Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Radio without Commercials

For a couple of summers I attended the Summer School for the Arts in the old Tuberculosis Sanitorium in the Qu' Appelle Valley called Fort San. I love the idea of of a place where people go to "take the cure." You can still see the sunny porches where patients were wrapped up in blankets and exposed to the sun even when it was frigid outside. The rooms still smelled of wintergreen and records remained in the morgue in the basement. Alas, many of those patients and some of their caregivers died in that beautiful valley until the "real" cure was discovered. There is certainly a presence of joy mixed with a hollow sadness in that place. Restless spirits calling out for lost loved ones.

I can imagine an Art San. A place where stressed out and exhausted people can go to take the cure. I imagine a row of sonic therapy chairs on the deck where the patients can lie back and listen to the soothing sounds of the bees mixed with musical elements. What would you design for the Art San?

Sound is an important part of staying healthy. We need a balance of sound and silence in our lives. As we become more and more urbanized and i-Pod dependant we lose touch with the subtle sounds of nature. How much of this sensitivity have we lost already? As a beekeeper I can tell when the bees start to become truly alarmed at my disruptive presence in the hive. The sound becomes more like a whine than a buzz--a true alarm sound that puts me on edge. Someone told me that the sound of an Africanized bee attack has been compared to the whine of a jet engine. That's got to put the fear of god into you! When we put the microphones at the entrance to the hive we hear how many bees are passing through into the entrance. Peter said he could hear the steady buzzing of one bee near one of the microphones. I explained that she is probably fanning her scent at the entrance to the hive so that the bees that belong to the hive will use the scent like a homing device so they know exactly where to go. Other beekeepers are probably much more sensitized to the sounds the bees make than I am. They know what a queenless hive sounds like, for instance.

I do get frustrated with the way technology mediates the sound of the bees. When I'm in the bee suit I get surround-sound. I can see directly how my movements affect the sounds the bees make, but when I open the hive, it's not the relaxing sound I want for this piece. Swarms will sound distinct and bees will resonate according to how they are housed. There's a fellow in BC with a bunch of hives in an old church. Some day I really want to hear what that sounds like. It must be beautiful and cathartic.

It's been a blast to see children try out the chair. One little guy said it was "like radio without the commercials, or BFM." Then he started to make up commercials the bees would perform. "Head on down to the Van Dusen giftshop and buy our honey." Well, we have to fund our Art San somehow.

What I'd love you to do is to come and hear the bees in the garden, unmediated by technology and then try out the chair. (It's an incredible year for bumble bees here.) Remove your i-Pod headphones. Stroll by the penstemon, echinops, blazing star, and arnica which you can find west of the beehives, or check out the monarda and the herbs near the entrance to the garden. Let the sound vibrate in your chest, make your drowsy, relax your jaws, your back muscles, and your toes. Visit the sonic therapy chair, lay back and relax and tune into BFM. It's commercial free, for now.

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