THIS MAN USED THE SOUND OF A COLONY OF BEES TO INSPIRE HIS ARTWORK AT GLASTONBURY FESTIVAL
Crowds, thumping music, sights, sounds, and smells all around, the ever-present heat or squelching mud – the festival experience can really overwhelm the senses, but for those lucky enough to make it to Glastonbury, they could find comfort among the buzz of bees.
BEAM is an audio-visual sculpture by the artist Wolfgang Buttress. Buttress took his inspiration from a colony of Cornish black bees on Worthy Farm, home of Glastonbury Festival founder Michael Eavis’.
The installation is made from sustainably-sourced untreated timber that will return to the Earth within a decade and the interior is designed around a honeycomb structure. Visitors can walk through the work, look at the sky and be surrounded by LED projections and a soundscape that is triggered by the activity of a bee hive.
To create the bee-conducted soundscapes, accelerometers were installed into hives at Glastonbury. Accelerometers are tiny sensors that measure the acceleration of a moving or vibrating body. They then send feedback signals to the artwork which translates the information into sound. In the morning, when the bees are calm, the ambient sound will be cello or piano. As the bees become busier in the afternoon, or when they swarm, the sound will switch to something more frenetic, like a guitar. Overnight the soundscape develops a more rhythmic quality.
While building the artwork, Buttress was mindful of the bees’ stress levels; the accelerometers are tiny and were installed with minimum disruption to the hive, and was careful to ensure no bees were harmed in the creation of the final piece. Buttress found his relationship to the bees was stronger than expected. He felt no anxiety working with them, just a deep connection.
Sounds that follow the structure of nature, like the rhythmic noise of waves, have long been thought to lower our stress levels and researchers at Brighton and Sussex Medical School have found that playing ‘natural sounds” have a positive effect on our nervous systems and improved resting activity of the brain.
Buttress describes the sound that is produced by bees which he can hear on headphones before the sound is beamed to the installation as a “low, deep, visceral hum”, which for Wolfgang makes a connection between sound and air. It’s been an “amazing journey” for Wolfgang, and he believes a strong relationship between science and art is essential for progress.
BEAM started as a single idea, but fulfilling the project required 200 people working together, rather like, as Buttress puts it, “our own kind of colony coming together like a hive.”
At BBC Earth we’re driven to tell stories of unity between humans and nature using the most intimate of mediums – audio. The BBC Earth Podcast aims to build this connection, seeking out the stories that help us feel closer to the planet we call home. Stories like Wolfgang’s shape how we interact with the natural world – how we can use it and be inspired by it to create art and connection, without impacting negatively on the natural world. Series three of the BBC Earth Podcast starts this autumn. Make sure you’re subscribed so you never miss an episode!