Tiny Love Songs (All our futures are Scalable) was a score for the living insects of our world. The score created an expanded, and cinematic, soundscape within the pine woodlands of Vlieland, an island off the coast of North Netherlands.
The sound and light that slowly illuminated the darkness was the chorus of a million mosquitoes that build slowly, before falling abruptly into silence and pitch black. Starting just before the hour every hour, the score highlights the silence that falls before and after, as audiences listen to the far off sounds of the music festival, the night time life of the woodlands.
The score emerged from research into scientific innovation, specifically that of the genetically modified mosquito (Friendly Mosquito TM – aka Aedes aegypti) which has been released globally in countries including Brazil, Cayman Islands, Malaysia, to attempt to halt the spread of viruses such as Zika, Dengue etc. that cause great harm to human health in these areas. The field trials conducted to ascertain impact are coordinated in areas that have less regulation or rights protection for populations, environment and biodiversity than in the EU.
The audiences is able to move through a layered composition developed with composer Bill Thompson that is multi-directional, mixing frequencies in the ear of the listener. This effect helps simulate for the human ear, the mating behaviour of the mosquito. The sound we hear when a mosquito is buzzing around our ears is in fact these tiny insects adjusting their wing beats, and this is also their love song. They adjust the frequency of their wings so that they can synchronise and couple in mid air with partners. Scientific recording of the Aedes aegypti were used to create the underlying frequencies.
The ‘post-natural’ or human designed organism is intended to be anti-evolutionary, due to a genetic modification which means that the offspring of the Friendly Mosquito do not live, and so, the cycle of their lives ends. This is intended to halt the spread of disease, but it is not clear what the unintended consequences are.
We were therefore interested in how audiences might respond to this score; a love song performed in the context of a musical festival that has a deep environmental connection.
Through our research into the subject, we acknowledge that we can celebrate the human made mosquito as a biomedical advance that halts the spread of deadly pathogens as disease. Nonetheless, we were also made aware that this happens through the planned local extinction of a species for which we have little emotional attachment, except perhaps fear and loathing.
There are good reasons for this, the mosquito is our apex predator. But our concern lies around those expressed by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring, a book published in 1962, that traces the molecular impact of agro-business on all life. Our concern extends this work, and of colleagues such as Critical Art Ensemble, in creating a work that speaks to insect collapse and habitat loss across the world, due to the use of poorly or unregulated agricultural or biomedical advances.
In this case, the ‘post-natural’ or experimental terminator organism is released in experimental field trials in areas where there are low regulations, recreating the oppressive history of colonial power that science has yet to address. This includes experiments on subjects with out consent.
The future of this tiny insect is scalable as a narrative, and as such, maps onto the messy outcomes of our lives, our designs and intentions that are not predictable. If we are to consider all possible futures, for all species and at all scales, as artists, researchers, clinicians, or even as a species, we need to draw attention not only to these post natural developments, their governance and control, but remain attentive sensorially to the messages we receive from the world around us, aware of different life cycles and rhythms as they change.
Exploring Vlieland with other artist at Here Comes the Summer in Vlieland, Netherlands – May 2019.
The installation utilises units installed with GPS satellite tracking systems to coordinate timing of each device, allowing units to act with independence from a local networked system that would be vulnerable in the exterior setting. Project transported to Vlieland by sailing ship and powered using renewable energy supplied by the ‘Into The Great Wide Open’ Festival.
Below – Prototype, sketches.