3 Nov 2018

Twin signals at Silver Stream (fragments of a landscape for specimens #50.766 & #50.767)

Drawing on the medium of radio’s ability to connect across time and distance, Twin signals at Silver Stream (fragments of a landscape for specimens #50.766 & #50.767) (2016-18) listens in to the global flows of colonial extractive economies via two minor silences present as traces in the landscape of contemporary Aotearoa/New Zealand. A new performance work and installation themed around erasure, the audible trace, extinction, colonial-era collecting, and silence, the piece utilises micro-radio transmission as a conduit for speculative forms of sonic repatriation.

Sceloglaux albifacies is an extinct New Zealand bird commonly known as the Whekau or Laughing Owl, once found nesting in rocky crevices in the remote landscapes of the South Island. In October 2016, one male (specimen #50.766) and one female (specimen #50.767) of this species were encountered in the Naturhistorisches Museum Wien (National Museum of Natural History, Vienna), as part of the collections of Andreas Reischek, an Austrian taxidermist and self-taught naturalist who spent over a decade roaming New Zealand in the late nineteenth century, appropriating an immense collection of ethnographic and natural history artefacts, including a near-complete set of New Zealand birds, the largest of its kind to ever travel to Europe. A local footnote within the totalising and globalising drives of Reischek’s taxonomic catalogue, the pair of owls were collected by the naturalist at Silver Stream, Otago, a small river near Mosgiel, in 1884, thirty years before the species was declared officially extinct.

In the museum, the two specimens were recorded as silences with industry-standard audio field recording equipment. Returning to New Zealand with these recordings meant not only retracing but reversing the geographic route that the physical owls had taken 130 years previously, a journey in which the object was not to mirror but invert Reischek’s own journey from Aotearoa to Europe, and the one-way flow of colonial extractive economies. The silences of the Viennese specimens were then transmitted back in October 2018 to a scattering of small radios placed between the rocks of the riverside locale where the physical owls were originally located, killed and their bodies collected. This performance without human listeners followed the speculation that perhaps even the smallest ecocides are accumulative, leaving forms of violence as traces still present, if invisibly and inaudibly, in environments.

In their second transmission in the gallery, the recordings, which have by this time gathered additional sonic artefact along their journey from Vienna to Silver Stream via re-transmission, become a further trace, a fragile and fleeting intervention, ghosting the public airwaves. Sent into the air through two mini FM transmitters whose designated frequencies correspond to those of the contemporary National public broadcasters of New Zealand and Austria, the two owls are perpetually narrowcast to the bounded area of the space on the terrestrial FM frequency of Österreichischer Rundfunk (English: Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, ORF) 87.6FM, and the FM frequency of New Zealand Radio National (RNZ), 101.4FM. These micro-cast owl silences/frequencies circle within the room, acting as jammers within the small radius of listening represented by the exhibition space, allowing visitors to navigate the space of the airwaves within the gallery, tune in or out of the transmitted radio signals, in the process repurposing the airwaves as a more still, more silent, more radiant landscape, one that becomes a clearing, the ground for the minor, localised transmission of the work.

Tuning in potentially becomes an encounter with another landscape, in which the owls still circle, invisible as the material trace of transmission waves, where the almost-gone and the barely remembered meet in a space of resistance to erasure, and through the indeterminacies of perception, listening, materiality and loss, even perhaps allow an act of mourning in which ecological silences already present in the environment, and forms of violence contained in the museum, can be acknowledged and heard. through the insubstantial and fleeting, noise-infused signal and minor politics of micro-radio, the dead silence of the static archive, in which nature is understood as a series of objects to be deciphered and catalogued, takes flight as a ghostly presence, it is re-cast as a small beacon transmitting from a specific location, blinking in the aether, as a distress signal does in the wide expanse of the ocean. There, almost lost in distance, two small signals take a temporal format that potentially exceeds the duration of a mourning silence permitted over the public airwaves, if the listener chooses to engage. Or perhaps the presence of such absences on the airwaves might simply become a momentary fragment of attentiveness, sitting alongside the other small and large noticings in the gallery space, which also demand their own forms of reflexion.


Components of work:

Radio transmitter 1: silence of male specimen of Sceloglaux albifacies held in the
Naturhistorisches Museum Wien (National Museum of Natural History, Vienna). Collected in 1884, at Silver Stream, Otago. Re-collected on 24.10.2016. Transmitted to Silver Stream site on 24.10.2018. Narrowcast within the gallery on the FM frequency of New Zealand Radio National (RNZ). Frequency can be tuned into by listeners on 101.4FM.

Radio transmitter 2: Female specimen of Sceloglaux albifacies held in the held in the
Naturhistorisches Museum Wien (National Museum of Natural History, Vienna). Collected in 1884, at Silver Stream, Otago. Re-collected in the NHM on 25.10.2016. Transmitted to Silver Stream site on 24.10.2018. Narrowcast within the gallery on the FM frequency of Ö1 - the cultural and principal news channel of the Austrian national public service broadcaster, Österreichischer Rundfunk (English: Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, ORF). Frequency can be tuned into on 87.6FM.

Radio transmitter 3: field silences for accordion (radio cegeste with edie eves), as broadcast to the Silver Stream site (where the owls were originally collected), following a letter to Walter Buller from a bushman who claimed that when he played an accordion, a Laughing Owl would come to silently listen.


exhibited as part of the exhibition mf/mp: trace music, at the Blue Oyster Art Project Space, Dunedin, NZ, 3 - 24 November 2018

In this exhibition, six contemporary sound makers from throughout Aotearoa NZ present their individual interpretations of trace as it relates to their musical / theoretical / sonic / artistic practices. Taken as a whole, this survey of works explores how the notion of trace can be applied as a conceptual, abstract or literal starting point for contemporary sonic practices.

Trace Music is an aural ecosystem comprised of six small installations dispersed throughout the space so that each is heard in conjunction with the others. Individually, each work is designed to be generative, and sympathetic to those it is shown in relation to. As a result, each piece should be appreciated primarily through its interaction with the other works on display, as well as the those in the room, and rumbles from beyond the gallery space.

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