Recording bats

Thunderstorm, recorded on June 30 2022, La Becque
Sound Fossil. Production view
Sound Fossil. Detail view
Sound Fossils. Production view

Dominique: To go back to knowledge: Do you think vibration and sound transmission is a specific kind of knowing? How do you think is sound connected to knowledge?

Jeremy Narby: I actually go along with this when we talk in terms of human beings knowing things. You know, listening to a human voice sharing knowledge, telling you a story, a story in which there is knowledge, that is in my opinion a great way of transmitting knowledge. I think we live in a world increasingly of images. I’m not saying that we have to get rid of images for there to be true knowledge. Still, images have so invaded the space of understanding that it’s as if they get in the way of people really paying attention. It’s so easy to see an image, you can see it, think you get it and move on to the next image. And in fact, at no moment were you paying attention. Whereas the human voice, that’s… so I think radio is great, because that’s all there is. There’s no images getting in the way. And the human voice is very powerful.

Dominique: Also sound and vibration are very physical.. I think the human voice is powerful because it becomes physical, I can feel the vibration of someone’s voice. What about memories? Because in my experience memories get triggered much faster through hearing the related sounds than looking at images.

Jeremy Narby: Its sound and smell in terms of having a deep impact in the brain. On memories, on trauma, on getting to the root of what the person’s problem might be. So we shut off the images. And we turn up the volume and the smells.

Spectogram of a field recording during the blue hour at La Becque, around 5am local time. The white colored area at the bottom shows anthropophony and city noise, the patterns above show the acoustic niche occupied by bird calls
A Dendrometer measuring the changes in the circumference of the tree trunk. The data is used to manipulate sound in real time and guides the musical decision-making of what is heard in the live stream

Dominique: Is there more interest today in the question of vibrancy in the living world?

Jeremy Narby: It’s kind of funny how biologists have tended to have this reaction that anything to do with electromagnetic waves, they get uneasy. Even though our brain works with different electromagnetic waves and we measure them. You know, I have not understood yet why molecular biologists have been somewhat resistant to looking at the electromagnetic aspects of these biomolecules. I know that some work has been done and continues to be done, but always in the margins, it seems to me. I very rarely see stuff about the electromagnetic aspects of DNA. There is work that’s done, but it’s not considered central. It doesn’t seem to me. It seems that there is something like a… as soon as it turns into non-material, which is what electromagnetic waves are, they feel a little less comfortable. So there’s more research needed.

Dominique: So if we evacuate the question of vibrancy we loose a connection to the biological world? To the sonic dimension of the world?

Jeremy Narby: You know, there are enzymes which are these hyperactive proteins and they can do things like catalyze a reaction, change another molecule 500,000 times in the second. It’s like this extremely vibrating, active thing that does something very specific and very precise. The scientists that I’ve spoken to about this, they can say, oh, well, that’s normal. That’s normal, because when we go that far down the scale of size, because we think in terms of the one and a half meter body, which is who we are, but when you go all the way down to the tiny, tiny size of a protein enzyme, then time changes and it’s a lot easier to do 500,000 precise things a second than if we were at our scale. So it’s the question of size-scale and time-scale. And so voilà, c’est normal. And so the vibrancy of the enzyme is never really a subject. It’s actually fairly interesting that a DNA molecule is more than 100 times narrower than the smallest wavelength of visible light. So you can’t see with visible light a DNA molecule because it’s 100 times smaller than that with which we see. It really is invisible if you’re strict with words, because visible means when a photon bounces off something and then comes into your eye. And that’s how we see colors. And colors correspond to that very precise and narrow electromagnetic bandwidth of visible light. Well, a DNA molecule is more than 100 times smaller than those electromagnetic waves. So there are no colors at the level of proteins or virus or a DNA molecule. Actually making them visible in a sort of a static image that people can understand is always an act of fiction. And one of the things that gets lost as they make that image to make invisible, is the vibration and the movement.

Hu Fang, ‘Dear Navigator’, Sternberg Press, 2014

Vibration and air pressure of sound are used to blow the glass and determine its shape An experimental process with the attempt of transforming the immateriality of sound into a physical object.
Sound Fossil

A second advantage of ultrasonic music was that its frequencies were so high they left no resonating residues in solid structures, and consequently there was no need to call in the sound-sweep.

– J.G. Ballard, The Sound Sweep (1960)