We were asked to help out with a contribution to the Eden Project family arts weekend today. We thought of a guided tour in the form of an exploration, suitable for kids. We got it wrong somehow.
We start by exploring the “spaceship” with custom listening sensors, our electromagnetic listening devices. They reveal unheard, tell about the inner working of this human-made gigantic machine. Then we prepare for our exploration.
Blinded by the exceptional outside, especially the older participants in our group need to be guided by the young ones. After some time walking, they get asked what sounds they heard, if there was anything remotely reminding of a name. A discussion reveals it to be a long, soft, almost tonal breathing out followed by a sharper (but still soft) breathing in. Together it is aAhhh’hH (the best description of their name in a language/vocabulary that does not have the signs for its pronunciation).
aAhhh’hH is made up of a multitude of more or less tight connected organelles and spread over the whole planet. What could be described as their nervous system links their parts in different ways, some more perceptible by human beings, some not.
We visit the bamboo, an antenna for communication between all the various elements that make out aAhhh’hH.
We already installed a listening system into the bamboo and listen to their sounds.
We carry on to the gate, an entrance into the world of aAhhh’hH. Everyone needs to crawl through it while the group slaps its wooden exterior with their hands. The passing through the gate is an age-old ritual representing the entrance into the world of aAhhh’hH, however, we do not know if we are accepted.
Everything still looks and feels the same; it is in our minds where the change needs to happen. Nothing is what it used to be, everything has a secret meaning. You hear the rustle of the leafs? They are rustling, yes, but they are also telling their part of the story that constitutes aAhhh’hH.
We approach a place where we will lie down and listen to the “wood wide web”. We connect without talking. We are listening for a signal by aAhhh’hH that will allow us in to their realm. What is the signal, you ask? we cannot tell but you will know when you hear it.
After some time, someone in the group will notice the signal and tells the others.
Everyone gets a badge, distinguishing them as those who are welcomed by aAhhh’hH.
We move on to the grazing grounds of the legendary mechalophants.
The huge grass is a perfect hideout to be close to the old majestic mechanical animals that already docked to their bubbles. If you listen closely, you can hear how the mechalophants talk to the grass and, if the sun is shining, you hear the grass talking back in its unique clicking sounds.
The expedition ends.
The technical and organisational side
Three days before the event, we met with two narrators to explain them what we intended to do. We made a tour with them and they were in general very positive about our (yet to be fleshed out) ideas.
The remaining days before the event, we went busy preparing everything, especially coming up with a good configuration for the speaker at the bamboo and the fielding nodes in the mechalophant area.
Today, we set up the various stations and equipped them with contact microphones (bamboo), (more or less) hidden speakers (to play back the signal), and the fielding nodes (to translate the sounds of the mechalophants). Finally, we announced our expedition on the blackboard in front of the lab.
What went wrong
We were too optimistic on two levels: Firstly, we did expect a different audience: while we were thinking of kids of the age of 12 and beyond, they were mostly 4-6 years old. The few kids we asked got scared by us, or the sounds we played to them (electromagnetic). Secondly, we realised that we were unable to approach people that had a different agenda than us: while we wanted to create a calm and relaxing experience, people were up for fast, easily accessible fun, possibly lasting for 5-10min. Nothing wring with this, only we had a different idea. The latter really broke our neck and we also had to realise that we are not trained in approaching people foreign to us. A healthy punch that made us humble again.
After the initial shock that we did not reach anyone, we sat down and discussed and planned our remaining days at Eden Project.
But not before we made two make-shift signs, one for the mechalophants (see photo), one for the bamboo in which we invited people to sit with us and listen. Since we did not see the mechalophant grazing site, we cannot tell if that sign worked somehow, but we did see some people reading the sign next to the bamboo. Although they eventually decided to not join us, they got an idea what it was about.
Although we did not achieve what we planned for, we made something happen:
We now know that the fielding nodes can be set up and run without interruption for at least 5(!) hours.
Also, we got an impression how loud they are and what kind of sounds might be interesting to play through them in an installation setting.