Daniel Gilfillan – Of Parrots, Behaviours, and Moods. Thinking about Sound in the Anthropocene

Produced by the Viennese artist team alien productions beginning in late 2012 and continuing through the present, the sound art project metamusic explores what it means when a group of African grey parrots are provided with a variety of electronic tools and sensors linked to typical parrot behaviors, in order to explore, produce, and play with sounds and sonic moods. Beyond reading this play as reflective of human engagement with music, metamusic examines what meanings and use in sound these animals themselves engage. It asks its audiences to think beyond human-centered understandings of the world, in order to reflect upon how nonhuman phenomenologies of the world (here the animal) can be experienced and understood through sound. This is a crucial point, for it asks us to rethink core assumptions about human relationships with the world as built only on our sole creative power to make and act upon decisions and instead allow that there are equally compelling nonhuman forces at play across these same sets of decisions. The ‘long duration’ of the performative practice of metamusic allows the encounter of immediacy between parrots and humans to be slowed, engaging a temporality apart from a solely human-centered experience and opening up the encounter for moments of reflection. These are openings where parrots and humans alike can linger with the wonder, awe, and exhilaration that characterizes such moments of sonic immediacy, perhaps extending them as spatiotemporal networks of dwelling, interconnection, and coproduced forms of inter-species agency. The role of sound as both a distinguishing factor within the anthropocene and as a diagnostic tool to gauge its impact continues to inspire both scholarly studies and imaginative artistic interventions. metamusic shows us that we must spend time with our auditory relationships to the world, and we must linger and dwell within them to fully comprehend this coproduced form of inter-species agency.

Daniel Gilfillan is Associate Professor of German Studies, and affiliate faculty in Film and Media Studies, Jewish Studies, and English at Arizona State University. His research focuses on 20th-century literature, sound and media studies in the German-speaking sphere. He is currently working on a second book titled Sound in the Anthropocene: Sustainability and the Art of Sound, which explores the role of sound as a perceptive mode within sustainable systems, and how sound-based art, radio art, and cinema provide interventions into these systems. His first book, Pieces of Sound: German Experimental Radio (2009) is available through the University of Minnesota Press.

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