our uk travels have begun – thanks to felicity ford for organising the great sound diaries symposium in oxford and advance thanks to james wyness for organising our next stop in the scottish borders. if you’re nearby, please come by and say hello! we may be making a little foray into edinburgh as well…
this edition, eavesdropping on the inaudible: the cryptic songs of fruit flies, has been produced in the uk by bill thompson in collaboration with maaike van der linde and dr. joerg t. albert. for more information see http://billthompson.org. information from one of the authors:
My interest in fruit flies all started when my flatmate Peter Rennert first moved into my house earlier this year. He is a PhD student at the University College London (UCL) doing research on the behaviour of fruit flies. I was struck by how much he knew about these small creatures and became fascinated by the videos he’s recorded of them in his lab. When reading more about fruit flies myself I discovered that the sounds they make are most often courtship songs.
When I asked Peter if he knew more about this, he put me in touch with the Senior Lecturer of Neuroscience at UCL, Joerg Albert. We met for the first time six months ago when I first visited him at his lab in the UCL Ear Institute. He gave me a heavily condensed (but no less dazzling) story of the fruit fly love songs. Two hours later I left the Ear Institute somewhat stunned by the amount of information Joerg had conveyed.
There are 2000-3000 different species of fruit flies existing and every species has a unique song consisting of different pulse patterns and differences in pitch. In the mating ritual the male fly dances for the female fly. While doing this he vibrates one of his wings creating sounds heard by the female fly. This ‘song’ consists of different pulse patterns and ‘humming sounds’ which the female responds to by being available for copulation. For many species, reproduction doesn’t happen (or is much less likely) without this singing ritual. Having travelled extensively over the last two years to study indigenous music of the world, I couldn’t help but think that fruit flies have their own type of folk music as well.
I started listening to the recordings Joerg made of the courtship songs, using them as an inspiration for my own music. Listening to them was a magical experience but also quite a challenge to work with as I didn’t wanted to ‘mess’ with them too much. To me that felt too much like improvising on a theme, without anybody knowing the theme, so no points of recognition.
I spent half a year conducting creative experiments with this material, musical and conceptual, some of which happened in a residency in London led by sound artist Bill Thompson. He introduced me to transducers and I started using them with recordings of fruit fly songs. Experimenting with materials found in and around the building, I ended up using an old refrigerator box for much of the week. Basically the box became a mini theatre for one person sitting listening in the darkness. Using the transducers, I played the songs of the fruit flies through the box whose acoustic qualities not only magnified the sounds, but also made the pulses of the song physically tangible. It was as though you were sitting inside the song of a fruit fly! Together with the song of the fruit fly, I also played a recording of an improvisation by shakuhachi player Clive Bell (who I met during an improvisation project we did together for the BBC Symphony Orchestra – Total Immersion – Sounds of Japan day) whose improvisation was inspired by the fruit fly courtship song.
The box experiment was a perfect embodiment of how I want to approach these hidden sounds in my work; I want to focus people’s attention on it, open this secret universe of sound to the audience, and frame the sounds in a creative way. I really liked what Joerg said in the interview: “What science and art do is translate things into different languages and slightly transpose them to facilitate some sort of appreciation (…) it has to do with reflecting and representing a certain way our world is constructed. We have a certain insight, we realise something and then we communicate that. We communicate this from a certain perspective, from an individual stand, so we filter the world.”
The project continues with Bill and I collaborating together with Joerg over the next two years. First, though, I will do two multimedia performances myself in which I take they audience on the journey that I have been on over the last half year, introducing them to the world of fruit flies. Special guest starring in the performance: a fruit fly singing his song live on stage.
The dates of the first two performances:
- 12 June 2013 – 19:00 – Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Studio Theatre (London)
- 3th of July- 20:00 – Curious Festival curated by the Barbican Centre – Chats Palace, Homerton (London)
Maaike van der Linde
Fruit fly courtship songs:
- 9.20: Drosophila Melanogaster
- 13.07: Teissieri
- 21.32: Malerkot
- 31.54: Yakuba
- 48.46: Yakuba
- 54:36: Drosophila Melanogaster