Curator Collection: Announcing Returning Current

Lindsay Dobbin
Posted on September 17th, 2020
by Lindsay Dobbin

Shé:kon, hello,

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love whales and dolphins. Since I was a child, I’ve had dreams about being a whale, and I wanted to be a whale when I grew up. I still do.

Here in K’jipuktuk, the ancestral and unceded territory of Lnu’k (Mi’kmaq), we are located on the Atlantic Ocean where marine creatures such as whales and dolphins transmit and receive sound to navigate and communicate with their water world. Noise pollution and boat traffic is making this communication increasingly difficult, if not impossible, causing health issues, displacement and death for cetaceans. This is only one of a myriad of huge ecosystem transformations due to human impact that are threatening life on earth.

For Nocturne 2020, we not only programmed works that explore our human (dis)connection with the natural world — both the beauty and the challenges — but also works that foreground our more-than-human-kin, such as butterflies and whales, creating opportunities to learn from them.

In a previous blog, I wrote about Mi’kmaq artist Mike MacDonald’s piece, Touched By The Tears of A Butterfly, which will be part of this year’s festival. Mike’s devotion to butterflies and plants was truly one of apprenticeship. He engaged in ongoing practices of care, reciprocity and respect for the land and our more-than-human kin, and continues to share this reality of interconnectedness with others through his work.

Like Mike, the work of acoustic biologist and preeminent scholar of humpback whale song, Katy Payne, is rooted in listening, understanding and wonder. Amongst her many contributions at the intersection of biology and music, Katy recorded and examined humpback whale songs for fifteen years and discovered that they “sing long songs that change extensively, progressively, and rapidly with time — an example of non-human cultural evolution.”

Songs of the Humpback Whale
The best-selling environmental record of all time, Songs of the Humpback Whale https://, features the whale recordings of Frank Watlington, a Navy engineer who captured the sounds while manning a top-secret hydrophone station off the coast of Bermuda, listening for Russian submarines. Roger and Katy Payne asked for and received copies of the recordings, leading to the creation of this record as well as years of research.

For Nocturne, Katy is joined by her collaborator Daniela Gesundheit — a vocalist, composer, and cantor “interested in long-surviving musical traditions that explore and foster group identity” — for Returning Current, a project which shares the principles of humpback whale 'composition’ with others.

I am grateful to not only be curating this Anchor Project for Nocturne, but I’m also on board (or, really, in the water) as a collaborator. Swimming with Daniela and Katy has been medicine for the spirit. It’s inspiring to witness two beings so incredibly devoted to understanding and sharing the beauty and mystery of one of the largest broadcasting mammals on the planet — the humpback whale.


Between October 13 and 17, tune into 88.5 FM (K’jipuktuk/Halifax) or listen online for a continuous, live hydrophone broadcast off the coast of K’jipuktuk. Facilitated by oceanographer Dr. David Barclay, the underwater radio broadcast of Returning Current can be listened to 24 hours a day, and will feature marine animal and human activity sounds interwoven with the original compositions the musicians have created in response to learning about humpback whale song.

While the musician’s pieces will be shared spontaneously throughout the broadcast, singing continuously like the whales, we also will be premiering the works at the following times on 88.5 FM and via the online stream:

Tuesday, October 13, 9 p.m. - Nicole Rampersaud

Wednesday, October 14, 9 p.m. - Andrew Jackson

Thursday, October 15, 9 p.m. - Nicholas Durado

Friday, October 16, 9 p.m. - Jacques Mindreau & Sarah Lloyd

Saturday, October 17, 9 p.m. - Everyone

Returnning Current, Image Credit: Katy Payne
Painting of Humpback Whale by Katy Payne

Returning Current will unfold in two movements over the course of Nocturne. The first, Whale Song: a Workshop will facilitate a primary experience of the compositional techniques and structures at play in humpback whale song for four musicians and composers (Nicholas Dourado, Nicole Rampersaud, Jacques Mindreau and Andrew Jackson). Through leaderless collaboration and experimentation, the composers will apprentice themselves to the vocalizations of the world’s largest broadcasting mammals to see what they might discover about group identity, distance, competition, innovation, and empathy.

They will create original compositions in response to what they learn and debut the work at Nocturne, interweaving the performances with a live broadcast (via hydrophone) of marine mammal vocalizations off the coast of K’jipuktuk, facilitated by oceanographer Dr. David Barclay, with sound engineering and technical wizardry by Johnny Spence. A subsequent online workshop will be open to the public the week of Nocturne — all voices welcome.

