Artistic developments: worm sound mutations/conceptual hi-fi performance played on six e-waste speakers
Manipulating the resulting sounds and bringing them into a room filled with worms feeding on e-waste is a delicate task on several levels:
— The Zophobas morio worms are small and slow movers, even though they are commonly called superworms. Still, because of their importance for the concept, they must attract attention.
— Worms do not make a lot of sound on their own, to put it mildly, and any other noise will cover the sound they produce.
— Performing with worms implies a high level of interpretation from the sound artist.
The compositional sound manipulations were made by Icelandic sound artist Runar Magnusson, who performed all kinds of granular and spectral manipulations on our recorded sounds. Resulting pieces such as There is a Rave in the Woods, Worm Beatings, or Worms on Longwave would all address the original sounds through progressive, yet occasionally massive transformation. Still, the character would remain sufficiently intact to allow the worms to recognise themselves somehow — if they could, that is.
This being said, when looking at the installation of many worms in a few vitrines, placed in the middle of a large exhibition space, another question emerged. Should we make the audience feel as though they were inside the vitrines, by playing loud sounds in a surround set-up that would emulate the worms’ environment and interaction? Or should we instead perform sounds at the level of our soft friends, making the audience realise the fundamental difference of size at which this process is really happening? The latter option seemed an obvious choice as it would allow our audience to get very close to the worms in order to observe them, thus bringing focus to what is happening inside the vitrines rather than what is happening inside the listener’s head. It also allowed us to stay conceptually coherent, as it did not require any expensive well-functioning gear, but merely some discarded e-waste speakers the worms might learn to eat in the end.
Interestingly enough, and as originally predicted, no matter how the sounds were transformed, they would be immediately associated with the worms as soon as they were played inside the vitrines. This led us to use a combination of three stereo tracks mixed on five of the available prepared e-waste speakers, leaving the last one for the original sound of recorded worms so the audience would never lose the reference. Once again, using high precision recordings of worms made in an anechoic chamber with one of the most precise microphones available worldwide, and then performing the recordings on electronic waste worth nothing, might seem like a dubious choice — at least from an engineering point of view. From an artistic and conceptual point of view, on the other hand, it dramatically enhanced the experience of the patient work of the worms by emphasising their ‘voice’ and by bringing the audience physically closer to the vitrines.