I started my research from a physical approach and the question of “how to embody animals”. The underlying question was from the beginning how I could, as a human being “become animal”, get to learn from different animal perspectives and gain a deeper, more empathetic connection to animals. Besides embodiment of animals the sounds animals make have sparked an increasing curiosity in me. How can we listen to animals? My most recent research led me on the path of investigating turtles – their anatomy, behaviour, but also their connection to my family. (Through my research I learned that both my families – on my mother’s as well as my father’s side had pet turtles around 1900).
Against the assumption that turtles are silent animals, we now know that they have, depending on the species a variety of sounds to communicate and express. Even google knows already: “Turtles are not silent creatures. Some sound like electric motors, some sound like belching humans and some bark like dogs. The red-footed tortoise from South America clucks like a chicken”.
Listening to animal sounds is already an extraordinary experience and I believe a way to interspecies communication. How do we listen? And which animals can we hear? These were underlying questions for the invention of the “first steps towards animals communication”. (Due to unsolved technical reasons it was not possible to embed the original video here, it is hyperlinked to the underlined text instead).
I am curious about blurring the lines of different temporalities and well as reality and fiction. The video “first steps towards animals communication” is a continuation of performance experiments “Turtle Stories I” and “Turtle Stories II” which were developed and shared during the “Studio Practice and Feedback Frameworks” residency. Besides the question of how to bridge different temporalities, this time I was also challenged by the question of how to create an immediacy of the situation without a live audience. This is exactly where the medium of the video helped me to preserve the immediacy of the improvisation. If animal communication and translation of animal sounds would be possible how would it look like?
My interest in creating a device, a sculpture, which allows humans to experience animal sounds, is also part of a speculative framework in which I developed the festival MASTERING PERCEPTION:
"Sound Machine Sculpture
The giant sculpture at the entrance of each festival has an intrinsic life of itself which the audience can access through touch. Touch activates different sound files which project animal sounds with the new invisible Soundsystem, which also translates pitches which the human ear would not hear into frequencies for humans."
"Our sound machine sculpture makes it possible for the audience to listen to baby sea turtles in their eggs, which coordinate their hatching, the high pitches of the elk, whales, dolphins and batwings to name just a few. The audience decides whether they want to know which sound is produced by which animal. If they wish to know, the information is received through the app “MASTERING PERCEPTION” in which they can find more information about each sound (when where and how it is produces) as well as details about the animals."
Inspired by the fake chess-playing machine “Automaton Chess Player”, also known as “Chess Turk” or the “Mechanical Turk”, which was constructed in the late 18th century, I am intrigued to perform with an animal communication device on stage: “The audience was […] led to believe that the automaton was a purely mechanical device. When they subsequently observed that it played an excellent fame of chess, they were left in awe!” (Newborn, 1975, p. 5). Before anybody realised that human manipulators were hiding in the automaton there was enough time for the automaton to tour the world for seventy years and participate in hundreds of exhibitions! (Newborn, 1975)
There are two possibilities which I can imagine working further, engaging with the device I created for “first steps towards animals communication”. If I would create the setting of “first steps towards animals communication” for a live audience, I would love to collaborate with a foley artist, who produces the sounds in real-time, only audible for the audience, not visible. Like this, the element of improvisation and liveness would still be possible.
One possibility would be to create a large size device, similar to the geared piano I am presenting in the video. The casing would be big enough to give room for a foley artist to produce real-time live sounds for the audience to hear. This would allow an immediacy in the presentation, and possibly a bi-directional flow of interspecies interaction/communication as some animals might not want to be heard, and/or can react directly with the human individuum engaging with the device.
Another possibility (and much less budget involved) is to pre-record animal sounds with a foley artist and mix these with real animal sounds. Reality and fiction would be almost impossible to distinguish here. From an ethical perspective, I am questioning how, if I produce the animal sounds myself, the real listening and ‘understanding of animals’ can be part of this speculative device. But in order to create a device, that allows bi-directional flow, for us to not just receive animal sounds, but also to speak back in animal sounds, we need to learn to imitate the sounds we hear very precisely. What does translation and transmission mean in this context? In my eyes, listening is a prerequisite for developing this device further. There are various possibilities to learn about animals sounds online.
At this stage technological devices such as a sampler in which I could pre-record animals’ sounds are interesting to me in a setting in which reality and fiction are blurred and in which these assets allow improvisation. It might be interesting to look more into work by people like soundscape ecologist Bernie Krause, whose CD album "Gorillas in the Mix" was composed entirely from sampled animal sounds, played from sampling keyboards (1988). Besides this Bernie Krause coined the word “Biophony” which “refers to the collective acoustic signatures generated by all sound-producing organisms in a given habitat at a given moment.” Even though I was not able to go further in this Elective with the idea of sampling, I am certainly intrigued by the possibilities nowadays to make my laptop my sampler and am very curios to experiment further in this direction.
The tools I used as speculative devices allowed me to create an alternate liveness and reality. Similar to the piano which is one of the best known instruments in our western hemisphere, the Asian Meridian Tap tool is a very concrete medical tool, as well as the Novafon, both used in the video "first steps toward and animal communication".
The devices opened up a speculative imagination of what could be possible and created a playfulness, which is becoming an integral part of my research and performance making. Which elements give me permission to integrate playfulness as an integral part of my performance making?
The medium of the video allowed me to be in the moment and to capture the unrepeatable moment of the improvisation within the realm of my room. Therefore, I was using what was available to me – every object can become a vessel for an unseen world to emerge. In contrast to a performance setting on stage, onto which I would bring only objects which I consider already part of the performance, the constraints of my room became also the means by which I was creating. It is a big question for me how I can invite the spontaneity of improvisation with unfamiliar/speculative thoughts/objects onto the stage. It possibly requires me to involve the audience, to ask them to invent new devices with me, to imagine past and future animals that inhabit this planet...