The more time I spend thinking about the coral reef idea, the more I observe our land world in a different way. I believe that sound is for us an option almost equal with vision. We can choose to create an orchestra, create compositions and perform, but it is not an existential choice. But the way how sound travels underwater with all ubeings having ways to process it and creating sounds it is an essential part of their world. Similar to us, going to a loud concert to rave or to a club, They are completely immersed in the sound but all the time. So the way how I imagine the composition is that using the sounds we create the 🐠 coral reef. Invent beings and their unteractions. Then dramatise it and create actions impacting the reef. So instead of thinking about music we approach it like drawing creating life forms through the sounds. More on Monday. Let’s go wild and ecocentric.
The composition process
The color fields in this triptych of paintings represent musical harmonies. The painting was made in with the plan to later commission a composition.
After learning about the outstanding research of Prof Steve Simpson and his team at Bristol University about the soundscapes of coral reefs and restorative interventions through sound I decided to dedicate the composition and the paintings to this theme.
My personal role is to function as the 9th brain and refine and balance the individual layers, make decisions when they interact with each other. This role will be shared with our sound designer.
The role of the painting is a form of notation. The colour fields are musical harmonies, movements and pieces. Each composition layer responds to colour and specificities of the fields. But the order of the fields will have to be broken up for the composition.
Past Composition example: Helix
Composer Hector Docx
The initial ideas:
In terms of the concert I see this project as a way to raise awareness for the key role of bioacoustics in our oceans and in the regeneration of environments like coral reefs. So each concert could also be a fund raiser in this regard and the series of concerts as much of a campaign as they are a composition project. It is my wish to create this project in collaboration with Prof Steve Simpson, the university of Bristol and Marine Biologists.
Coral Reef Ouverture
Playing only the musical part of the Great Barrier Reef theme not yet with the original sound recordings
“Scuba diving in a coral reef is one of the most fantastic experiences you can have in nature. It’s like visiting the busiest market place, where you’ve got huge amounts of color of movement. Lots of different animals interacting with each other. Sometimes huge schools of fish all the same colour. Swimming in unison. Occasionally really exciting bigger predators like sharks or even dolphins swimming around on a reef.
But its only really recently that we have started to listen to the coral reefs as well. And sometimes that means trying to do it without scuba diving equipment that can often be the dominant sound you hear when you are diving.”
“And on top of that sound which sounds kind of like bacon sizzling in a pan or rain beating down on a roof. You have got all of the different fish species that can vocalise and that’s hundreds, possibly thousands of species, that all have their own sounds.
They can cause pops or pulses ‘bop bop bop bop’ sounds, whooping sounds ‘whoop whoop’ and then grunting deeper rasping sounds. Parrot fish scraping away on the reef and there are croaking sounds. Some can sound quite tonal, almost like they’re singing. So when you put all of that together you’ve got a carneval of life. And it sounds like you’ve got a very busy fairly uncoordinated orchestra all desperate to make their sound heard.”
The soundscapes of a Coral Reef Theme
(Reminds me of What is Salsa)
“So almost all animals that we see living on coral reefs actually have two parts of their life cycle. So whether its crab or lobsters or fish or even corals, they produce eggs in the breeding seasons and when fertilised those eggs then tend to be very boyant, they float up to the surface and the current take those eggs out to sea where they hatch. And its there where the larvae of the animal then develop. So what’s amazing is that every animal we have looked at responds to sound and uses this as a way of choosing where to live. Lobsters and crabs and oysters and clams are all able to detect the sound. Move towards the direction of the sound and use it as a way of settling down onto a reef.
(We could have music here but the story continues, so maybe this is a longer reading/singing part.)
“Few years ago we had all our equipment in curaçao, an island in the southern Caribbean where by chance another team were separately looking at coral sporning. And they were out each night collecting larvae corals. And they are really tiny pin haired balls. They look almost like fuzzy tennis balls as they swim around. And they asked weather they could borrow our acoustic equipment to find out weather their coral larvae also move towards the sound.
