Following the Flight of the Monarchs Exhibit at the British Science Festival and Australian Radio

I presented a mini exhibition at the British Science Festival in September which was hosted at the University of Hull this year. This was a collection of presentations, including our touring, immersive hide, as well as a fantastic documentary on Monarch butterfly migration from Anna Chahuneau, a sound and video collaboration between sound artist Vaughan Garland, video artist Jessica Rodríguez, and myself, a live audio stream from the Cerro Pelón UNESCO Monarch butterfly reserve in Mexico, and a touchscreen allowing people to learn more about our ‘Following the Flight of the Monarchs’ project.

I was interviewed by the amazing Robyn Williams for ABC’s Science Show. You can catch the 8 minute radio feature here.

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Review in 5:4 Blog for Electric Spring Performance

My recent performance of ‘Flight of the Monarchs’ received a really nice review in the 5:4 blog. It was in the Ambient@40 conference at the University of Huddersfield, involving a live audio stream from the Cerro Pelón Monarch butterfly reserve:

Rob Mackay‘s Flight of the Monarchs went further, offering cinematic insights into the migration of monarch butterflies from Canada to Mexico. These insights were more than just artistic: in addition to film of the butterflies’ movements in conjunction with Mackay’s restrained and inviting music, the work incorporated a live audio stream from the forest in Mexico where the filming had taken place. What this added to the experience is hard to articulate, but the knowledge that we were, at that very moment, connected to a place over 6,000 miles away said something of the deeper connection Mackay was seeking to make between the natural world and the creatures that inhabit it. The combined effect was lovely: sometimes the only way to respond to beauty is with beauty.’

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Eavesdropping on Monarch Butterflies

In January and March this year, I returned to Mexico to visit the Cerro Pelón Monarch butterfly reserve. Working with an interdisciplinary team of artists and scientists, including Monarch expert Dr Pablo Jaramillo, we’ve been exploring the reserve. This has included the installation of a streambox, designed and made by SoundCamp which broadcasts the sounds of the reserve over the internet in real-time. Already we’ve had good interest from Monarch Watch, and other people around the globe. The stream forms part of the the UNESCO Biosphere Soundscapes project, led by Leah Barclay.

Monika Maeckle at the Texas Butterfly Ranch has written a nice blog post about our recent trip, complete with photo documentation and a link to the live stream on the Locus Sonus Soundmap.

http://texasbutterflyranch.com/2018/02/07/symphony-of-wings-sound-of-millions-of-monarch-butterflies-available-via-live-stream/

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Recording the Stalacpipe Organ – Composer Residency at the University of Virginia

I’ve just returned from an inspiring visit to Charlottesville, where I’ve been hosted by the amazing music department at the University of Virginia. Whilst I was there, I continued my research into ringing stones and lithophones. Virginia is home to the Stalacpipe Organ, which was designed and built by Leland Sprinkle between 1954 – 1957. It’s the world’s largest instrument, spanning over 3.5 acres underground in the Luray Caverns very near to the Blue Ridge Mountains. The stalactites in the caverns ring when struck, and Sprinkle spent 3 years choosing a number of them, and tuning them to a chromatic scale. He then linked them to an organ console via copper wires. Each key on the console is linked to a different wire, which in turn is linked to a solenoid attached to each chosen stalactite. The result is a beautiful, spacious sound with stalactites being spaced all around the listener. You literally play the cavern.

I spent a day there playing and recording the instrument in ambisonics, along with Matthew Burtner, in order to capture the sound in 3D. These recordings are being worked into a new composition inspired by the instrument and the different geological processes which have made it. Many thanks to John Shaffer and his team at the Luray caverns for allowing us to record, and many thanks to Matthew Burtner for inviting me, as well as putting me up in his home. Thanks also to Noel Lobley for letting me speak to his undergraduate students, and to Travis Thatcher for having me as a guest artist, performing two of my compositions, as well as putting on my interactive lithophone installation at his Telemetry night in downtown Charlottesville.

