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"Distant Touch (feat. Samantha Giancarli)" - something fishy!

Above, a group of our fishy ancestors, based on the fossil Eusthenopteron, swimming in an estuary approximately 385 million years ago in the Devonian Period in the animated video for "Distant Touch".

Download the song on my Bandcamp page:

Stream or download the song everywhere else:

See the music video on my YouTube channel when it premieres Friday, May 19, at 8PM:

I am excited to announce yet another animated music video from Once Upon Deep Time called "Distant Touch". This song features my former student and Stockton University alum Samantha "Sam" Giancarli (and as of May 2023, Dr. Giancarli) on tenor sax. Sam composed the solo and put her soul into. Neil Aaronson helped us capture her solo in hi-def and it sits perfectly in the mix. My son, Maxwell Bonnan, contributed the rocking power chords you hear behind Sam's solo.

Above, Samantha Giancarli (right) recording her tenor saxophone with the assistance of professor Neil Aaronson in the Acoustics Lab at Stockton University.

Above, three Eusthenopteron being chased by a "sea scorpion" (eurypterid) in the animated music video for "Distant Touch". The chase scene features Samantha Giancarli on tenor saxophone.

Meaning of the Song

The experience of sound is a more immersive, interconnected sense for fish than it happens to be for us land-lubbing tetrapods. For us, hearing is what occurs when airborne sounds strike our eardrum, causing it to send vibrations through three little bones that shake the fluid inside our inner ear, stimulating frequency sensors. For fish, hearing happens both within the head and throughout the body. The density of a fish's head is similar to water, so when waterborne sounds strike its head, the vibrations pass directly into the inner ear fluid, stimulating the frequency sensors. Additionally, fish have a series of specialized motion sensors (that curiously resemble the ones in the inner ear) strewn across their heads and bodies, sometimes on the surface and often tucked within fluid-filled canals. These sensors and canals together are collectively called the lateral line system.

The lateral line system is multipurpose. One of the major jobs of these sensors is to detect water movements across the body as well as those caused by objects near and around the fish. This gives fish the ability to "sense" or "feel" objects at a distance, an ability called "touch at a distance" by the late comparative physiologist Sven Dijkgraaf (and hence the title of the song, "Distant Touch"). These sensors allow fish to school with precision - as one fish moves, it generates water movements that are detected by the lateral line system in its fellow fishes, stimulating them to move in turn. It has also been demonstrated that low frequency sounds stimulate the sensors of the lateral line - but how the fish interprets these sounds (simply as vibrations or as sounds like we would think of them) is still difficult to appreciate.

In writing this song, I tend to follow the philosophy of Zoologist R. J. Pumphrey who once said, "An animal hears when it behaves as if it has located a moving object not in contact with it. And sound can be defined as any mechanical disturbance whatever which is potentially referable to an external and localized source" (Pumphrey, 1950: p. 3). In my mind, I imagine a fish experiencing sound (especially low frequency sounds) as a synthesis of hearing and touch. However, we still have much to learn about how our fishy friends experience the world.

Above, three Eusthenopteron swimming in the "soundscape" of their watery home from the animated music video of "Distant Touch".

The song "Distant Touch" imagines what it was like for our fishy ancestors and for modern fishes to navigate the waters in search of food and mates while avoiding dangers. If, as Pumprhey said, "an animal hears when it behaves as if it has located a moving object not in contact with it," then our fishy ancestors once followed the harmonics of the sea as well as the organisms and objects around them - a melody map they touched with their bodies and minds; a guide beneath the waves. Imagine if your entire body acted like an eardrum, tuned to water's music - you could lay the course with sound!


Lyrics (c) 2022 Matthew Bonnan

Fish perceive and navigate the world by hearing and sensing water movement across their bodies – once, long ago, so did we

I can touch you from a distance

I can feel your state of mind

When you move I feel the pressure

As our bodies turn and glide

Whoa, whoa

Whoa, whoa

Whoa, whoa, oh

It has been like this for eons

Peering out through lidless eyes

I can chart my destination

With my body and my mind

Whoa, whoa

Whoa, whoa

Whoa, whoa, oh

Can you imagine navigating with sound

Your body and mind as a compass

Pointing you homeward bound?

All life’s chords, they can show you the way

A melody map you touch with your mind

Your guide beneath the waves

When I move, I can move you

Like a team, we move as one

I can feel you in the darkness

Or beneath the shining sun

We will reach our destination

While the waves around us pound

My body is an eardrum

And I lay the course with sound

My body is an eardrum

And I lay the course with sound

Above the crashing surf

In the air it’s different now

We’ve lost our ancient compass

A melody disavowed

Whoa, whoa

Whoa, whoa

Whoa, whoa, oh

Can you reach me from a distance

As we stand on solid ground?

We will only bridge this difference

When the harmony is found

Learn More / External Links

Learn more about fish hearing and the lateral line system:

The animated video centers around one of our distant fishy ancestors and the other inhabitants of an estuary some 385 million years ago in the Devonian period. Find out more about the importance of the Devonian period:

The fishy ancestor depicted in the animated music video is based on the fossil Eusthenopteron from Canada - learn more about this intriguing fish:

The other fishes featured are arthrodire placoderms and Cheirolepis.

A eurypterid (a so-called "sea scorpion" which is related to scorpions, spiders, and horseshoe crabs) is the featured "villain" which chases our fishy "heroes":

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Matthew F. Bonnan, Ph.D.

Paleontologist | Professor | Author | Science Communicator | Singer/Songwriter

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