Naively I said there is no chance this could be possible. These coral larvae don’t have a brain, they don’t have a central nervous system, but sure enough as soon as we started playing sound through the speakers, these coral larvae started moving towards the direction of the sound. Somehow they could detect it and it changed their swimming behaviour.
When you look at a coral larvae it is hard to imagine how it can hear, how it can choose where to live based on the sound. So we brought some of these coral larvae into the lab here at the university in Bristol where we were able to fire miniature lasers onto the hair cells on the outside of the coral. And by playing different sounds to that coral larvae we could see the hair start moving in different ways using the lasers. So when the coral encounters a healthy soundscape, the hairs all start moving in a synchronised way which causes a spiral downwards swimming motion which brings that coral larvae down to the seabed.
We now realise that when we play the sounds of a degraded coral reef, which isn’t such a great place for the coral to make their home, it just keeps swimming in mid water. They don’t swim towards the sound. But as soon as we switch the track so that it sounds like a healthy coral reef. This behaviour completely changes. They move into a spiralling downwards synchronised movement. Almost like synchronised swimmers. And that allows them to parachute down into the habitat where they gonna have the best chances of surviving.”
The dance of the pin hair balled coral larvae parachuting down into their future habitat and creating their own soundscapes
No natural sound, only music 3min
“As quickly as we are making these discoveries about the natural world, the really sad part of our work is realising how quickly these natural queues can be lost.
We’ve been working on the Great Barrier Reef for 20 years. And recently we’ve heard the reef die. A bleaching event in 2015 wiped out over half the corals.”
(Insert here the second recording where he explains the bleaching event.)
“With painful predictability we saw the water temperature starting to rise. Oceanographic conditions meant that the water was staying at one location and for three weeks, the Great Barrier Reef cooked.”
“It’s just empty its got this sense of death in the recording. There is almost no sound. An occasional snapping shrimp or a fish vocalising. Calling out but no response. It’s just this hollow ghostly environment that you knew once was a carnival of life.
(Continuing with the first sound describing the death.)
“When we visit the reefs after the bleaching event its completely different. The colour has gone, the carnival of life has now gone away. The circus has moved on. It looks like a film set to a kind of desolate graveyard of dead coral all overgrown with seaweeds. Very odd occasional fish swimming around looking out of place because of their bright colours. And it brings me to tears.”
Cooking of the Great Barrier Reef, death of the corals theme
"Now these are gradual changes, over fishing, poor management, climate change. But we also realise when we make our recordings on an every day to day basis we change the soundtrack of the ocean. By driving motor boats. Millions of motorboats every day drive around coral reef environments. With engine that rattle, with propellers that cavetate creating bubbles which screech in the water as they burst. And we've realised that the sound causes stress with the animals that experience it. And with stress comes poor decisions. The fish no longer respond to predators, to be able to find food, to court, to be able to successfully reproduce. This motorboat noise is a form of noise pollution that makes us realise that we are changing the soundtrack of the ocean.
Dance of the motorboats theme and changing the sound track of the ocean
Based comically/tragically on Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” but not in a funny comical way, rather scary
But despite some of what we see. I still remain optimistic for the future. Partly because I think that we have it in our gift to actually fix the environment. To fix the climate over the next century. But also because when we start to give nature a chance we rebuild coral reefs and we give them greater protection, we hear this in our recordings, we hear the reefs recovering. We hear the animals coming back. Its like the Orchester now has all its musicians coming back one by one picking up their old instruments, starting to play again and the sinfonie of the reef of a healthy biodiverse reef then starts to come back over a period over two or three years.
Remaining optimistic for the future
"So now we realise that when we hear the reefs recovering when we give them a chance. We found a way that we can actually hack into this and put recovery on steroids. Taking it one step further by using recordings of healthy reefs and playing those back at restoration areas.
As soon as the animals start coming in based on the sounds we are playing back they make it their home. And they make that reef soundscape come back as a natural phenomenon of the reef. Calling in future generations. So its only a short intervention that we need to do to give that reef a chance of survival.
The scientists intervention and return of the Great Barrier Reef