I’ve decided to have a bit of fun with a series exploring some of the instruments that we all carry around with us such as our hands and mouth. To kick it off I’m going to have a look at whistling: what you are actually doing when you whistle, what defining moments of whistling exist in film and song, etc.. You get the idea, bear with me a bit – it’s actually quite an interesting subject.
Let’s start by looking at what whistling actually is. According to Wikipedia (I know, I love my reliable sources) whistling “is the production of sound by means of a constant stream of air from the mouth. The air is moderated by the tongue, lips, teeth, or fingers to create turbulence, and the mouth acts as a resonant chamber to enhance the resulting sound, thus acting as a type of Helmholtz resonator. Whistling can also be produced by hands, or using an external instrument, such as a whistle or a blade of grass.” Furthermore: “A whistled tone is primarily a simple oscillation (or sine wave) produced in the resonant chamber, and thus timbral variations are slight. The pitch of a whistle can be altered by changing the volume and shape of the resonant chamber (most typically by using the tongue).”
Now, whistling can be used as an expression of joy, as a method of aggression, or as a way to grab somebody’s attention. Whistling for a cab is a cool skill to have (tutorial for whistling through your fingers here – I am currently mopping up the saliva from my arms after having given it a go) but I don’t really think it’s musical as such so that leaves the joy and the anger of whistling.
I can think of plenty of examples of whistling being used aggressively, be it builders wolf whistling women (or the other way round) as they walk down the street or football crowds whistling in protest when a player they have taken a dislike to receives a pass – but the only truly really aggressive use of a whistled tune (see the way I keep coming back to music – that’s why I have ‘focused’ as a quality in my CV) that I can think of is the one from Kill Bill Volume 1. A guy where I used to work used to have it as a ring tone and whenever it went off he would look around to make sure everyone had heard it, how sad. Anyway, whistling it seems is not only a passing jolly puff in the air for humans, it’s also a past time for a parrot called Jasper, check him out proving that even parrots can be a bit scary:
It seems not all animals enjoy it though; Ginger in particular really doesn’t seem to like it much:
Master of Cool
Well it seems only fitting I end this post with the master of whistling coolness, Alex Moore showing us all exactly how it should be done. (note the cigarette shot for extra coolness):
You'll note that it might be a bit odd that I write a music blog and haven't really mentioned any songs that contain whistles. When I started researching the subject, the sheer volume of songs containing whistles was overwhelming and would take a whole blog in itself to do it justice so I'll leave you with some suggestions instead. Time for a cup of tea.
Songs with whistles:
Patience - Guns N’ Roses
Don’t Worry Be Happy - Bobby McFerrin
Over My Shoulder - Mike and the Mechanics
Cat Stevens - Portobello RoadWinds Of Change-Scorpions
Love Generation-Bob Sinclar
Walk Like An Egyptian - The Bangles
Always Look On the Bright Side of Life - from Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head - Burt Bacharach
Games Without Frontiers - Peter Gabriel
If I could Talk I’d Tell You - The Lemonheads
(Sittin On) The Dock of the Bay - Otis Redding