In advance of Nocturne, we highly encourage you to listen to Katy Payne’s interview for On Being: In the Presence of Elephants and Whales.

Katy Payne and Daniela Gesundheit
Katy Payne and Daniela Gesundheit

Artist Bios

  • Katy Payne

    In 1959 Katy Payne received a Cornell BA in music and biology: since then her professional work and contributions have all stemmed from original discoveries at the intersection of these fields. Humpback whales sing long songs that change extensively, progressively, and rapidly with time – an example of non-human cultural evolution with endlessly fascinating details. Katy's discovery of song-changing led to 15 years of recording and examining whale songs from the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans: many mysteries are still unresolved. But she changed direction in 1984 when she, with E M Thomas and W.R. Langbauer, discovered that elephants make powerful, low-frequency calls some of which are infrasonic and travel long distances. That finding led to two decades of field work in Africa focused on elephants' acoustic communication. In 2004 Katy founded the Elephant Listening Project, in the Bioacoustics Research Program in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, for purposes of research and conservation. Payne is the author of "Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants" (1998) and "Elephants Calling" (1992), a children's book. Funding for all Payne's recognized work has come from grants -- from the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, World Wildlife Fund, the Wildlife Conservation Society (and its precursor the New York Zoological Society), the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Conservation International, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Foundation, the Park Foundation, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare -- and from book writing (Silent Thunder: in the Presence of Elephants (Simon & Schuster, 1998.) Along the way Katy received several honors and awards. More importantly, recognition of her findings has brought increased attention to the extraordinary and only half- understood animals whose wonderful calls and songs fill the forests, savannas and oceans.

  • Daniela Gesundheit

    Daniela is a vocalist, composer, and cantor interested in long-surviving musical traditions that explore and foster group identity. She has collaborated with celebrated acoustic biologist Katy Payne (Songs of the Humpback Whale) for performances that feature choirs trained in the principles of Humpback whale 'composition,' and with the Institute for Art and Olfaction in Los Angeles creating immersive olfactory music events that have been staged throughout the US and Europe, including the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. She was a featured vocalist alongside Brian Eno on Owen Pallett’s In Conflict and on astronaut Chris Hadfield’s Songs From a Tin Can - the first record ever to be recorded in space. As Snowblink, Gesundheit writes non-denominational devotional pop music and has released three critically acclaimed records on Fire, Arts & Crafts, and Outside Music. She is also a member of the band Hydra, a collaboration between Feist, Snowblink, and Montreal’s LaForce. She sings traditional Jewish liturgy for Shir Libeynu, the first queer-inclusive synagogue in Toronto and officiates lifecycle rituals throughout the US and Canada. Her latest project is Alphabet of Wrongdoing, an album of traditional Jewish liturgy reimagined for secular audiences and secular spaces and encircling themes of reckoning and forgiveness. Gesundheit is the recipient of numerous grants, including the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Toronto Arts Council. She lives in Los Angeles and haunts Toronto.

  • Lindsay Dobbin

    Lindsay is a Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) - Acadian - Irish water protector, artist, musician, curator and educator who lives and works in Mi'kma'ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of Lnu’k (Mi’kmaq). Dobbin was born in and belongs to the Kennebecasis River Valley (from the Mi'kmaq word Kenepekachiachk, meaning "little long bay place"), a tributary of the Wolastoq ("beautiful river"), in the traditional territory of the Wəlastəkwiyik and Mi’kmaq. Dobbin has lived throughout Wabanaki Territory, mostly around the Bay of Fundy, as well as the Yukon in Kwanlin Dün territory. Dobbin's relational and place-responsive practice includes music, sound art, performance, sculpture, installation, social practices and writing, and is invested in Indigenous epistemologies and cultural practices, such as drumming. Through placing listening, collaboration and improvisation at the centre of the creative process, Dobbin's practice explores the connection between the environment and the body, and engages in a sensorial intimacy with the living land and water. As a passionate educator, Dobbin employs land-based practices, creativity, play and improvisation as tools for self-awareness, collaboration, experiential learning and community building — revealing that people and the environment are related in dynamic ways. Dobbin is also an active artistic collaborator, and have worked on projects with musicians, sound artists, dancers, visual artists and filmmakers.

