The Sounds of Silence?

Stereoscopic cards inform ‘Birding the Future’ participants about the loss of species surrounding them.

The Sounds of Silence?

Sandra Conte

1 October 2013

Sandra Conte reviews
by Krista Caballero and Frank Ekeberg

An installation, utilising an outdoor soundscape and stereoscopy (3D imaging), ‘Birding the Future’ is a ‘must’ but not just for bird watchers and listeners. The Queensland Australia Series was presented at the Balance-Unbalance International Conference in Noosa, Queensland, Australia, May 31 – June 2, 2013 and proves to be a powerful project. Interestingly, it can be customised by commissioning collaborators Krista Caballero and Frank Ekeberg, to research the status of birds in any little corner of the world.

‘Birding the Future’ is an interactive installation with informative didactics and quirky participant tools. It pays tribute to and hope for our diminishing bird species. The installation takes you through the historical relevance of birds, current research and concerns for the future. With the explanation that research estimates almost a third of all bird species will have disappeared by the end of this century, this is, indeed, a wake up call!

Caballero and Ekeberg are interested in the global significance of birds as important symbols in art, song and ceremony, discussing how across culture and continent, birds have been seen as “message bearers” able to communicate the future, announce changes in weather and warn of coming disaster.
The exhibition didactic outlines how research indicates “We are living through the ‘Sixth Extinction’ where loss of species and biodiversity is occurring at an alarming rate. Many animals possess a perceptual accuracy that by far surpasses that of humans as well as our technological devices. In certain indigenous communities, birds are seen to be barometers of environmental health and so one must be able to recognise, observe and interpret changes or variation in bird song and behaviour in order to properly respond. Such indigenous and local knowledge has been vastly under-recognized, but can aid in the process of disaster prevention in effective, participatory and sustainable ways.

The interdisciplinary project poses a variety of questions: - What might happen in the future as the messages of birds are increasingly being silenced? What does it mean that we are only able to see and hear extinct species through a technological device? How can knowledge gained via technology be combined with traditional ecological knowledge in order to increase awareness of our role in the natural environment?

‘Birding the Future’ explores these issues and current extinction rates while specifically focusing on the warning abilities of birds. An outdoor sound installation is paired with a stereoscopic image walk as participants are guided through a walk of extinction. The sound material includes calls of endangered birds particular to the specific region, extracted to create Morse code messages that warn of disruption and urgency. The strict rhythmic patterns of the Morse code signal imposes a mechanized quality on the bird calls, underlining technological reproduction as the only means to hear certain species. Unmodified calls of extinct birds act as a memory of the past and point to a future of less biodiversity. Projected rate of extinction for the end of the century is scaled down to the duration of the exhibition period by decreasing the density and diversity of bird calls. As different regions around the world can expect different rates of extinction depending on factors such as climate, geography, habitat patterns and human activity, the extinction rate implemented into ‘Birding the Future’ is based upon projections for the specific region in which it is presented.

A series of stereoscopic cards are created specifically for each site and offer a loose narration through the soundscape. On the back of the cards textual analysis including poetry, data and other relevant habitat and behavioral information is included, while the composites on the front layer original content with found photographs. Utilising a type of stereoscope that resembles birding binoculars, this viewing instrument has been chosen for its potential to heighten perceptual awareness and provide an historical link to human impact on the environment.”

To commission an installation relating to your disappearing species and to learn more, go to

Krista Caballero (United States)

is a transdisciplinary artist whose work unpacks cultural myths relating to the “American” West, technology, gendered land use, and ideas of the sublime. Her work asks how we might imagine a future where shifting ecologies speak to opportunity and possibility. In 2010 she created Mapping Meaning, an ongoing project that brings together a select group of artists, scientists and scholars for a five-day experimental workshop. Inspired by a photograph from 1918 depicting an all-female survey crew, this biennial gathering provides a forum for women to explore questions of mental, social and environmental ecology. The third “Mapping Meaning” will take place in the summer of 2014. Caballero is currently the Associate Director of the Digital Cultures and Creativity Program at the University of Maryland, College Park. This undergraduate honors program brings together students from all majors to explore emerging technologies and their impact on the world.

Frank Ekeberg (Norway)

is an artist and researcher primarily working within the acousmatic arts. His work explores issues of solitude, fear, consciousness, memory and how human beings relate to each other and to their environment. He uses almost exclusively natural sound as source material, and spatial aspects of the sounds and the listening environment are integrated as an essential element of the work. Ekeberg has composed and designed sound for concert performance, dance, film, theater, radio plays and multimedia installations, and has earned several international commissions and awards. His work has been presented in festivals, exhibitions and concert series in more than 30 countries around the world and can be found in numerous public and private collections, museums and libraries. His PhD was in electroacoustic music composition from City University in London, UK. He currently resides in Tempe, Arizona, USA where he works as a freelancer.

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