Amazon vs Electricity

“Amazon vs. Electricity” is an audio track, that has been produced in Amazon, Brazil November 2007. Recordings of frogs, insects, crickets, birds, electric poles* (!) and weather have been manipulated and assembled in Brazil’s tropical rainforest. This is an aural representation of the “constant and relentless audio battle”, between environmental sonic phenomena and electric power.

Listen to a sample from Amazon vs. Electricity

I would like, at first, to do a small introduction about this area in general. The Amazon Rainforest (Selva Amazónica or Amazonía) also known as Amazonia or the Amazon Basin, encompasses seven million square kilometres. The Amazon represents over half of the planet’s remaining rainforests and comprises the largest and most species-rich tract of tropical rainforest in the world. They usually call it “the library of life.” The Amazonian rainforest have unparalleled biodiversity.

More than 1/3 of all species in the world live in the Amazon Rainforest. The region is home to about 2.5 million insect species, tens of thousands of plants, and some 2000 birds and mammals. To date, at least 40,000 plant species, 3,000 fish, 1,294 birds, 427 mammals, 428 amphibians, and 378 reptiles have been scientifically classified in the region. Scientists have described between 96,660 and 128,843 invertebrate species in Brazil alone. The Amazon river is the world’s largest river by volume with a total river flow greater than the next top ten largest rivers flowing into the ocean combined.

Due to global phenomenon of “erasing” valuable spots from the map, Amazon area couldn’t be an exception… And why not? Deforestation and illegal logging are two of the main reasons that make this area suffering.

Deforestation is the conversion of forested areas to non-forested areas. The main sources of deforestation in the Amazon are human settlement and development of the land. Between 1991 and 2000, the total area of forest lost in the Amazon rose from 415,000 to 587,000 km², an area twice the size of Portugal, with most of the lost forest becoming pasture for cattle. In February, 2008, the Brazilian government announced that the rate at which the Amazon rainforest is being cut down has increased significantly over the past few months. During the last five months of 2007, more than 3,200 sq. kilometers was deforested during a time when deforestation would normally drop.

Illegal logging is another main cause of this rainforest’s destruction. This, helped the movement that was called like “Hamburger connection” in 80’s. Another thing that should be mentioned here, is the fact that 1340 murders have happened in Amazon the last 20 years from private armies who “work” for the illegal logging. In average, we could say that 3 square kilometres per day are being destructed. And this is a huge number, indeed… We should outline though, that Amazon rainforest is still offering one of the deepest breathes to choking earth.

The inhabitants of this wide area have been characterized as uncontacted people who, either by choice or chance, live without significant contact with the larger civilizations of the world. During the Malab workshop, we had the chance to deal, almost live together with the locals. This was an incredible experience, which can be precisely described as unique and stunning. The way they think and act to each other have nothing to do with the kingdom of hypocricy around other societies… They live in a spartan way, finding the “happiness” and joy in simple things like fishing, playing football or simply speak to each other.

Focusing on the sound matters in Amazon, I could say that this is a relentless multi-instrument orchestra consists of the sound of birds, insects, plants, frogs, mammals, underwater sonic affairs a.o. Bird song is always recognizable and audible from high frequency insects to melodic structures from birds and the entire orchestra’s pandemonium. The rainforest is spontaneously tuned. The intensity in anything that can be heard (from frog’s voices to the sound of the leaves and the branches), is clearly audible no matter how loud the sound is.

Every sound is different from the other and this awesome multitude cannot be represented through a recording. Recordings (and recorders, microphones etc), are non neutral. In addition, it is still impossible to imitate the sounds that come from every direction in a simplified stereo mix. Or even more, in a multi channel installation, the experience of real time listening is still indispensable. This is a reason why i find the effort of making simple and pure “audio documentation” in environments like this unimportant and meaningless.

I think that redefining the sonic matter into a personal perspective and create an alternate experience based on how each of us perceives these sonic matters, is the ultimate “goal” and what really matters. This, unfold the nature’s aftermaths to each of us individually. For instance, somebody could say that the raw material from frogs recordings i used in “Amazon vs. Electricity” is mesmerizing and soft, if we make a lo-fi piece ideal for sleeping.

To me, their sound is really aggressive and dense. By listening to 2 pieces created by the same material but from different people, we can determine the diversity of “views”. The idea of aurally documenting a place might be useful for scientific purposes or for some acoustic ecology researchers, but personally i find it absolutely boring. It is boring, because it doesn’t force or even lead to “alternate experiences” and it is unimportant because it turns hearing in a “limited sense” like seeing (photography/phonography). Hearing, could develop and increase by exercising and concentrating. Seeing cannot. The aural understanding of nature is unlimited. This is why I strongly believe that music as art is much more brilliant and deep comparing to others who demand for eyes wide-open. And this is why i have the impression that by creating a piece which expresses my personal view of the sonic matters in Amazon, i work to this direction.

In “Amazon vs. Electricity” i used recordings i made in this environment plus a recording from a contact-miked electric pole in a village in Mamori lake. This was made by Ruben Garcia. The piece, is –as i wrote above- a representation of the constant battle between the environmental sonic phenomena and electric power. I found many similarities in the sound of the electric poles and the dense sound of frogs e.g. There is in both agony, a continuous aggressive “threat” and an internal parallel response to the sounds that inspired me to combine and mix them up. I added some high frequency sounds from insects. It is absolutely stunning the way the birds “speak” to each other. And not only referring to the nuances of the sounds.

Geometrically, I felt a lot of times in both long and very short distances that there is a (faulty sometimes, but always beautiful) perfectionism in the way the human ear perceives the panning of the sounds and how they appear in foreground/background. And this is not a pure L-R panning but it refers generously to all the audible dimensions. This X-D sonic reality is certainly impossible to be described in an audio piece. It’s simply impossible. And for me, this makes it awesome and adorable. It is one of nature’s “expressions” that humans and their artistic outputs cannot replicate and mimic. A photograph could never bring us the smell of the place. And phonography, in its contemporary form, could never bring us the entire “geometrical layout” of the sounds, which is a highly sensory and captivating experience.

It is undeniable, that the best musical responses to bird song happen when composers stretch the bounds of their music by trying to inhabit these alien but familiar sounds. Olivier Messiaen wrote some of the finest avian-inspired music ever heard. Bird songs, he said, are “the opposite of time”, for they will outlast any human attempts to try to make our art endure. Messiaen created a piano piece called “Catalogue d’Oiseaux” which does not simply copy that song, but translates its essence into strange harmonies and a yearning endless climb. Birds are not conveying very much specific information, but it is the fact of their singing that makes the necessary impact in defending territories and attracting mates. But these dual functions suggested by evolution don’t do much to explain why these songs are so beautiful. In “Amazon vs. Electricity” I tried to stretch the bounds of the sounds i heard in Amazon and not only time-wise, but also, relating to their internal response to each other and how intense that was.

By trying to perform a combination from one sound that is “mechanical” and “industrial” (electric pole), with sounds that purely come from the rainforest, i want to outline that in our audible universe the nature sounds are operating and “pre-exist” in a way that makes everything else sounds familiar. And there comes the sonic battle…

*Thanx to Ruben Garcia

[You can also listen to a radio show by Andrea Williams which includes “Amazon vs Electricity”. From N.Y based free103point9, here. This show, is dedicated to Mamori Art Lab 2007, created and directed by Francisco López].

Posted February 29, 2008 in