Perhaps one of the greatest tragedies of our time with global industrial farming, habitat loss, global warming, deforestation, and synthetic pesticide use is the recent realization we are in the middle of an insect apocalypse. It is estimated by one recent study that insect populations have declined by 40% since scientists have been tracking populations. In 2017, a 27-year long population monitoring study revealed a 76% decline in flying insects.
As insects are at the base of the food chain critical to pollination, this is a truly global tragedy with implications to the food chain beyond human food systems. The Opera of Dying Insects sound and video work wishes to address this issue, with an opera that is auto-composed by insects eating a moist log.
In this work, the pill bugs (Armadillidium Vulgare) will be living in a perfect paradise of a constructed moist environment, slowly eating and deconstructing a wet log. They will be co-existing in this ecosystem with domestic insects such as leafhoppers and other species such as fungi and bacteria.
As pill bugs are shared and on every continent of earth, the natural insects and soil to construct the ecosystem will be sourced locally. In the installation, cameras will view the inside of the constructed ecosystem. Bright projectors will project to the walls of the installation a large-scale view of the micro-world of the pill bugs, and the interior of the rotting log.
The operatic parts mixed and remixed from current and past tragic operas will be triggered through MAX MSP and Jitter software playing through amplified computer speakers.
Soil: As part of the work, a transplanted cube of the earth will be harvested from a local natural forest. We will perform a “soil transplant,” where we take a small 40 centimeters x 40 centimeters x 23-centimeter-deep cube of soil, with branch and pill bugs, and transplant that into the glass vitrine. When the exhibition is complete, the cube of the earth will be placed back into a local arboreal forest.
As the insects eat and mate in the glass vitrine, their movements will be sensed with video cameras and analyzed with software to determine location and speed. The data derived from these movements will trigger portions of an auto-scripted opera, that has been partially composed using artificial intelligence with the assistance of Generative Adversarial Networks. To generate the opera, we will use existing and custom recordings of insects and the recordings of opera, and use adversarial networks to allow one to morph into the other.
As people observe the large projected images of the pill bugs and their micro-world at the scale of our own, my hope is humans will notice their subtlety and their beauty and come to a realization that we must cease to dismiss their importance in our ecosystems.
Below are 3D visuals of the original idea.
Cutting the legs in 1/4 inch plate steel on a plasma cutter. Thanks, Andrew Newbold.
DECAMERON ROW New York, NY, Ongoing 2020
Invites The Opera for Dying Insects video works curated by Sherry Huss
ISEA INTERNATIONAL Montreal, Canada, OCT 2020
Present a paper Symbiotic Intertwining from Parasites for Symbionts as part of the Conference Why Sentience? Opera for Dying Insects and Scatter Surge video works Invited by Elizabeth Demaray.
DA FESTIVAL Sophia, Bulgaria, TBA, 2021
New work Opera for Dying Insects created with generative adversarial networks and giving voice to dying insect populations. Invited by curator Galina Dimitrova-Dimova
Ken Rinaldo; Concept, 3D modeling, sound, rendering, and direction
TradeMark Gunderson; sound engineering, video programming, Max MSP
Andrew Newbold: Plasma Cutting at The Ohio State University