A collaboration between Bernie Krause and United Visual Artists, the exhibition runs June 10 through October 15, 2023
SAN FRANCISCO (April 3, 2023) – This summer, the Exploratorium and the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain (Paris) are pleased to present the West Coast premiere of The Great Animal Orchestra, a collaborative work between pioneer soundscape ecologist Bernie Krause and United Visual Artists (UVA). Over the course of more than 50 years, Krause has collected more than 5,000 hours of recordings of natural environments, including at least 15,000 identified terrestrial and marine species globally. Opening June 10 and running through October 15, 2023 at Pier 15, the exhibition invites visitors of all ages to step into an immersive audio-visual art experience that celebrates our planet’s rich sonic biodiversity and raises awareness of its alarming decline.
A nearly lifelong resident of the Bay Area, Krause’s research offers a mesmerizing immersion into the acoustic world of animals, a field of study known as “soundscape ecology.” Before developing a passion for recording wild soundscapes, Krause worked as a musician and sound designer in the 1960s and 1970s, collaborating with artists like The Doors and Van Morrison, and joining the Weavers in 1963. With his music partner Paul Beaver, he helped introduce the Moog synthesizer to pop music and film, and their work can be heard on over 250 albums and 135 feature films.
Krause contemplates the natural world as a poet. He listens to animal vocalizations with a musician’s ear and studies his field recordings from the perspective of a scientist. He has become a master in the art of revealing the beauty, diversity, and complexity of the collective voices of wild animals increasingly silenced by the din and intrusion of human activity. Beginning in the 1970s, Krause recorded soundscapes across North America, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa, as well as a collage of soundscapes from the depths of the world’s oceans. In recent years, he has returned to many of these sites only to find that more than 50% of the recorded biodiversity has been lost. This unique installation thus makes a plea – through the voices of compelling organisms – for preserving the wondrous diversity of the animal world. Krause implores us to listen to these narratives from the living, non-human world before they are forever silenced. Visitors are invited to further investigate the phenomena of sound in related exhibits throughout the Exploratorium.
“This exhibition has been in the making for more than 50 years, when Bernie first met Exploratorium founder Frank Oppenheimer while recording soundscapes in San Francisco,” said Lindsay Bierman, Executive Director of the Exploratorium. “Bernie recognized that these recordings were capturing a unique, non-human perspective that could not be experienced in any other way, and they were accessible to anyone willing to take the time to listen. We are immensely grateful to Bernie, UVA, and the Fondation Cartier for bringing The Great Animal Orchestra full circle and home to the Exploratorium, where it furthers our vision of stimulating awareness and understanding of the world through art and science.”
“Imagine that the Exploratorium has been given Earth’s ear for the next few months,” Krause added. “It’s a receptor that detects only the life-affirming sounds of the natural world, even in urban San Francisco. This ear only responds to the divine sounds of the natural world and knows that they alone can repair our aching souls if we just let them in. What will we allow this wondrous ear to detect in the next several months? Will we sanction wisdom, conciliation, kindness, love, wonder, balance, beneficence, and restoration to be heard? People often ask: ‘If I want to hear these beautiful animal orchestras, what can I do?’ It’s not what we must do to hear them. It’s what we choose not to do. To paraphrase a line by David Bowie: The future belongs to those who can hear it coming. Question: What do you hear?”
The Great Animal Orchestra was commissioned by the Fondation Cartier for its eponymous exhibition in 2016 and is now part of its permanent collection. After reading Krause’s book by the same name and later visiting his home in Sonoma County, Hervé Chandès, the Fondation Cartier’s Artistic General Director, conceived of the idea for an immersive audio-visual realization of Krause’s archived recordings. It was the Fondation Cartier that introduced Krause to UVA, the London-based visual arts practice led by Matt Clark, whose installations and collaborations integrate new technologies and traditional media.
“Bernie Krause’s work teaches us that each animal species possesses its own acoustic animal signature that, like a musical instrument in an orchestra, positions itself with both precision and subtlety within the score of the soundscape of the ecosystem in which it lives,” Chandès said. “The polyphony of the great animal orchestra is rapidly being lost, and we must band together to protect these indispensable resources and environments.”
To produce The Great Animal Orchestra, Krause created a composite of seven different marine and terrestrial habitats from around the world. UVA developed a computer software that creates extraordinarily detailed, immersive, streaming spectrograms generated by the soundscapes. These, in turn, form real-time visual interpretations of the various sites and times of day where and when Krause’s original recordings were made. In its newest iteration at the Exploratorium, the exhibition will be presented in a sound-proof, standalone gallery with enhanced LED components.
“The Great Animal Orchestra is one of our most often exhibited and popular works, and we’re thrilled that as we celebrate UVA’s 20th anniversary in 2023 it is on display again, as its fundamental message about the diversity and fragility of the planet’s species is more relevant and timelier than ever,” said UVA’s Matt Clark.
