Around her, a choir of other headphone-wearing volunteers pinch or cover their noses as they try and replicate the full range of the huge mammals’ repertoire, from high cries to low, sonorous moans.
Iceland-based artist Marina Rees has been leading whale-singing workshops in the northern English town of North Shields – all part of a project to try and understand the animals better.
“Of course it’s not notes as such, just kind of noises. So all you’re doing is kind of listening and just trying to copy,” Smith said.
The volunteers listen to a composition of recordings of actual whales before trying to replicate their version in the town’s Old Low Light Heritage Center, where Rees has been artist-in-residence over the last few weeks.
“I’m just trying to follow it. And it’s easier for me to not hold my nose and get strangled up with it really, but I’m trying to make it more nasal,” Smith said.
Rees, who has worked as a whale watching guide, led the whale singing as part of an exhibition titled “North Atlantic Drift: Pursuing Whales”, an examination, she says, of the human relationship with whales in the North Atlantic.
“The whole project was basically based on trying to feel what it’s like to be another species,” she told the BBC.
“First we were playing around with the noises and now we’re following a composition.”
The exhibition runs until October.
Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Andrew Heavens