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Thursday, 26 March 2015

ZACHARY MANN ON BIGFOOT VOCALIZATIONS

 What’s that sound? It may not sound, no pun intended, like a scary question, but sometimes that is the most terrifying thing a person could ask. When traveling, camping, or walking through the woods, not knowing what animals are making what sounds can be nerve wrenching. And it’s a lot harder than you might think in order to get a grip on just what animals make what kind of sound. For example, Koala Bears are many people’s favorite animals, and if you asked them to tell you a bit about them many people will give detailed, if not a bit standard, answers. They; live in Australia, the eat Eucalyptus leaves, the babies are often carried on their mothers' back and not in their pouches, and they are not really bears. But try asking them what kind of sounds they make. Most people would probably turn their heads in confusion. The shocking truth is, one of the Koala’s vocalization is a loud growl that sounds almost like a lion roar. Surprising coming from such a soft and fuzzy appearance, but that’s one of the wonders of nature.
          Anyway, the subject of today will be alleged Bigfoot vocalizations and noises. Specifically, we will talk about a phenomena know as Samurai Chatter. We will go in- depth about that vocalization, its name origin, and what if any merit it has for serious Sasquatch research, but let’s first talk about some of the other reported Sasquatch vocalizations. We will for the sake of this article, not be covering things like wood knocking and rock throwing, as those may be forms of communication and expression, but we will save this time for vocal expressions
 First let’s talk about Whoops. The word whoop is an onomatopoeia. An onomatopoeia is a word that is pronounced the same way it is spelled, the word onomatopoeia itself is an onomatopoeia. Sound the sound when you here it would be as follows, whoooop. Whoops are also, more often than not, heard in a string of successions. Whoops are a commonly heard and sometimes recorded noise that has over the years been associated with Bigfoot and his alleged vocalizations. Some famous recorded whoops that I have listened to include; whoops recorded in Estacada, OR in 1972, a very famous (or often used) example recorded in California in 1974 (though I have been unable to find where in that state they were allegedly recorded), and series of loud and quit angry sounding whoop/screams recorded in Puyallup, WA in 1993.


Yet, I personally, can’t find any reports of anybody actually seeing a Bigfoot in the physical process of making such a call, though if you know of one, please let me know. So the question is why do people associate these with Bigfoot? Well there are a few reasons.
One is we have a very good set of reference data collected on the varied and uniqe calls of pretty much all the known native wildlife in most of the USA and Canada, and a traditional whoooop isn’t in the range of these creatures. True some, like elk, can make a bleating sound that does bear a pseudo resemblance to a whoop, but if you know what to listen for there is a huge difference. Second, whoops are known and quite common primate vocalization. If you talk to a great ape researcher or go to the zoo, you’ll know that primates of all sizes and types use this kind of vocalization to communicate with each other. Going along the lines of assumption that Bigfoot, if it is real, is some kind of large primate, it is reasonable to assume that a whoop would be in its arsenal of calls. And third, in order to produce a whoooop you would need special kind of lips to make those sound clusters. Lips that say, primates, have.
Another vocalization sometimes reported and in a few cases recorded are screams. When I say screams, I mean the loud angry kind that even at your angriest, it would be hard to make something so terrifying. One such case was recorded in 1979 Washington State. These can sometimes, as previously stated, be in juncture or after a whoop. Why would they make such a cry? Maybe due to some emotional state, such as anger or sorrow. Again, all know primates, are capable of feeling such emotions, why not Bigfoot?

Another vocalization that is often heard is a howl or a moan. These differ from the two above mentioned vocalizations in their tone, pitch, and range. They sound, as one would imagine, like a moan or howl a person or ape might make, only at a much high decibel.  Some famous recordings include; the famous Columbiana County calls which were recorded just above Wellsville, Ohio, in 1994, another being a very similar type of howl recorded in a wood portion of Mississippi in December, 2004, near a military base. The 1994 howls are of particular interest because they have been, or maybe I should say, attempted to be, fully analyzed by Dr. Joe Fox, a biologist at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. After isolating the sound, recording the decibels, and comparing it to dozens of well documented recordings of known animals, he concluded, that the sounds were from an organic creature, and unlike any of the animals known to inhabit North America. This is certainly a very interesting result indeed and goes a long way to hopefully validating a separate species one day after further study and testing.