IMG_6340IMG_6363IMG_6357IMG_6355IMG_6352IMG_6347IMG_6344IMG_6343IMG_6341IMG_9332Rob Mackay @ Telemetry (1)Rob Mackay @ Telemetry (2)Rob Mackay @ Telemetry (3)Rob Mackay @ Telemetry (4)Rob Mackay @ Telemetry (5)IMG_9321IMG_9323

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Flight of the Monarchs tours to the Eden Project, Shambala, and Musicport

This summer I and my partner Stella Darby took ‘Flight of the Monarchs’ on the road. It’s an immersive audiovisual installation inspired by the incredible 3,000 mile journey that the Monarch butterfly takes each year from Canada to Mexico, finding warmer climes during the winter in order to roost. There have been several theories as to how these tiny creatures navigate, including magnetism and celestial mapping. The most recent research shows that they have an in-built sun compass and chronometer which allows them to migrate in swarms of millions. Amazingly, they fly to the same roosts each year, often to the exact same trees. Their children make the journey back north in the spring, and their great-grandchildren return to Mexico the following year. In Mexican tradition, there is a belief that the butterflies are the souls of the dead, returning to visit each year.

I recorded video and sound footage at the El Rosario reserve in Michoacan in 2015, trying to capture the beauty of these delicate butterflies and their surroundings. Video footage from Manuel Zirate is also featured in the top panel, and video editing was done by Jessica Rodriguez. The sound for the installation is comprised of three elements: Field recordings which capture the rushing sound of millions of tiny wings (as well as one or two tourists); a specially commissioned poem from Mexican poet Rolando Rodriguez (La Marcha de las Mariposas); and a recording of an improvisation session between myself (flute, ocarina), and musicians David Blink (hang), and John Sanders (accordion) which we conducted in the open air in Michaocan (this has been processed to create a dreamlike quality, reflecting the words of Rolando’s poetry).

In recent years, the Monarchs’ numbers have declined steeply. Several factors may be causing this: logging of their roosting grounds, crop spraying, and climate change.

The installation is set up to resemble a hide in the forest from which the viewer can look out at these beautiful creatures.

Just before the tour, Verity Sharp featured the soundtrack to the installation on BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction. So thanks to her for spreading the word!

Tweet Flight of the Monarchs on BBC Radio 3 Verity Sharp tweet

Our first port of call was the Eden Project. After an adventurous journey which involved a wheel completely falling off our trailer, and several friends coming to our rescue, we set-up in the Education Hub for 5 days, with over 10,000 visitors, and some lovely comments in our visitors book. The presentation was part of the Balance/UnBalance Conference, hosted by Plymouth University.

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We then went straight to Shambala and set-up outside in the woods. I think this was my favourite presentation of the work, transporting people from the woods in the English countryside to the forests of Mexico.

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And finally, we had a great weekend at the Musicport world music festival in Whitby, sharing our wonder of the Monarch butterflies.

Short documentary clip from the first showing at the Amy Johnson Festival in Hull:

 

4 screen render with better quality sound:

 

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2778 Nautical Miles: Collaboration between school children in Hull and Freetown, Sierra Leone

The third collaboration between John Wedgwood Clarke and I this year saw us developing a new travelling exhibition by primary school pupils in Hull and our sister city Freetown in Sierra Leone. 2778 Nautical Miles is named after the distance between Hull and Freetown and is a call-and-response piece including poetry, recorded sound and photography created in both cities. Drawing on the tradition of the call-and-response-song, UK and Sierra Leonean pupils’ creative writing and sound recordings – which were made on location in their homes, markets, ports and at their respective cities’ monuments to slavery and to freedom – question and answer each other.

We ran a  number of field recording and creative writing workshops with the school pupils, and worked with them to develop the installation which is made from their field recordings and writings. In John’s words “We wanted the children to listen to the city, we looked for things we might have in common with Freetown, the port, markets and monuments, and explore the differences and similarities through poetry, interviews sound-recordings, editing and curating.”

