Five years ago in Paris, the Fondation Cartier commissioned The Great Animal Orchestra, an immersive exhibit that captures over 50 years of wildlife audio recordings by soundscape ecologist Bernie Krause. The installation was done in collaboration with London-based collective United Visual Artists, who turned the sounds into large-scale digital renderings.
Now, the exhibit is making its North American debut in Salem, Massachusetts, a town largely for its infamous witch trials. It's also the first US exhibition the Cartier Foundation has supported in more than 20 years. Located inside the Peabody Essex Museum, the exhibit (named after Krause's 2012 book of the same title) acts as a reminder of our planet's rich biodiversity and its alarming decline.
Along with the opening, a new documentary about Krause, directed by the French filmmaker Vincent Tricon and produced by Fondation Cartier, will be shown as part of PEM's exhibition presentation. Inside the black box space, walls are lined with graphic spectograms representing different species' sounds from different habitats across different time periods in history, including Alaska's Yukon Delta and the Central African Republic.
"Bernie takes a multisensory approach to studying nature. His work reveals that we can more quickly understand the health of a given ecosystem by listening to it than by looking at it," said Trevor Smith, PEM's Associate Director of Multisensory Experience. "The interrelationship of the sounds that the different species make as they inhabit a given site is a more profound marker of the health of an ecosystem than whether the location appears pristine to the naked eye."
More than 50% of the recorded biodiversity has been lost in recent years as Krause's findings demonstrate (he's since returned to various of these sites). The exhibit, then, doubles as a plea for preserving the animal world and earth's natural resources, with Krause imploring us to listen to the voices from the living, nonhuman world before they are forever silenced.
"The Great Animal Orchestra" runs from November 20, 2021 to May 22, 2022 at Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts.
Photo: Kathy Tarantola