Music and Cod Spawning


When cod gather to mate each spring, they do not just mix and mate with random partners. They have a complex mating ritual that involves both audio (“song”) and visual (“dance”) displays. The music is made when the males beat their ‘drumming muscles’ against their swim bladder to produce rhythms, usually while dancing around the female. Science has been able to show that males with larger drum muscles have more offspring, which indicates that this drumming is important for attracting partners.

At the “Center for Coastal Research, University of Agder” on the southern coast of Norway, they study how these drum behaviors vary between individual cod, what makes some individuals more attractive than others, and whether cod have different dialects depending on where they come from. The work takes place in specially designed pools where about 50 cod live throughout the mating season.

The researchers also use hydrophones to record the sounds that the cod make when they play. They use advanced filtering and classification algorithms based on machine learning and methods for determining sound direction to isolate the sounds from individual fish. They also use advanced technology to understand how the cod moves – both in their “everyday” and in their mating game.

Our project consists of creating a platform for dialogue between humans and cod. We will partly use recordings of the cod’s mating sounds, as well as their movements (in real time) to create contemporary music for a human audience. The movements of the cod are measured digitally and can control different parameters of different musical instruments. At the same time and in a similar way, we measure the audience’s brain activity (using electroencephalogram) and let the measured values ​​reshape the recorded cod sounds, so that we can create music in real time for the cod underwater. The project thus constitutes a platform for seeing how one animal species’ bodily signals and behaviors can be heard by the other species – a kind of dialogue between fish and humans.

Within the framework of the project, we will create public events. When we arrange these, the concerts are accompanied by lectures about the scientific research and that the audience also has the opportunity to ask questions about the lives of fish, about neuroscience and about the technology we use. The goal is thus to make the audience as engaged as possible in the public presentations of the project. The project also offers the first opportunity when the cod’s mating sound is played for the fish underwater. The work thus constitutes a unique opportunity to get a first idea of ​​how these sounds affect the fish. In other words, the project creates the breeding ground for the development of new and exciting aesthetic and scientific issues.

The project is supported by the Swedish Arts Councuil, Helge Ax:son Stiftelse and Längmanska kulturfonden.