metamusic is realised in partnership with and under the guidance of the ARGE Papageienschutz [an NGO for the protection of parrots]. In this regard, animal welfare is guaranteed at the highest levels. The grey parrots are inhabitants of the parrot shelter of the ARGE Papageienschutz in Vösendorf near Vienna. We started ongoing work on our project in this shelter in 2012. From time to time we present metamusic on the occasion of various festivals and exhibitions. Visitors can witness artists, zoologists and animal keepers working together with the grey parrots on the further development of the instruments and tools in specially equipped aviaries.
These presentations—which we call “public laboratories”—so far have taken place at the GrazMuseum, A, in October 2013 [musikprotokoll im steirischen herbst], in the Kittenberger Erlebnisgärten in Schiltern, Lower Austria, in Sept/Oct 2014, in the Festspielhaus Hellerau in Dresden, GER, in November 2014 [CYNETART Festival 2014] and in the OÖKulturquartier, Linz, A, from May to October 2015 [Höhenrausch].
Since December 2012, we have paid visits on a regular basis to the Papageienheim of the so-called ARGE Papageienschutz—the home for more than 150 parrots located in Vösendorf near Vienna. The association takes care of abandoned parrots and offers appropriate housing to them. Through an ongoing collaboration with the animal keepers and zoologists, we were provided contact with a group of African Grey Parrots and began studying their living conditions and behaviors. We learned about the ways they perceive sound, the ways they interact with humans, and the ways they seem to establish their tastes in music. We built the first prototypes of sound and musical instruments, and let the birds play with them.
But at this early stage the animals had never had interactions with instruments of any form, and so we had to create strategies to help overcome their so-called “neophobia”, their natural distrust in things that are suddenly introduced into their habitual surroundings.
We began with the idea that we needed to separate a certain group of parrots from their homes and transfer them into a new surrounding, where the instruments were already installed. It is quite common for the birds of the Parrot Shelter to be transferred to temporary places for a period of time, therefore this voyage would be like a holiday for them. On the occasion of the musikprotokoll im steirischen herbst 2013 in October 2013, we built a specially equipped aviary in Graz, Austria and offered such a “holiday” to a group of five parrots. This became the place where the first public presentation of metamusic occurred. At various times within the presentation we allowed the public to enter the parrots’ space and to attend their interactions with us and the instruments. This time the birds familiarized themselves very quickly with the instruments and accepted them as natural parts of the aviary furnishings. We took great care not to expose the parrots to the audience for too long, but to our surprise we learned that the birds loved the presence of the crowd and searched for human attention. In Graz we also did a first “concert” featuring animal and human players. Because this was the first experiment in this field we also were careful to separate the birds from the human audience, and so the birds and the human players played via a live video and sound conferencing line.
As exciting and promising as our Graz experiences were, they lasted far too short of a time. In all, we had just four days to share with the birds and the audience and so we felt the necessity to repeat this experience over a longer period of time. A grant from the Bundeskanzleramt, section “Interdisciplinary Art” allowed us to install a public laboratory space at the Kittenberger Adventure Gardens for five weeks in September and October 2014, in Schiltern, located in an idyllic landscape in rural Austria. During this laboratory period—which we decided to name “metamusic Phase II” —we were able to expand the number of our instruments and types of sounds produced, to familiarize ourselves more closely with our group of six parrots, and to understand their needs and abilities much better.
A video was commissioned by ARTE CREATIVE as part of an award we received for CYNETART ARTE Creative Commission 2014. This video is an artistic documentation of what happened during metamusic Phase II.
In November 2014 we were invited to bring metamusic to the Festival CYNETART 2014 in Dresden, Germany. The parrots and their musical interplay were presented to a considerably large crowd. In addition to the installation, we played four concerts with the birds, this time in tight connection and interplay with the audience. Without our previous experiences we would never have been able to undertake this adventure.
During the summer of 2015 metamusic returned as a large scale installation at Höhenrausch 2015: The Secret of Birds in Linz, Austria. Situated in the “VOEST ALPINE OPEN SPACE” on the rooftop of the OÖ Kulturquartier, a special aviary offered a living place for twenty-one parrots for five months. The long duration of this iteration as well as the vast spatial environment—the aviary located between earth and sky really can be seen as a habitat specially designed as a meeting point for the parrots, the artists and the audience—for the first time provided us with the possibility to create an ongoing “performance”. As Daniel Gilfillan states in his report “Of Parrots, Behaviors, and Moods: Thinking Beyond Sound as We Know It”:
"I would argue [that] the ‘long duration’ of the performative practice of metamusic allows the experience of immediacy between parrots and humans to be slowed, engaging a temporality apart from a solely human-centered experience and opening up the encounter for moments of reflection. These are openings where parrots and humans alike can linger with the wonder, awe, and exhilaration that characterizes such moments of sonic immediacy, perhaps extending them as spatiotemporal networks of dwelling, interconnection, and coproduced forms of inter-species agency.”
Based on these principles we were pursuing a three years’ research project (2016- 2019) in collaboration with the Tangible Musi Lab at the University of Art and Design in Linz, Austria [ Prof. Martin Kaltenbrunner, Reinhard Gupfinger ] which contributes to developments in the context of musical instruments that include animals in the music and sound-generating process with a focus on a creative and artistic outcome. This project was supported by the Austrian Science Fund through the Programme for Arts-based research PEEK. The outcome was discussed in the international symposium ANI_MUS (Animal Music) at the University of Art and Design in Linz on June 1st, 2017, which was accompanied by another iteration of our “public laboratory” with the parrots in the Salzamt Linz. A further presentation took place at ARGE Papageienschutz, the home of the parrots, in June 2019.
The musical patterns and sonic structures generated by the parrots using these sets of instruments nevertheless are not meant to sound aesthetically meaningful to human ears. The parrots themselves communicate which each other by means of their own “music” created by their personal instruments. A major concern of the project is to avoid conditioning or training of the animals. The goal is to research whether or not the parrots will create meaningful “music” of their own accord and to understand how this “music” will sound—in order to find meanings and use in sound, which we have not discovered yet; and which maybe will change our understanding of animal intelligence—and music itself.