Musician Bios:

  • Nicholas Dourado

    Nicholas leads the Big Budi Band; a modular improvising ensemble as arranger, saxophonist and piano player. They were trained by Jerry Granelli through the Creative Music Workshop in Halifax, NS and have since gone on to play with Aquakultre, Fiver, Lido Pimienta, Beverly Glenn-Copeland, Century Egg and many others. They are a teacher and organizer and hold a master degree in ocean geophysics and acoustics.

  • Andrew Jackson

    Andrew is an acclaimed Juno-nominated trombonist and composer based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His versatility and unique sound have made him one of the Maritimes first-call players. He is an artist constantly exploring new sounds and not afraid to blend genres. Jackson keeps a busy playing schedule with many of the premiere artists in Halifax spanning a variety of styles: Roxy & The Underground Soul Sound, Transatlantic Zodiac Ensemble, Anteater, The Chronos Band. Andrew is a frequent collaborator with drummer Jerry Granelli for which they received an East Coast Music Award for the album What I Hear Now. Andrew has performed and recorded with many of the East Coasts leading artists including Erin Costelo, David Myles, Classified, Aquakultre and more. As an improvisor and new music creator, Andrew has had the opportunity to play with many world class performers such as William Parker, Pierre-Yves Martel, Trevor Watts and many more. Andrew has written compositions ranging from solo to large ensemble pieces for groups such as the Upstream Music Ensemble and the Halifax Tromboen Summit. Since 2017 Andrew has been the musical curator for the Halifax Jazz Festival, for which he recieved the 2019 "Promoter of the Year' award at the Music Nova Scotia Awards. Starting in 2015, Andrew has also been the creator and host of "The Outer Edge" on CKDU 88.1FM.

  • Jacques Mindreau

    Jacques is a composer violinist and vocalist, his solo project “Electro Jacques Therapy” layers violin loops and vocals through live performance in an ethereal and haunting manner, often alluding to symphonic soundscapes. His focus has been to create music for film, dance, and theatre. A major part of the work is in vocals that combine operatic voice that is enriched with a language of the imagination, taking inspiration from the natural world. Jacques has collaborated with hundreds of musicians around the globe and Canada. He was co-founder of the acclaimed band “Krasnogorsk” and “OQO”. Jacques was selected to be the artist in residence at the ‘Maritime Conservatory’ in 2020. He has also worked with “2b Theatre” and co-composed music with Aaron Collier and performed for the critically acclaimed play “One Discordant Violin” which had an off Broadway run last fall in New York City. In a time of so much uncertainty Jacques hinges onto the belief of the capacity that music has to heal us all, and hopes to transmit that message. Jacques currently resides in Unama’ki / Cape Breton.

  • Nicole Rampersaud

    Trumpet Player and Composer Nicole Rampersaud relocated to New Brunswick after spending over a decade firmly establishing herself in Toronto's music community to embark on a series of new projects as a leader. In addition to a long-standing solo trumpet practice, Nicole is a member of Joseph Shabason's band, Brodie West's jazz octet Eucalyptus, and is a founding member of the trio c_RL alongside Allison Cameron and Germaine Liu. Her resourceful versatility has led to collaborations with everyone from Anthony Braxton to Joe Morris, and from Ra-Kalam Bob Moses to Sandro Perri. She was named EVERYSEEKER's (formerly OBEY Convention) inaugural Composer-In-Residence in 2019, where she premiered a site-specific piece that celebrated the depth and breadth of Halifax's experimental music community. Nicole’s compositions have been performed at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival in Wales, the Festival of New Trumpet Music in New York, and the Tone Deaf Festival in Kingston.

Technical Team

  • Radio and Hydrophone - Dr. David Barclay

    David is an Associate Professor and the Canada Research Chair in Ocean Technology Systems in the Department of Oceanography, Dalhousie University. His research is centered on modeling and measuring the spatial and temporal properties of ambient noise in the ocean in an effort to study the natural mechanisms that generate underwater sound and the properties and variability of the oceanographic environments through which sound propagates. His lab also designs and builds new technologies in order to accomplish these objectives in deep ocean trenches, tidal channels, shallow estuaries, and everything in between.

  • Technical Director - Johnny Spence

    Johnny is a composer, musician, community arts facilitator, radio producer & sound artist. He strives to move through the world with open-ears and an open-heart. A resident of Tkaronto, he has been lucky enough to create, laugh, swim, farm, & love on Mi’kma’ki land and water for over half his life. He is grateful to the earth, the water, and the original peoples of the land for their generosity and compassion. He is also thankful to Nocturne, and specifically Lindsay Dobbin, for asking him to be involved in this significant sounding.