Surrounding the periphery of the acoustic images is a subtle natural component – a border of water. For visitors, the shallow moat might go unnoticed until it ripples subtly at the sounds of insects, or quivers in waves, reverberating the elephant’s low-frequency roar. In this environment, visitors are guided into the interrelationship of the many species performing in the world’s own soundtrack of life.
The Great Animal Orchestra has been presented at prestigious institutions around the globe, including the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain (Paris); Seoul Museum of Art; The Power Station of Art (Shanghai); Triennale de Milano; 180 The Strand (London); Peabody Essex Museum (Salem, MA); the 23rd Biennale of Sydney, during which time the spectrograms were also projected as part of a site-specific presentation on the sails of the Sydney Opera House; and Lille3000 (Lille, France).
Alongside the exhibition, French filmmaker Vincent Tricon’s documentary produced by the Fondation Cartier, Bernie Krause: A Life with the Great Animal Orchestra, will also be screened. The film premiered at The Great Animal Orchestra presentation at the Peabody Essex Museum in 2021 and won Best Documentary at the Los Angeles CineFest in January 2023. Composed of archival footage and interviews filmed in California in 2021, A Life follows Krause through Sonoma County, where he lives with his wife and partner Katherine.
Access The Great Animal Orchestra
Visit the microsite
The Fondation Cartier’s The Great Animal Orchestra website was conceived in 2016 upon the exhibition’s debut and is dedicated to the work of Bernie Krause, allowing visitors to become their own conductor of nature’s vast musical ensemble.
About Bernie Krause
Since 1968, Bernie Krause has traveled the world recording and archiving the sounds of creatures and environments large and small. Working at the research sites of Jane Goodall (Gombe, Tanzania), Biruté Galdikas (Camp Leakey, Borneo), and Dian Fossey (Karisoke, Rwanda), he identified the concept of biophony based on the relationships of individual creatures to the total biological soundscape as each establishes frequency and/or temporal bandwidth within a given habitat. His contributions helped establish the foundation of a new bioacoustic discipline, soundscape ecology. Krause has produced over 50 natural soundscape albums in addition to the design of interactive, non-redundant environmental sound sculptures for museums and other public spaces throughout the world. His installations can be experienced at the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC), the California Academy of Sciences (San Francisco), the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Chicago Science Museum, the American Museum of Natural History (New York City), five special commissions at the World Financial Center (New York City), and more than 30 other venues across North America and Europe.
About United Visual Artists
United Visual Artists (UVA) is a London-based collective founded in 2003 by British artist Matt Clark. Its diverse body of work integrates new technologies with traditional media such as sculpture, performance, and site-specific installation. Drawing from sources ranging from ancient philosophy to theoretical science, the practice explores the cultural frameworks and natural phenomena that shape our cognition, creating instruments that manipulate our perception and expose the relativity of our experiences. Rather than material objects, UVA’s works are better understood as events in time in which the performance of light, sound and movement unfolds. UVA has been commissioned internationally by institutions including the Barbican Curve Gallery (London), Manchester International Festival (Manchester, England), Royal Academy of Arts (London), Serpentine Gallery (London), The Wellcome Trust (London), Towner Gallery (East Sussex, England), Victoria & Albert Museum (London), Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, (Paris), YCAM (Tokyo), and others. Previous group exhibitions include Blain|Southern (London), Riflemaker (London), Bryce Wolkowitz (New York), Seoul Museum of Art and Power Station of Art (Shanghai).
About the Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain
The Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain is a private cultural institution whose mission is to promote all fields of contemporary artistic creation to the international public through a program of temporary exhibitions, live performances, and conversations. Created in 1984 by the Maison Cartier, the institution is based in Paris in a building designed by the architect Jean Nouvel.
The Fondation Cartier’s singular artistic program explores a wide array of creative fields from visual and performing arts to architecture, design, fashion, philosophy, and the sciences. For nearly four decades, the Fondation Cartier has been instrumental in revealing the talent of some of the greatest contemporary artists and has established its museum spaces as a platform where artists and scientists can meet and create projects to address major issues of today’s world. Its collection is made up of nearly 2,000 works from a rich and multidisciplinary program. It is a testament to the relationships forged with more than 500 artists from all over the globe.
As part of its ongoing observation of the relationship between human beings and nature, the Fondation Cartier has produced collective projects (exhibitions, individual works of art, publications, performances, and public talks) approaching contemporary environmental issues, such as climate change, biodiversity, and deforestation. The Fondation Cartier has also built long-term relationships with contemporary artists from Indigenous communities living in Brazil, Paraguay, Venezuela, and Australia, and bears witness to the multiplicity of Indigenous languages and cultures.
The Fondation Cartier travels the world, partnering with major art institutions, engaging new audiences to discover the works of contemporary artists, and be challenged by their perspectives.
Image Credit: View of the exhibition The Great Animal Orchestra, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, 2016. © Bernie Krause / © UVA. Picture © Luc Boegly.