Heavy sniffing. Ditto panting. Every now and then a rutting grunt. That’s how Sudan, the last Northern white rhino male in the world, has been acoustically preserved for posterity. On March 19, 2018, the beast received a syringe (age-related ailments), which sealed the fate of its kind for good.
« When I first played the sound clip, it was as if the animal was in the middle of my studio, » says composer and producer Evelien Van Den Broek (1975). « If you then consider that the white rhinoceros has existed for almost two million years, so it ends here. I find that a disconcerting thought. ”
Sudan gave Van den Broek a prominent place Biophonica, a musical performance for animal sounds, electronics and the trumpet of Mark Nieuwenhuis. Theme: the alarming decline in biodiversity due to human activities. The greatest decline since the extinction of dinosaurs has occurred since 1970. It is not without reason that a growing contingent of scientists speaks of a sixth mass extinction.
After a successful premiere at November Music 2019 would Biophonica heard in March during festival Rewire. Corona threw a spanner in the works, but Van Den Broek did not sit still and distilled an album from the material. As of Friday Endlings available through her site and Bandcamp. In a month also via Spotify.
« Yes, it is an album with a message, » says Van Den Broek via Skype. « I think it is important that people know how things are with the earth, and I think art can make an important contribution to that awareness. Music in particular. ”
Of course you can read about ecological disaster, says Van Den Broek. Plenty of scientific studies and newspaper articles. But listening to it, that’s another story, she says: “You experience sounds firsthand. Literally. Sounds surround you, penetrate your ears and let your body resonate. Sound gives you a sense of closeness and connection, as if you are physically present in a place. ”
Van Den Broek can know. After studying music technology, she worked on an oeuvre that stands out for its kaleidoscopic versatility: from an experimental indie pop album like False Memories to film music and installations. She also made audio walks, in which she tells stories about different places in Amsterdam with sound.
Also Biophonica deals in intimate one-two punches between sound and location. Listen to the opening section, « Rainforest ». Van Den Broek works there with recordings of a Costa Rican rainforest. You hear a sound of buzzing insects, amphibians, birdsong and the call of a howler monkey. With your eyes closed you can almost feel the moist tropical heat.
After a brief intermezzo of trumpet signals and steaming electronics, an impression of the same place after illegal logging: the wind blowing and a lonely bird. A voice-over presents the depressing figures: every year, 260 million square kilometers of rainforest disappear from the face of the earth.
Also read: The sparrows on violin, the woodpecker on timpani
No, before Biophonica Van Den Broek did not fly extensively around the world. Field recordings from existing sound banks offered a more sustainable solution. She also worked with scientists and contacted Bernie Krause, once a studio musician for The Doors and The Byrds, later the founder of Soundscape Ecology.
In his bestseller The Great Animal Orchestra Krause carefully explains the foundations of his field of research. How each biosphere has its own sonic signature. And how analyzes of those soundscapes provide a wealth of information about the diversity and well-being of an ecosystem.
For Van Den Broek, it was mainly the acoustic qualities of the recordings that sparked her imagination: “It is unbelievable how musically much animal sounds are. I often use them as an extra tool. Conversely, I wanted to make animal sounds with electronics. It really has become an organic hybrid. ”
Including a note in the closing measures, a groovy dialogue between trumpet, whistling synthesizers and the call of the Hawaiian Kauai-o’O bird. In reality, the virtuoso singing animal no longer received an answer. His peers were dead.