The project was devised and curated by Sea Swim in partnership with Global Learning Hull, the International Pupil Council and our No Limits learning programme.

 

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Equanimity on BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction

Verity Sharp featured my piece ‘Equanimity’ for clarinet + computer on Late Junction last night. It features a field recording made in Mallorca with the sounds of cicadas and waves on the shoreline. I’ve tried to blend the sounds of the clarinet and the field recording, with the clarinettist mimicking the geophony (waves and wind), and biophony (cicadas and other insects). The sounds of the instrument and field recording are merged further using live electronic processing.

I recorded the piece in 2009 with clarinettist F. Gerard Errante in Las Vegas. It was released in 2010 on Aucourant Records as part of Gerry Errante’s ‘Delicate Balance‘ CD.

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Offshore: Artists Explore the Sea opens at the Ferens Gallery and Maritime Museum for Hull’s City of Culture year

Tonight we opened ‘Offshore: Artists Explore the Sea‘ a major 6 month exhibition featuring 10 new commissions and other works from a range of international artists, including Tacita Dean and author China Miéville. The exhibition, curated by Invisible Dust, examines the many contrasting ways that the sea has shaped our culture, our imaginations and our physical existence through mythical sea monsters, superstition and seaside traditions as well as trade and travel. While inherently without borders, we have mapped the sea for exploitation, geo-political advantage and for conservation.

John Wedgwood Clarke and I installed our soundscape and poetry installation ‘Above 8’ as part of the exhibition. The piece explores the effect of increasing ocean acidification on the ability of different marine organisms to communicate, including the Harbour Ragworm which communicates through chemical exchange. If the pH falls to below 7.7, then the worms wouldn’t be able to breed, and the estuarine mud which their mucus-lined burrows hold together would be washed away, and a whole ecosystem with it.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/234680491″>'Offshore: artists explore the sea' an introduction</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user54715069″>Invisible Dust</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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Voice Over Water

John Wedgwood Clarke and I were commissioned to create a new sound work by Invisible Dust, for an event called The Ocean Connects Us run by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation at Trinity Buoy Wharfe in London. The aim of the event was to explore ways of communicating the value of the ocean effectively, sharing what’s working well and potentially seeding new ideas and collaborations. It brought together NGOs, scientists, artists, and policy-makers on the 1st March 2017.

Our piece, Voice Over Water (VOW) is a poetry soundscape in three sections that explores parallels between human and marine-biological communication systems in the context of the River Thames at Trinity Buoy Wharf. If, through ocean acidification, the pH of the sea falls, as predicted, to 7.7 by 2100, then many aquatic organisms dependent on chemical communication will be effectively rendered blind. This is the central idea that Voices Over Water explores and seeks to communicate to a wider audience through a range of metaphors and procedures.

We chose three different locations: The East India Dock, a pontoon opposite the Trinity Buoy Wharfe Lighthouse, and Hungerford Bridge, placing the poet’s voice over the water at each location. We recorded both below and above the river’s surface, and captured many sounds, including a segment of Jem Finer’s 1,000 year composition Longplayer.

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Exploring the Humber Estuary with John Clarke for a new commission from Invisible Dust

I’ve spent a few days this month exploring the Humber estuary with poet and collaborator John Wedgwood Clarke for a new commission from Invisible Dust called ‘Offshore: Artists Explore the Sea’. We’ll be combining 3D ambisonic field recordings with photographs, charts, maps, video and text for the installation which will be showing in Hull’s Maritime Museum from 31st March – 28th August 2017 as part of Hull’s amazing City of Culture year.

It’s been fascinating and inspiring to explore this liminal zone between land and sea. Here’s a few visual impressions from Spurn Point, Fort Paull and the ABP ro-ro ferry terminal.

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