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JAUNTS: Ventura County

Whales and Tales

Music inspired by leviathans will be part of daylong Point Mugu festival.

March 05, 1998|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If they gave a Grammy award for best adaptation of sounds from large mammals, things would go swimmingly for Ric Miller.

You can judge for yourself Sunday, when the Malibu musician performs his whale-inspired music at the Point Mugu State Park Whale Festival.

At this all-day get-together, Miller will play cuts from his upcoming CD that mimic--through haunting, lyrical music on a guitar synthesizer--sounds of the whale migration that graces our coastline every winter.

The seaside celebration at Sycamore Cove pays tribute to the migration of the mighty gray whale and its return from the brink of extinction.

Running from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the program also includes a living-history group that performs old sea chanteys and takes kids on a virtual whaling trip. Visitors can also try their hand at an eco-friendly form of scrimshaw, reach into a touch tank and feel a living sea star, examine whale bones or peer through spotting scopes for a chance peek at the real thing.

Last year's festival-goers, who numbered about 2,000, spotted several passing gray whales and a large pod of bottlenose dolphins from the beach.

As for the whales, it was a close encounter with one that inspired Miller to take on what turned out to be a scientific as well as a musical project. He was surfing with his 13-year-old son a couple of months ago when a gray whale popped up 15 feet away and spouted twice.

"It was a moving moment," said Miller, 46, who said he regarded it as a calling of a sort.

The veteran guitarist, who has performed for other wildlife causes, decided to compose new music with a whale theme in time for the festival. The project blossomed into a CD, "The Calling," which will be out this summer.

Miller dived into the project, studying recordings of humpback and gray whale sounds, believed by marine biologists to be sophisticated communications that can resound for miles underwater. He watched whale videos produced by the National Geographic Society and other scientific organizations.

"These mammals have quite an existence," he said. "They feed in the north, then journey 5,000 miles to frolic and mate in Baja. It's not a monotonous, tedious journey."

He tried to transform this adventure into music. The first cut suggests a frigid dawn at the Arctic Circle as a whale emerges, ready to begin the marathon swim. Another cut has a sort of playful, calypso beat. Another suggests a full-speed run through the water. Another pounds out powerful, thundering sounds, like those Jonah might have heard when he was swallowed by the whale.

"I believe they have the ability to communicate," Miller said of whales. He was intrigued by questions during the project: "What do they think about? What do they do during a storm? How do they glide during turbulent times?"

Miller composed and played all the music himself on the synthesizer. During the whale festival, he will play live over the recordings, performing at least twice.

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, he made his first record when he was 16. He majored in film scoring at UCLA, and until about 1980 worked in commercials, television, films and musical groups. Now a father of two, he works in his family's clothing business, teaching guitar on the side. Music is still a big part of his life. So is the ocean.

"There can never be enough done to protect the environment," he said. He hopes his CD will flourish in aquariums and New Age spots, among other places, and help raise environmental awareness.

For whaling music of another era, people can check out the group Flash Packet. (The name comes from old nautical slang meaning a good-looking ship, or woman.) The Los Angeles-based group specializes in maritime history and music.

Dressed in authentic 19th-century clothing, the trio performs the songs sailors sang as they worked or relaxed. They'll take a crew of kids on a make-believe whaling voyage, showing them how to raise the anchor and use a harpoon, and explaining the effects whaling had on ocean ecology.

BE THERE

Point Mugu State Park Whale Festival, Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Sycamore Cove, Point Mugu State Park, on the Pacific Coast Highway between Point Mugu and Malibu. Free, but parking at the state beach is $6. (805) 986-8591.

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