Here’s some really great music for the Grissoms and other budding entomologists, as well as for students of insect symphonies. Slavek Kwi (artificial memory trace) has produced a remarkable sonic document in chitin, originally commissioned for France’s 2011 “l’audible festival”. The sheer wealth of sources on display is nearly overwhelming: termites, leaf-hoppers, electric insects and many more, whose sounds were collected on excursions to Australia, Brazil and the Amazon. Francisco Lopez even contributes some bee-sounds. The crunchiest sounds may be those of hermit crabs, but who knows? Suffice it to say that these creatures do not play well together, but Kwi creates a virtual concourse in which they can interact without venom.
Similarly remarkable is the proximity of these timbres to those of drone and glitch. While listening to chitin, it’s easy to theorize that the genesis of each genre rested in fields and swamps, in long, hot summers and the curious sounds of the natural and hungry insect world. The 1971 science fiction documentary The Hellstrom Chronicle posited a planet in which the insect life ran amuck, unchecked by pesticide and scavenger intervention; in days, the human race was gone. Even more frightening than the images were the ravaging sounds: hordes of maws and pincers, unfeeling and unrelenting. chitin possesses a bit of that warning; the attention necessary to develop such a recording, to shape its sharp edges into an antennaed structure, is also a plea to live in harmony with the natural world, rather than to attempt to eradicate its annoying denizens for no other reason than to increase our immediate comfort.
And shape Kwi does, from the speaker-to-speaker introductory clicks to the amplified rubbing of feelers, from swift buzzes to inner hives, from near-silence to the sound of swarms. At times, he turns his sources on and off like musical notes; at other times, he allows them to unspool like single-instrument solos, or in the busiest segments, like choirs. These are the sort of sounds most people seek to avoid, to snuff out or to spray, but Kwi gives them their due. When the bees arrive en masse at the midway point, they bring to mind the plagues of the apocalypse, but with an awful beauty.
Not every soundscape is meant to be benign. There are only so many recordings of oceans and birds that one can take without getting bored and wandering outside to hear the real thing. chitin stands out because it does more than simply present a host of carefully-arranged field recordings; it exposes our own prejudices, pre-conceptions and animosities. Sure, we love nature, we say, except for the bugs. The lovingly compiled chitin is good enough to begin changing our minds. (Richard Allen)