Over the course of nearly fifty years as a professional musician, Bernie Krause has recorded the sounds of more than 15,000 animal species, accumulating over 5,000 hours of audio recordings from wildernesses and wild places.
It is something of a departure from his earlier work. Originally specialising in electronic music, Krause and his professional partner Paul Beaver worked on some of Hollywood’s most iconic soundtracks, including those of Apocalypse Now and Dr Strangelove. Now however, Krause is firmly enmeshed in the relatively new field of bioacoustics, immersing himself in wild places across the globe in order to preserve and celebrate the sounds of nature.
The Great Animal Orchestra, originally commissioned by Fondation Cartier pour l'Art Contemporain, brings together some of Krause’s recordings in an immersive soundscape experience. Created by London-based practice United Visual Artists (UVA), the experience is the third installation of Other Spaces, an exhibition held at Central London arts venue, 180 The Strand.
It is perhaps a boon that The Great Animal Orchestra sits at the end of this exhibition. The audience is likely to feel thoroughly discombobulated by the time they get there, which only adds to the sense of immersion. First, take a walk through Our Time, an evolution of UVA’s 2013 installation for the Barbican. The visitor is plunged into a dark room in which, high above, lit pendulums swing back and forth and round and round in a trance-like fashion, projecting light and sound onto the walls.
The idea, so the introduction tells us, is to manipulate the viewer’s ‘experience of time’. It’s certainly a trippy experience – eerie but oddly meditative. Next, it’s on to Vanishing Point. Inspired by the Renaissance perspective drawings of Leon Battista Alberti, Leonardo Da Vinci and Albrecht Dürer (though some viewers might be reminded more of the laser beam mazes popular in certain spy movies) beams of white light are projected towards the viewer from a central point. These lasers move and reassemble, playing with the audience’s sense of perspective to dizzying effect.
Finally, it’s on to the The Great Animal Orchestra, a more soothing affair. Settle down on beanbags and watch and listen as 12 different soundscapes are presented with accompanying visuals – a series of fluorescent spectrograms which travel around the walls of the room. Each of the compositions lasts around 12 minutes, with the accumulated sounds hailing from different wild regions. Individual animals are labelled, alerting the viewer to listen carefully among the general warble of insects, frogs and bird song. Howler monkeys in the Amazon, humpback whales in the Pacific, wolves and squirrels in Canada and forest elephants in the Central African Republic screech, sing and trumpet loudly, reaching above the collected throng of voices. The effect is both calming and arresting.
But this orchestra is really a peak into a world gone by. Many of the recordings on offer are fairly old, collected by Krause in the early 1990s or even before. It is inevitable that some of these locations are now silent, a fact highlighted explicitly in the final piece – titled Before and After – in which Krause demonstrates the audio effect of habitat deterioration. Be it different sections of a coral reef, one alive, one dead; or a tropical rainforest captured in 1989 and then again in 1996 following extensive logging – it is here that Krause’s message really resonates. Plunged into darkness, with the ever-flickering lights ahead, it’s impossible not to think of the creatures we share the Earth with, their dependence and their vulnerability.
Other Spaces takes place at 180 The Strand, London, WC2R 1EA from 2 October – 8 December 2019 and is free to enter. Opening times: 12pm–7pm (closed Mondays)
Listen to some clips from The Great Animal Orchestra here. Find out more about 180 The Strand here.
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