Which now brings us to our main topic of discussion, Samurai Chatter. Does that name sound a bit ridicules? I know it does for me. When I first learned about these alleged Bigfoot vocalizations I thought for sure, by name alone, they must be a parody or a hoax taken way out of context, like so many unfortunately are. However, the sounds do in face have a long history and legacy behind them. This of course, has not come without controversy, but will we try and give these vocalizations a fair shot. First let’s go over the history of these alleged calls for all those out there who have never heard of them before.
In the late 1970’s two friends Al Berry and Ron Morehead made a series of recordings high up in the isolated Sierra Nevada Mountains, in Eastern California. The two men where all alone at the time and in addition to the recordings they claimed to have found 18 inch footprints and had a very brief possible sighting, but it’s the recordings we are here for today. In total, there are several hours of sounds recorded that night, some of which can be heard, in small portions, on various internet sights. However, the men, I think specifically Ron Morehead, have a copyright of the sounds, and full transcripts of the recordings are available for purchase from their official website, as well as several self written books and other merchandise. More on that aspect later.
Let’s talk briefly about why they have been dubbed the ‘Samurai Calls’ or ‘Samurai Chatter’. The sounds, stead of whoops, howls, screams, are really another form of known animal vocalization sound structured, organized, and dare I say it, like actual language. They sound something like the dubbed voiceover work on a lot of those older Japanese Samurai action films. One rumor I heard was that the name was inspired by a character that the legendary comedian John Belushi did on Saturday Night Live. That may just be a rumor, but let me tell you once you have that idea of “Samurai” in your head, it’s hard to imagine anything but a badly dubbed Japanese man making those sounds form that point on. At least it is for me.
Anyway, the recording: the free samples I have been able to listen to and study, have different portions to them. One part involves one of the alleged creatures making a noise, then a human, either Al or Ron, mimicking the same type of sound in order to get a response. It does answer back in what seems to be a coherent response. Other portions involve long periods of the creature(s?) vocalizing to himself or others.
I must say that these sounds always have caused a problem for me. Like I said, when I first heard about them and listened to portions of them for the first time, my immediate reaction was, “This is a joke, right?” And it’s not just me. Over the years I have done many reports in college and for local events on Cryptids and Bigfoot evidence and in addition to talking I have shown brief film clips of alleged cryptids, photos, and where available sound clips. I have played several reported Bigfoot calls over the years (like several different whoops and the 1994 howl) and have people been interested, excited, and in a few cases been a bit scared by some of them. Then just to see what their reactions will be, I have, in a few of these events, played some of the Samurai Chatter. After giving a brief description of the back ground I hit play, and every time, without fail, the crowds break into laughter and cries of “fake!”
So with that in mind, I wanted to dig a bit deeper and see if I could find more information on these strange, if not unusual, recordings. At first, I couldn’t find much outside of the same reused back story and info. What was troubling me was how little, if any, serious scientific analyzes of these sounds there were. It seemed like no one, skeptic or believer, was taking them too seriously (maybe the name has something to do with it?) Well eventually I did find some actually interesting stuff

I did find an interview with Ron Morehead who, claimed that he had the recordings sent to the University of Wyoming for analysis. This was a promising start. He said that “they” determined that the sounds were not prerecorded nor altered in an editing or post-production kind of way. That means what was recorded was recorded live at the time. Admittedly, this is promising, but not without some big questions and potential problems.


First, Mr. Morehead never specifies who at the University he got to analyze the recordings, and a search of record and projects didn’t turn up anything that I could find. Second, just because the sounds were not added in later by a machine or edited to sound a certain way, it does not mean that they couldn’t have been faked on the spot. After all, the analysis does not say what made the sound, if it compared to any other animal, or if it is outside the range of a person. If the study did have those results I could not find them, nor does Mr. Morehead state them in the interview I found. These facts all have me a bit on edge.
Doing a bit more research I did find that someone had actually put a lot of time into this case, that man is R. Scott Nelson. Mr. Nelson was a crypto linguist with the US military who specialized in foreign languages and code breaking. The story starts with his son wanting to do a school report on Bigfoot. Like a good father, he was helping his son do research when they came across the Samurai Sounds. Mr. Nelson say he was blown away instantly, and announced that it was definitely language. He then spent two years studying the sounds and communicating with Ron Morehead, and at the 2010 Boggy Depot Bigfoot Conference held in Atoka, Oklahoma, he announced his findings. I will not relay everything, but he outlaid a set of systems he believed enabled him to decode their “language.” I will post a link that has the full “alphabet” and conclusions.

I must say, this is very detailed and seems like an honest effort to do serious research. However, two things seem a bit odd. One is, despite all the effort I can't find any peer review on his work. That’s a big thing that goes a long way in the scientific community, because it goes a long way towards validation. Second, is it seems a bit weird, to me at least, that you can deduce an entire new language from just a few, albeit lengthy, recordings. That being said, I’m not a linguistic expert so that may be a valid interpretation of the data.


There are a few other things that also have me concerned about these vocalizations too. One is, that I found very few reports, outside of Al and Ron’s that mention these kind of vocalizations. I have seen a few, but these usually don’t have specific mentions of the “Samurai Chatter”. That mostly comes from the reporters' interpretation of what the witness says they heard.
Second, if these recordings are so significant, as to indicate a possible language, why isn’t there more effort put in by more researchers into studying this? Maybe it’s the negative reputation that comes with a name like “Samurai Chatter”. However, I have another idea.
The idea that these sounds may in fact be a language all its own is very radical for most. After all, many primates have various vocal and non-vocal forms of communication. Yet, even dedicated primate researchers are reluctant to say that they possess a language, at least in the way we us that term. Over the years different people have used different sets of standards to distinguish humans from animals. The “mirror test” is one such example. This test involves holding up a mirror and seeing if the animal recognizes that he is not looking at another of his kind, but at his own reflection. But one of the most cited of these “tests” is the language test, and we are not talking about a parrot mimicking words, but having a complex and detailed language all its own.  
If Bigfoot exists and they do have a complex language this is truly groundbreaking, as it would cause many to redefine what separates us from the animals and indeed what it means to be ‘human’. This, to say the least, is a very big leap for people to make. Not only are they asking you to accept that a large ape species exists undetected, but it does what, officially, only we can: speak.


So here we are at the end of the day and what do we have? A complex issue with no real answer. As a personal input, I must say I’m still not convinced that the sounds recorded represent a totally new and unique language. In fact a part of me is still bit concerned about the validity of the recordings, if only for the fact that not much outside research has been done on it  and the two original recorders, especially Mr. Morehead, seem determined to make a buck off them at every turn. Yet maybe, there is something to these strange sounds. After all, if there is one thing I know for sure it is that, no matter how far we progress and what we learn, there will always be strange unexplained noises in the night.

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