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:

 

About robflute

Rob Mackay is a composer, sound artist and performer. He is currently a Senior Lecturer in Music at the University of Hull. Recent projects have moved towards a cross-disciplinary approach, including geology, soundscape ecology, theatre, audiovisual installation work, and human-computer interaction. His work has been performed in 18 countries (including several performances on BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 1 and Radio France), and a number of his pieces have received international awards (Bourges (1997 and 2001), EAR (1999), La Muse en Circuit (2007)). He has held composer residencies at Slovak Radio (Bratislava), La Muse en Circuit (Paris), the Tyrone Guthrie Arts Centre (Ireland), Habitación del Ruido (Mexico City), and CMMAS (Morelia). He has collaborated with a number of poets, including Martin Daws (Young People’s Poet Laureate for Wales, 2013 – 2015) and John Wedgwood Clarke (for the Arts Council funded Dictionary of Stone and Sea Swim with Lara Goodband). This was a natural progression from working on a number of projects based on the theme of geology, including a collaboration with percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie on the Natural England funded Ruskin Rocks project, led by a team of scientists and musicians at the University of Leeds who created two stone instruments (lithophones). He has also created a Jurassic soundscape for Scarborough’s Rotunda museum which is currently installed. Rob has been a reviewer for numerous international conferences, including ICMC (International Computer Music Conference), NIME (New Instruments for Musical Expression), DHRN (Digital Humanities Research Network), and journals (Organised Sound, Cambridge University Press) and is editor for Interference, a Journal of Audio Cultures. He has played, written and produced in a number of bands including the Welsh Hip-Hop collective Tystion with whom he collaborated alongside John Cale on the film A Beautiful Mistake (Film 4), as well as recording two John Peel sessions on BBC Radio 1 and supporting PJ Harvey. The band have a chapter devoted to them in Sarah Hill’s book ‘Blerwytirhwng?’ The Place of Welsh Pop Music (Ashgate 2007). Rob has done session work for Super Furry Animals producer Gorwel Owen, songwriter Euros Childs, and Hip-Hop producer Kista. He is currently enjoying playing in the Welsh Afro-tropical collective Drymbago, having supported Quantic and Tony Allen. More information and pieces at: www.soundcloud.com/robflute University of Hull Profile Page
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