Requiem


photograph: James Winters

Requiem is sound installation whose topic is extinction. The installation consists of an electronic music composition, speakers in an empty and preferably darkened space, and an accompanying booklet which contextualizes the piece for the listener.

The composition (built in Max/MSP) uses the sounds of extinct animals as its sound material exclusively. The booklet describes the intention of the piece, and lists each of the creatures heard therein by their common and scientific names and provides data on their ranges and when and why they became extinct. Beside the booklet, there is no other visual material. The first paragraph of the booklet follows:

“The sounds in this composition will never again be heard in the wild. All of the species audible in this piece—ten birds and two frogs—are now extinct. You are able to hear these sounds because the creatures that made them went extinct during the era of recorded sound; this is a unique moment in the history of human-driven extinction.”

A recording of the premier installation of Requiem, in Orono, Maine in May of 2018, is linked below. This is a ten-minute excerpt; the piece would run forever, theoretically, if it were allowed to do so.

 
In both of the first two showings of Requiem, groups of middle school-aged students encountered the piece, accompanied by their instructors. This fulfills my primary hope for the piece, which is to see it engaging people from outside of the art world, and particularly the young. Without expressing a particular agenda, the piece presents simple materials and factual information, encouraging the listener to draw a straightforward conclusion. Below are two installation-view photographs of groups of youngsters in the space.


Students from the Holbrook Middle School (RSU 63), Holden, Maine (left) and the Audubon Boston Nature Center, Boston, Massachusetts (right)

I would like to thank the Macaulay Library of the Cornell Laboratory for Ornithology and The Amphibian Foundation for providing the sound files for this piece, and the International Union of the Conservation of Nature for their Red List of Threatened Species from which much of the data on the animals herein were gathered.

I also want to thank N.B. Aldrich and my colleagues at the University of Maine’s Intermedia MFA program. Thanks are also due to Stephanie Lee and Ellen Shakespear at Spaceus for their enthusiastic support and gracious hosting of the piece during July & August, 2018.

 
Project history

Host: private residence, Malden, Massachusetts, USA : August 11 – August 17, 2018
Host: Spaceus in the Roslindale Substation building, Roslindale, Massachusetts, USA : July 14 – August 8, 2018
Host: University of Maine Intermedia MFA program, Orono, Maine, USA : May 3, 2018

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