Amalie’s Land (2020/ 21)

A participatory online performance.
A tree, a storyteller and three audience members networked in an interactive audio-visual environment.

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The project deals with the relationship between humans and nature in the age of the Anthropocene and explores possible agency of human and non-human actors. It tests a model of how intensive listening and networked action in improvisation can create an experience that draws all participants into an intense atmosphere of togetherness despite spatial distance.

At the center of the performance is a willow tree on a field plot on the edge of a small village in a river valley in Germany.
The tree was visited and investigated again and again for a year. The main focus was on exploring the sounds of the tree and its close environment. In the process, an old family history was also discovered that is connected to the tree and the land.
Three audience members per performance are invited to experience this piece of cultivated nature and its history and to join us in bringing to life a unique version of „Amalie’s Land”. In this, the guests take an active part, the separation of performer and spectator is abolished.

The audio-visual performance is composed of several layers:
1. A realtime composition of the field recordings from the audio archive.
2. The Sonification of realtime received biodata of the tree
3. The live spoken voice of the storyteller
4. A video generated in realtime from archive footage

At the beginning of the performance, all actors meet in a video conference to get to know each other so that they can then act together in the performance. This is followed by a technical briefing and joint dial-in to the performance platform. Afterwards the conference will be finished.
The performance itself runs in three windows of the Internet browser:
1. A realtime audio stream as a mix of the field recordings, the electronic sounds of the biodata and the voice of the storyteller.
2. A navigation interface, with which the guests can mix the field recordings. Furthermore, the biodata of the tree are visualized and additional information is played into the performance.
3. A video stream on twitch.tv without sound.

Navigation Interface
three different states of the Navigation Interface

1. The Soundscape
The soundscape of the site is composed of the anthropophony of the nearby village with occasional agricultural activities, a country road, a railroad line and the biophony and geophony of a river valley with meadows, scrubland and surrounding forests with a diverse birdlife.
Sound recordings were made repeatedly throughout the year using stereo microphones.
An ultrasonic microphone was used to record insect songs that cannot be heard by humans with the naked ear.
Some exerpts on Soundcloud, recorded with an ultrasound microphone with 384 kHz and downsampled to 48 kHz:
ultrasound_#1
ultrasound_#2
ultrasound_#3

ultrasound spectrogram
ultrasound spectrogram

Contact microphones attached to the tree enabled recordings from inside the tree: mysterious pulsating, bubbling, hissing of tree sap, movement of branches in the wind, ambient sounds filtered through the wood, which the tree captures like a large antenna.

contact microphone

Over the year of monitoring, an extensive archive of field recordings has been created, which can now be accessed in the performance by the three guests together via a graphical interface in the internet browser.
A short video how three remote guests use the navigation interface to mix the field recordings.
An example of how the navigation interface provides additional information.

2. Sonification of biodata:
The tree is brought into the performance in realtime: it is equipped with various sensors that constantly send specific parameters via mobile internet with the help of a solar-powered Raspberry Pi.
The data is translated into electronic sounds using custom-built Pd patch: light, temperature, vibration of branches, galvanic skin response (normally used to measure stress levels in humans, now attached to the bark of the tree) are thus made audible.

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3. The Storyteller

The Storyteller
The Storyteller

The storyteller reports about 150 years of family memories, which cannot be separated from the relationship to the environment and nature. Trees and fields become a kind of relative of the people who live with and from them. A family constellation with nature. Through the narrative, guests are invited into a strong family-emotional relationship system, which in a special way simultaneously invites reflection on resilience in nature as well as in families. At the height of the second lockdown during the Corona pandemic, the story of the diseased willow tree and its resilience became emblematic of new strength.

4. Video stream

video stream
video stream

Video recordings of the tree and its surroundings made during monitoring with cameras, microscope and endoscope provide the materials for the visual layer. An autonomously working Max/Jitter patch composes the video stream live by evaluating the biodata of the tree and the behavior of the three guests on the navigation interface. In this way, a unique video of slow dream-like images is created in each performance.
Video Soundscape#1: ‘The Spot’
Video Soundscape#2: ‘Insects – Ultrasound’
Video Soundscape#3: ‘sounds from inside’

Feedback
In conversations after the performance guests talked about: Strong experience of nature… Meditative atmosphere… exciting encounter with the people involved… Meeting friends… Joy of unmediated direct commonality with others… Overcoming loneliness in social distance.
One comment representative of many: Just the right kind of experience for where we are now.

Here you can find the Amalie guestbook, which we unfortunately only activated at the end of the performance series.

Performance in German or English language
Duration about 90 minutes

Concept, direction, text, audio and video recordings, programming, technical realization: blackhole-factory (Elke Utermöhlen, Martin Slawig)
The Storyteller: Elke Utermöhlen
Project Dramaturgy: Martina Leeker
Photo and video: Martin Kroll

A project by blackhole-factory, 2020/2021

A first series of 42 performances took place in january and february 2021 during the second Corona lockdown in Germany.

Since April 21 we are running a permanent audio visual live stream on twitch.tv. The stream is generated autonomously from the real-time sensor data of the tree and the computer system. The software has access to the archive of audio and video field recordings and is controlled by the sensor data.

‘Amalie’s Land’ was funded by Land Niedersachsen, Stiftung Niedersachsen, Stiftung Braunschweigischer Kulturbesitz, Stadt Braunschweig Fachbereich Kultur und Wissenschaft