whether it’s a building or a person…it could tell that it’s either a hard surface or cloth. Because they’ve checked out porpoises and they can’t figure out, they hadn’t been able to figure out why a porpoise can swim in dark, murky waters, so you can’t see nothing at all, and they won’t hit a motherfucking thing.”
~ Robin D. G. Kelley, Thelonious Monk: the Life and Times of an American Original
Monk plays for the porpoises: Blue Monk, Oslo 1966: Charley Rouse, tenor; Larry Gales, bass; Ben Riley, drums.
Note: If you ever doubted that the piano is actually a percussion instrument, this performance will disabuse you of that doubt.

Note on the illustration: Torn many years ago from an issue of Oui magazine, the picture is of scientist John C. Lilly and friend. Lilly's well-publicized research into the intelligence of aquatic mammals was most likely the inspiration of Monk's rap as quoted above.



Anonymous said...

Cockburn's column pretty much sums up my feelings on the Sea World thing. I'm finally with PETA on one issue ...


Rodak said...

Free Willy.