Foundation Cartier and artist Bernie Krause have brought “The Great Animal Orchestra” Stateside to the Peabody Essex Museum.
The immersive multisensory exhibition, which incorporates recordings of the natural environment collected by Krause over several decades, was commissioned by Foundation Cartier and first premiered in Paris in 2016. Accompanying the North American debut in Salem, Mass., is a new documentary about the bio acoustician-artist directed by French filmmaker Vincent Tricon.
The exhibition at Peabody consists of seven different representative habitats containing projected images and a 7.1 surround acoustic delivery system, integrated using proprietary technology developed in collaboration with United Visual Artists. The exhibition serves as a celebration for the planet’s biodiversity, and Krause hopes that the experience will raise awareness around environmental decline.
“The most noteworthy aspect of these installations is the way in which they avoid cultural bias. Unlike music, which is strongly anchored to the listener’s cultural leanings, the effect of natural soundscapes on listeners of most backgrounds is one of almost universal acceptance,” said Krause, who traveled to Salem this week with Tricon to mark the exhibition’s debut, ahead of its public opening on Nov. 20. “So, whether the installation is in Seoul, Shanghai, Paris, or Salem, listeners tend to express mostly wonder at the beauty and impressions of the world voiced through these organic narratives.”
Krause describes the impact of Foundation Cartier’s support for his work as “seminal.” The artist was approached by the Foundation with the idea for the exhibition based on narratives from his 2012 book, “The Great Animal Orchestra: Finding the Origins of Music in the World’s Wild Places.”
“The confluence of our connection was both circumstantial and magnetic,” said Krause of the collaboration. “Because of my earlier experience installing sound in museums, I was reaching for designs much smaller in scope. Hervé Chandès, director of the Fondation Cartier, convinced me to create an installation that was much larger than anything I had tried before. It was also more technically risky and complex. But with their help, perseverance and resources (creative and practical), the installation as envisioned was made possible. With their strong commitment to environmental issues and art media through which to express it, my design reflects those shared concerns. Our collaboration was a deeply instinctive match.”
Krause and his team were introduced to Tricon in early 2021, with the intention of filming a documentary about the artist’s work. The film was shot close to Krause’s home in Northern California. “The film captured a real sense of us, how we are managing to thrive given our total loss (and nearly our lives) in the 2017 fires, and our concerns for the future with sensitivity and a certain grace,” said Krause. “Both my wife, Katherine, and I felt very moved by our representation in the film, a momentary snapshot of our presence, not only between ourselves, but also to others.”
Tricon noted that he found the challenge of making a movie about sound, rather than visual imagery, compelling. “How does one create a movie where the imagery supports the sound, and not the other way around, which is how we usually make movies?” said Tricon.
“Bernie Krause is an amazing person. He is not only a scientist, but an artist who dedicated his whole life to sound. His approach is unique, pioneering, and inspiring because it expands your horizons in a sonic dimension,” Tricon added. “Bernie’s ecological message is also very important to listen to because it tells a lot about how we cohabitate with other living species. Too often, we humans think we are above all other living forms, that we are cleverer than all other animals. Because we position ourselves this way, we tend to speak louder than the creatures around us, creating disharmony. If there is no harmony in sound, it is because there is no harmony in life.”
Krause has several installations scheduled for next year, including one in Australia and three in Europe, and his new book “The Power of Tranquility in a Very Noisy World,” was released in September. “The love of our work and the impact it has on others continues to drive us,” he said. “And, yes, I still record, although my field work is limited mostly to springtime events, when the natural world is at its most active, and where I can have easier access to favorite places to record. At 83 years old, it has become a bit more difficult to get in and out of tents.”
“The Great Animal Orchestra” will be on view at PEM through May 22, 2022.
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