‘Bat Party’ is a project that aims to identify sound as a sensory ‘way of knowing’ (Feld 2015) and to encourage people to engage with despised animals, like bats.
Anthropologist and artist Alejandro Valencia-Tobón, composer Federico Goes and biologist Oscar Alzate-Zapata collaborated in recording and using bats’ ultrasound signals to create electronic music.
Alongside the biological science methods of tracing and trapping bats, sampling and database analysis, for the purpose of this project we also used the idea of ‘soundscape ecology’ (Pijanowski et al. 2011).
*Making the recordings*
Ultrasonic vocalisation records can be used for biological identification because bats’ ultrasound signals are unique for each species.
We measured the acoustic signals and ultrasound calls produced by different insectivorous, frugivorous and nectarivorous bats present at Universidad EAFIT (Medellin, Colombia) to show how recorders can be used in ‘citizen science’ to construct an acoustic baseline of an area (Ritts et al. 2016).
We then produced lathe-cut vinyl records as relational objects that encouraged discussion of how bioacoustic data might be used in interdisciplinary collaborations (Barry and Born 2013).
Finally, the project allowed us to acknowledge the interdependence and benefits humans receive from nature (Díaz et al. 2018): bats disperse seeds, pollinate plants and control pests.
*Drinking nectar and eating mangos*
Far from presenting bats as ‘dark’ animals, we wanted to create a party full of colour, sounds, and flavours. Historically, bats have been seen as ‘pests’ or ‘vermin’ that generate abhorrence or fear. Even before associating them with blood-sucking animals, people linked bats to ‘madness’, ‘melancholia’, ‘satanic affiliation’ and ‘sympathy for the Devil’ (Laird 2018, 45).
Rejecting such associations, our music composition was inspired by imagining bats flying through the trees, drinking nectar, and eating mangos.
This project reveals that bioacoustic data and sound recordings can offer a way to enact the multiplicity of relations, and their limitations, between bats and humans, while at the same time translating scientific knowledge into the public domain.
Track 1 (‘Molossus molossus – ultrasound’) is the original ultrasound recording of insectivorous bat Molossus molossus. By slowing ultrasound recordings down several times and setting the sampling frequency at 44.1 kHz so the human ear can hear them, we then converted the recordings to the human hearing range to allow people to audibly appreciate the sounds (track 2, ‘Molossus molossus - human hearing range’, is an example of this).
Then, by sampling the recordings of bats’ sound signals, Federico Goes created different bits that were used as rhythm patterns for the songs (track 3, ‘Rhythm patterns’). Further layers were added using typical Colombian instruments, such as kuisi (a Colombian gaita made from a hollowed cactus stem), a marimba from the Pacific coast, and an accordion, playing vallenato-like music from the Caribbean coast.
A very diverse range of synthesizers and analogue drum machines were also integrated into the mix and, finally, other bat calls were added as instruments, paying particular attention to the panning and the mixing of them. As a result, we have two singles: ‘Bat Party (a-side)’ and ‘Bat Party (b-side)’.
Project director and executive producer: Alejandro Valencia-Tobon
Bioacoustic analysis: Oscar Alzate-Zapata
Composer and record producer: Federico Goes
Cover art: Jorge Marin