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It can be really hard to distinguish between sounds and find the source of a sound underwater. How could an octopus musician play music with defined notes that are not blurred (significantly) or changed by disturbances in the water nearby? Which instruments (if any) could the octopus even play?

Thanks!

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    $\begingroup$ "these intelligent octopi do have tentacles, so a harp or something might not work" leaving aside the issues of the medium it's being played in (water), as you have in that aside, what makes you think tentacles are going to be unable to play a harp? the strings are plucked, something you only need a single digit for, you don't think a tentacle can pluck a string? $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Aug 10, 2022 at 23:11
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    $\begingroup$ [Grimaces] @sphennings You're right of course, a shame because I like this one :) but as worded it is a poor fit for the rules . now if it was asking after a specific instrument, i.e. 'is this feasible?' it would have been OK I think, but as it is.. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Aug 10, 2022 at 23:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Alphys I would doubt 'tangling' would be an issue, they have pretty good motor control of their limbs and are used to using all eight .. besides to play a harp like a person would you would only need two tentacles, one on each side, hard to see them getting them tangled that way .. has the tentacle the strength in its tip to pluck a string would be the only thing I'd have considered and from some of the puzzle solving work I've seen them do (unscrewing jar lids to get at treats etc) I'd guess they do. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Aug 10, 2022 at 23:37
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps you want to know what type of instrument could feasibly be played underwater, by an octopus, for other octopi, with details of their hearing. The average octopus CAN hear - The common octopus can hear sounds between 400 Hz and 1000 Hz, and hears best at 600 Hz. google.com/… $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Aug 11, 2022 at 0:04
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    $\begingroup$ Best start with a question about what type of instruments work underwater. Else the creature's virtuosity would be in vain. $\endgroup$ Aug 11, 2022 at 0:52

3 Answers 3

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Underwater musical instruments

The Danish band Aquasonic plays underwater. They play intruments like

  • electromagnetic harp.
  • percussion instruments such as 24 Tibetan bells.
  • a carbon fibre violin.
  • a rhythmic instrument similar to a water wheel and a sort of organ called hydraulophone.

Underwater singing

They also sing as in this video.

Your band of octopi can sing and play instruments of similar type.

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  • $\begingroup$ Handling a violin bow (or several bows ??) will probably not be an issue, but the left hand part of violin playing is difficult for a tentacle. At least the instrument should be really big, like a cello. Pressing a string to the neck of a violin requires force.. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Aug 11, 2022 at 9:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies I think when the octopus will feel it difficult, he will ask the violin-maker to make some adjustments in the octopus-violin design. After all he has nine brains. $\endgroup$
    – imtaar
    Aug 11, 2022 at 10:25
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    $\begingroup$ Octopuses can use tools. So fretting a stringed instrument could be done with a rock, or a bone, or a shell. Think of a slide guitar or a steel guitar sitting horizontally, with the octopus 'freetting with tentacles holding some tool, and using another one to pluck the strings. But more likely, the instrument would some kind of,percussion using different sized shells, perhaps also some kind of ribbed shells that Octo could drag a stick or rock over to make vibrations of different frequencies. $\endgroup$
    – Dan Hanson
    Aug 15, 2022 at 16:47
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Percussion only

You'll need nine brains to design an instrument for it

There is one answer now featuring an example of humans playing music underwater.. this comment will be too long for the small box, so I put it here.. and I certainly hope the octopus' nine brains can come up with some solutions. Really looking forward to hear the squid beat, but I'm afraid it will be percussion only.

I see an issue with melodic instruments. Underwater, there are no wind instruments that can work. Metal or moving parts will fall apart in salty water. And Earth octopuses of any size won't be able to handle strings on a guitar, a violin or a harp. Musical instruments were designed for ape fingers, not soft tentacles. It may be able to handle drums..

enter image description here

This animal can't sing

Also I wonder how an octopus would sing.. it has no vocal chords.. it is unclear how it produces sound, and it rarely does..

https://tonmo.com/threads/humboldt-vocalizations.256/

The octopus may hear its drumbeats, but does it listen ?

The statocyst is a small hard chamber that contains sensory hairs, that can detect vibrations similar to those in the human ear. Although the octopus is capable of hearing, its capacity to hear is limited since they don’t have a chamber or organ to amplify sounds, which is present in other sea animals such as fish.

https://outlifeexpert.com/do-octopuses-have-ears/

.. so there is a debate among biologists, whether the octopus actually hears sounds and reacts to sounds. The octopus CAN hear frequencies below 1000 Hz, with some center (optimal) frequency at 600 Hz, with an organ intended for balance keeping. Only issue is.. these frequencies are theoretical range, based on the shape of the organ.

The organ used for sense balance and orientation is suitable for hearing low frequencies. But it is unknown whether the octopus has a hearing function. That is the debate. If you want to participate click here,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jVHSO3-2eA&t=159s

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    $\begingroup$ Wait, they cannot hear? What about statocysts? en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/…. $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Aug 11, 2022 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ Ah +1 @PipperChip thanks for that input.. I based my short and blunt sentence "they don't hear" on a quora-discussion about it. I found a better source now and worked out the "hearing" in more detail. It also indicates its tonal (musical) range would be some 1.5 octaves (statocyst range is 400-1000 Hz) so a small xylophone may be an option to add melody. If you take one stance in the discussion: they listen. Click the video and see for yourself. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Aug 12, 2022 at 11:31
  • $\begingroup$ Strings can be made of biological stuff like catgut instead of metal. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Aug 12, 2022 at 12:33
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Not a Problem

Water does not blur or distort sound any more than air does. Cetaceans make and hear a wide range of sounds going from subsonic Blue Whales to the high pitched clicks of dolphins and toothed whales.

In fact sound travels faster in water than through air so there is less time for distortion.

The issue is more would a land instrument work the same way underwater. Would a drum or harp make the sound in the first place? Your homework for today is to find out for yourself at your local pool or ocean!

As for how the octopusses play their instruments they can do the same as people. Use their tentacles for string or percussion, or use their siphon for wind instruments.

The real interesting question is how do octopusses hear. Do they have designated earholes or do they hear on their whole body? The latter would influence how they enjoy their music and how they compose it.

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