Entomophonie (2023)

photo: Vivien Gaumand

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artwork: Isabella Salas

In March of 2023 I was called by the Montreal Insectarium to propose a sound piece created using insect sounds as source material. In May, I was awarded the commission, which would have its premiere on the free outdoor stage at Mutek on August 23, accompanied by a digital album available for free streaming and download, and a podcast consisting of interviews I would give throughout the creative process.

   In preparing my proposal, I drew up a conceptual framework around several key areas. I thought about my personal attraction to insect song; its enchanting, healing qualities. This led me to think about its mystery. When we hear insect song, we often cannot see what we are hearing — an incredibly diverse, miniature world living all around, above, and beneath us. What if I could magnify this world, bringing it into focus by manipulating the sounds? I also thought about the tension between fear and fascination, between the beautiful and the grotesque, that concerns the human relation to insects. We are dazzled by butterflies and want to protect them, but we kill flies, wasps, centipedes and often harmless beetles without thinking twice. I also thought of morphology, defined in biology as the study of the diverse forms of living organisms, and in linguistics as the study of the forms of words. If insect song was a language, what could it be telling us? The global insect population has declined by 41 percent in the last ten years alone. So naturally I wondered how I could inspire my audience to want to protect them. What a strange place they occupy in our psychic space: maligned as pests, feared, or simply ignored. I began to wonder if the key to protecting insects might be to make us feel connected to them, to see ourselves reflected in them. And communal music-listening experiences are one of the most fundamental ways to establish this kind of connection and empathy.

  During the first part of the creative process I gathered and catalogued hundreds of insect sounds from various sources including the insectarium itself, my own recordings, and various royalty-free sound sharing websites. These included anything from minuscule eating and climbing sounds recorded from individual insects in cages, to vast ambiences of thousands of insects buzzing and chirping in fields, and everything in between. I categorised them according to their natural place in a musical arrangement: Which ones could be used for bass sounds, which for melodies/harmonies, and which for percussion. 

  During the next stage, I manipulated many of the sounds, often slowing them down or stretching them in the extreme. I was delighted to discover that the sounds of mosquitoes could be made to sound like singing voices. Bumblebees became gigantic, rolling bass lines, and an ordinary house fly could come to resemble an airplane. But it was also important for me to present insects' sounds as they actually are — to respect the natural percussion of grasshoppers, for example. Because the project would have its debut on an outdoor stage, freely accessible to the public, and publicised by the insectarium which is a popular destination for people of all ages, I developed Entomophonie for as wide an audience as possible. The piece, divided into roughly ten short sections, includes percussive rhythmic passages as well as delicate melodic and harmonic portions.

You're Killing Me, Bro (2023)

A schizoid radio collage club mixtape for a train-wrecking civilization overrun with meme politics and techno-fascist pseudo-ideologies, YKMB calls to mind a hyper-populated urban jungle seething with interwoven snippets of mangled melody and meaning, channeling a world growing ceaselessly complex and opaque, not to mention deranged and scary. Created by feeding radio stations into a sampler and editing the samples in realtime, voices shout and scream at each other, endlessly shapeshifting looping segments interlaced in a race for attention. With drum machine spasms and hisses of static they form a frenetic multi-dimensional detritus, questioning how we process (mis)information, and ultimately, which voices empower or overpower, and ultimately, who is in charge? 

Habitat (2022)

A controlled experiment in electronically-assisted aleatoric composition featuring (mostly) acoustic sounds from pianos, a homemade zither, vibraphone, double bass, violin, radios, found percussion and occasionally synthesizers. 

The recordings feature collaborators Martin Rodriguez (radios, electronics), Gabrielle Godbout (vibraphone), Rodney Sothmann (double bass), and Samuel Bobony (drums, electronics), and were produced with support from the CALQ and the Canada Council For The Arts. 

Chris Dorland - SPECIES - (Sound Design)

The exhibition consists of an ambitious single-channel data-driven video work untitled (species III) displayed on a 65” 4k LED monitor. Our Project room has been converted into a miniature black box theater environment. Untitled (species III), 2021, brings to life a digital creature encased within a digital womb. A semi-transparent cephalopod pulses hypnotically with intricate patterns against a deep black abyss. The cephalopod’s skin is a cross between digital metadata and bioluminescent emissions. The artist created the skins using generative adversarial networks (GAN) as a starting point. GAN is a class of machine learning in the same family as deep fakes’ allowing new images to be created out of the extrapolation of data sets. The effect on the creature's skin is both mechanical and organic, reminiscent of the throbbing life-like quality found in consumer districts- like Times Square in NYC, Dundas Square in Toronto, or Dotonbori in Osaka - where electronic advertisements flicker and glitch across the urban landscape.

Mechanical Dances 1 - April 2020, limited edition 7"


Audio created for Chris Dorland's contribution to Red Bull Arts' quarantine series, Decameron TV, seen here in LED matrix form at Nicoletti Contemporary, London UK. 2021


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Official visual for "Inkjets" by Chris Dorland      

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