Hives (2011)

For electronics and a bee colony

The speakers should take sounds at 37hz

Duration: about 27 minutes

Channels: 4


  • 6-Aug-2011 - EQO Festival, Cassino, Italy.

This piece was made possible by the collaboration of some beekeepers. Sara Willis not only taught me a lot of things about the bees and let me study her colonies, but even found very smart ideas about recording them and performing with them. The premiere of the work was made possible by Marcello and Osvaldo Franchitto who provided the bees in record time. All of them showed uncommon availability and sensitivity towards the art.

Hives explores the relationship between soundscape and synthetic sound. The field recordings capture bee sounds in different situations: inside a hive during their daily work, in an observation hive in a condition far from their natural environment, or following a drone hitting the glass of a window. With the collaboration of a beekeeper, it was possible to study the colony's behavior in depth, finding cycles and phenomena hardly noticeable in the common experience. A useful instrument for this research was the observation hive. The observation hive is a hive with linings in glass or plexiglass, containing usually one or two frames, which allows a close vision of the colony. It is used by beekeepers and zoologists to monitor the colony's behavior. The bees are sealed inside the hive and cannot escape; the time limit to avoid excessive stress to the insects is about 24 hours.

The performance uses the observation hive on stage with microphones inside it, so that it is the real acoustic phenomenon to be presented. This aims to enhance the polarity between synthetic sounds generated by the computer through extended use of mathematical lows, and the real soundscape, more unpredictable and various than its recording. Moreover the possibility to see the colony's activity and associate its movements with the sounds produced offers a strong visual element to the performance. The musical structures are related to the acoustic structures proposed by the bees during the observation period. The music can follow faithfully the natural phenomena, temporarily abandon them, or interpret them according to different degrees of adherence; it can focus on more immediate elements like the buzzes density until elements perceptually harder to grasp like the excitement cycles of the hive in particular conditions. These cycles can have very long durations and, rather than suggesting immediate decisions in the music, they shape the broader form.

Section 1 (0 - a13.10)
The first section is a continuous, not always linear, process which has as its center the unaltered soundscape. It starts with the synthetic material which gradually approximates the soundscape until it merges into it. Then the soundscape is processed always further, altering its natural state until the next section.

Section 2 (a13.10 - a18.35)
The second section is an interactive system in which the soundscape is presented together with the synthetic material and interacts with it. The sound of the system is characterized by a probabilistic model of the amplitude envelope of the bee. When the system detects the peaks of the recording, it activates a semi-random process that uses, as starting point, data from the last state of the system and then it comes back to the initial state.

Section 3 (a18.35 - 26.46)
One of the most interesting phenomena I had the opportunity to observe occurred when the colony was in the observation hive, in a house, with the temperature warmer than usual. The bees one by one started ventilating the hive beating their wings without flying. From the first noticeable alteration in the normal buzzing of the hive to the "tutti," the time span was consistently around 40 seconds. The sustain of the "tutti" was about 2 minutes long and the release toward the normal state of the hive was smoother then the attack, with a duration of around 1.30 minutes. This cycle happened four times in about 35 minutes: the durations of the phases remained fairly constant, included the pause between the onsets. This section starts with the unaltered phenomenon (19.10-19.30 normal state, 19.30-20.10 attack). Then the natural phenomenon merges into a three voice counterpoint made of glissandi. The layers are made with a single buzz of a bee. The counterpoint has a rising direction. At the end, the counterpoint is reversed and, going down, it hits two sine waves -calculated with ratios from the second soundscape- creating beatings. The whole duration of the 3rd section is about 8 minutes, like a single cycle of the phenomenon described above.