Land Body Ecologies Festival at Wellcome Collection Explores Environmental and Mental Health Topics, Using Advanced Immersive Audio Tools from L-Acoustics Land Body Ecologies Festival at Wellcome Collection Explores Environmental and M...
Led by pioneering arts studio Invisible Flock, the ‘Boalno’ installation at the Land Body Ecologies Festival transforms the stately library interior into the annual Arctic reindeer herding
LONDON, September 7, 2023 — Last month, Wellcome Collection hosted the Land Body Ecologies Festival — a free, four-day event exploring environmental and mental health topics by incorporating elements of sound, touch, taste, and vision. The festival, which included art installations, workshops, talks, films, and performances, focused on the connections between mental health and our ecosystem. The Land Body Ecologies (LBE) research group is led by Yorkshire, UK-based multi-disciplinary arts studio Invisible Flock and other partners, who were recipients of the Wellcome Trust’s prestigious Hub Award. The festival was produced by Unbox Cultural Futures and Invisible Flock.
“The focus of all of our work looks specifically at the natural wild and the environment: the ways in which we interact with it and the ways we perceive it – or maybe don’t perceive it,” explains Invisible Flock Technical Director Ben Eaton. “We are interested in how artists can raise awareness, but also how they can move beyond that stage and become active participants and generators in finding solutions or contributing advanced research when it comes to climate considerations.”
Boalno: reindeer in the round
Boalno, a featured exhibit of the Land Body Ecologies Festival by Invisible Flock, utilized immersive audio as a sensory vehicle to transport museum guests to the Arctic landscape atop Boalnotjåhkkå mountain when the Sámi people of Sweden corral some 3,000 circling reindeer each year. The exhibit was carried out in the Reading Room of the Wellcome Collection and featured sixteen L-Acoustics X8 coaxial speakers configured in a 360° array on a horizontal plane.
Invisible Flock’s Technical Director Ben Eaton and Creative Director Victoria Pratt captured the sound of the reindeer corral over a two-day period using a combination of ambisonic and parabolic microphones, recording into a Sound Devices MixPre 6, and then spatially manipulating the audio files using L-Acoustics’ L-ISA Studio software suite. The final runtime of the exhibit was condensed to approximately 20 minutes to provide visitors with a breathtakingly accurate sonic rendering of the annual herding event.
Surrey, UK-based DeltaLive provided a range of equipment and sound installation services during the Land Body Ecologies Festival, including Invisible Flock’s exhibition, Boalno. Stephen Hughes, Account Director at DeltaLive, explains the interface and processor setup: “We had a Mac Mini running Reaper with the Boalno session and an RME MADIface AVB card, going into an L-ISA Processor. We only needed 16 outputs for the session, so the L-Acoustics LA7.16i amplified controller was perfect.”
A centuries-old practice
The Sámi, an Indigenous community from Northern Europe, have been herding the reindeer every year for centuries — well before the onset of modern technologies and the climate crisis. “The reindeer have been following the same migration routes for generations, so the Sámi know where they are going,” Eaton explains. “They have this intertwined relationship with the reindeer and find them in the midst of their migration journeys and bring them together into the corral.” The herding, which takes approximately two weeks, is carried out by several multi-generational families within the community, according to Eaton.
Animating sound sources with L-ISA Studio
Eaton appreciates the broad feature set in L-ISA Studio, including the updated FX Engine and low-frequency oscillator (LFO) control capabilities. “Our last major project, Sleeping Tree, took place in the forest, so it was very reverb-y. We used the FX Engine in L-ISA Studio for that, and this really helped gel the sounds together,” he says.
On May 6 and 7 of this year, Invisible Flock presented The Sleeping Tree (Pohon Tidur) exhibition at the Brighton Dome as part of the Brighton Festival. The Sleeping Tree, a long-form, durational sound experience designed to connect audiences with a distant and fragile ecosystem, was developed from environmental data and more than 5,000 hours of data collected over the course of a three-month mapping process in the Indonesian forest. The Sleeping Tree was also the first project on which Eaton used L-ISA Studio to map his recorded soundscape: “It wasn’t until we really started playing with the FX engine in L-ISA Studio that that show really felt like it gelled, and the sounds were able to coexist in a nice way,” Eaton recalls.
For The Sleeping Tree, London-based Solotech supplied an L-Acoustics L-ISA immersive sound system and integration services.
On Boalno, Eaton used very little reverb since the recording space was vast. “The airiness of the ambisonics really helped give you a sense of space,” says Eaton. He used L-ISA 3.0’s LFO controls to animate the signal of the parabolic microphone within the soundscape.
“In Baolno, we used a lot of LFOs because we had a lot of rotating objects,” says Eaton, who appreciates that these LFO features are now available in L-ISA 3.0. “We used LFOs at different speeds, overlapping them and phasing them in and out. That’s how we could really generate this trance-like, strange sound that kept moving. Ultimately, the motion became a defining feature of this project.” Eaton says that he also achieved workflow efficiencies while using L-ISA Studio: “I really enjoy all of the newly added effects in L-ISA 3.0. These are a real time saver, which I valued on this project.”
A live exhibition with L-ISA 3.0
On the final evening of The Sleeping Tree, Invisible Flock collaborated with musician Nabihah Iqbal to create a 55-minute live performance featuring guitars, vocals, and modular synths against a sonic backdrop of apes and monkeys, juxtaposed with the sound of humans and airplanes. Ben and his team also built the live performances using L-ISA Studio and other tools. “All of our live elements were brought into L-ISA Studio and combined with our field recordings,” says Eaton. “We were using all of these sources at once but manipulating them in real-time using L-ISA. Being able to do that was really exciting, and we appreciate how versatile L-ISA Studio is.”
While projects such as Boalno and The Sleeping Tree require enormous effort, including extended travel and many hours of recording and mixing, Eaton says he remains very attached to the work and finds the exhibits rewarding: “Each of these presentations is very moving, and it’s enlightening to see how different audiences respond. The last one always hits home when that final reverb trail echoes out.”
For more information on Invisible Flock and all of its projects, please visit http://invisibleflock.com.