“We’re a visual culture,” says Bernie Krause. “Most everything we think we know is experienced through what we see. Almost all language we use to describe the a priori world is visual. Try to think of expressions to describe the sonic world. There are very few.”
The Great Animal Orchestra, an audio-visual exhibition primarily based on greater than 50 years of Krause’s recordings—it’s on view by May 22 on the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.—places the audible entrance and middle. The exhibition, which was commissioned by the Fondation Cartier pour l’artwork contemporain, debuted in Paris in 2016 and has traveled to London, Milan, Shanghai, and Seoul, options soundscapes culled from greater than 5,000 hours of recorded audio in addition to animated spectrograms created by United Visual Artists to create an immersive expertise that explores the symphonic nature of Earth’s ecosystems.
“My book, The Great Animal Orchestra, has been translated into seven languages. A French anthropologist named Bruce Albert who was working with the Yanomami tribe in northern Brazil had read a translation and passed it onto his friend, Hervé Chandès, Director of the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain who, in turn, reached out to me with the idea of creating a large format work of sound art supported by streaming spectrograms,” Krause explains. “Working closely with Director Chandès’ team over the course of 18 months, we produced a 90-minute work that plays like a fast-action movie and, at the same time, expresses the wonder of seven different marine and terrestrial habitats at the moment they were at their most robust and vibrant states.”
It’s an concept that’s been within the works for many years. “I was introduced to natural soundscapes rather late in life when I was 30,” Krause explains. “Knowing nothing, one October afternoon in 1968, I took a stereo recorder and a pair of mics into a local park near San Francisco. When I cranked up the machine and heard the powerful illusion of space and textures of a nearby stream, a pair of ravens flying overhead, and the sea breeze from the nearby Pacific wafting through the redwood canopy, the impact on me was so compelling that I decided to find a way to do that for whatever life was left to me.”
It’s an influence that Krause hopes viewers of the exhibition will share. “I want visitors to feel as I do every time I hear this material: I create these works of art as works of wonder I most want others to hear and see manifest in this world,” he says. “When visitors walk out of the space with a look of calm on their faces, I know this moment has had an effect. I’ve not been disappointed.”
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