World Arts / Art & Science
Sons en causa

La Guáquira. Night of toads, fireflies and rain

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N10.17.709-O068.40.044. 19.54. 28.07.2011. Altitude: 105 m. West orientation

The Guáquira is a property near the city of San Felipe de Yaracuy. The Ecous group, associated with the Experimental University of Yaracuy, which, with the support of the Spanish Embassy, has invited us to come on this visit, is making a very interesting study of the soundscape of agricultural and livestock activities, the main economic sources of the State of Yaracuy. 

The name of this Venezuelan state derives from the words jirajaras yara (‘fetch water’) and cuí (‘far away’); so that Yaracuy it means “taking water from afar”.  However, it does not seem necessary to go very far to Yaracuy to get water, because it rains a lot and this is what ensures the greenery and humidity of its forests throughout the year. 

I cycled for a while along a rather narrow road heading for where some frogs sounded very distinct from the crowd of insects. In a clearing by the river, near the entrance to the group of buildings where we were staying, they were singing in bursts like the murmur of water, but more softly and high-pitched. They sounded like they were arguing. In the past, when I was setting up the recording equipment, the fireflies glowed. Just like in fairy tales, but I was scared to death.  Fleeing from a magical sound of nature, both mechanical and electric, on the bridge at the entrance to the camp, I was hanging the microphone on a branch, but a terrible roar sounded behind me. A huge animal? No. Just a generator – or who knows what – is triggered whenever some remote device requires it. I had stopped next to the little house where this prodigious electromechanical monster lives, so noisy that it has actually manifested itself a few times. What frightened me about the roar is the beginning, which has an arrangement similar to that which could be produced by the passage of air through a large throat. It makes you think of a huge cat; so big that it can’t be true that it exists, but it scares you all the same. A car leaving the property also passed by, which explains why I had seen the light of a torch nearby. There are a lot of people: documentary film-makers, some Spanish biologists whom I was introduced to yesterday, the people of Dalis, Mr. Orlando, foreman of the Guáquira, Carlos, the one in charge of the keys… Too much movement. Apart from the bugs, of which there are many, and the mechanical sounds at ground level, an aircraft flies over the region. If I had to listen to everything my ear picked up, I could say it was raining, but I wasn’t getting wet. Typical of the jungle: branches and water fall everywhere even if it isn’t raining. Although it is also typical that you come out very wet, even if it isn’t raining.

La Guáquira · Rooms.

Now, fleeing for the second time from disturbing sounds, gusts of wind continue. I was left alone with the torch and the bicycle recording the toads in some pools that I could no longer make out. It had become very dark. Fernando, Argenis and Juan, the documentary film-makers who interviewed me this afternoon, are far away in their van. I am experiencing a truly intimate and acoustic performance. The signal is very good. Despite being closer to them than toads, I can barely hear the crickets and locusts. In the foreground, a whistling toad and some falling stones. Or are they branches? In the dark it’s hard to know. The plane passes again and a new toad accompanies the first one with a similar length of song. Suddenly it falls silent and gives way to something faster and much deeper which, for an instant, steals the show; but it is gone and the toad from before is left alone. It’s looking for a partner, just like that cricket that has not stopped singing the whole time. Just as I think of it, something small flapping around here is making it lower its level of intensity. It almost stops croaking, but it soon pipes up again: the reproductive urge is stronger than any fear; and this is true regardless of the species. It is general. Stopping its song, a locust emerges for a few seconds. No, it does not love silence. It slows down and then resumes its rhythm. It’s a fighter. Or maybe, as my friend Llorenç would say of our mutual and damaged friend Ivar, a ‘follaor’.

In the forest of the Guáquira.

Sitting under my tree, I experience the soundscape as if it were an orchestra of sound made of whistles, shrills and bubbling waters. And claps of thunder! I don’t know if I’ll have to go out, legs, please help me. Before the thunder, a two-stroke motorbike was passing by and simultaneously something produced a metallic clang near the microphone. The glade is filled again with fireflies. Dalis was right: they come at night. Fireflies, crickets, toads and frogs, wind, motorcycle and plane, the crunch of branches and thunder, suddenly fall silent; it must be raining. Luckily, the tree where I take shelter is big and has many leaves and branches. How long will it take to soak me? And what about the bike, what will I do then? The rain eases and the toads start up again. Crickets and locusts, too. It’s raining again, I think; or maybe it’s the wind, which occasionally carries me a drop or two. I’m not wet, for now. 14 minutes of recording; do I stay or do I go? I hold on. Thank goodness my new friends have left me their torch. With that darkness I could break my neck or lose half my equipment. Another scare! Tonight, it’s complete. An object, maybe a metal one, has fallen over here! 

Despite the wind and rain, the fireflies also hold their own. It has been dark for a long time now. They glow everywhere.  They are very close to me. So good. They are almost next to the mike. They seem mute. They don’t get in the way; they just glow. Kneeling in the meadow, someone would say I’m doing penance. Nothing like that: it’s the position that most effectively prevents me from moving and I don’t want any sounds from me in the recordings. On the wider road, my friends’ van turns on the headlights. From afar, it barely illuminates the back of some leaves here. The passing of another vehicle shows the road, which soon slips into darkness. 19 minutes recorded! Just one more to go! The wind and the rain return. This tree is very sturdy. For the moment I’m lucky, but when I leave its protection, what then? I don’t know. I have to go to dinner. How Jorge and Hilario look alike! I’ve been thinking about it for days, but I won’t tell them.


Nord: 10° 17′ 7,09″ – Oest: 68° 40′ 0,44″ – 28/07/2011 19:54.

Sons en Causa

Sons en Causa és un projecte de l’Orquestra del Caos basat en el registre del patrimoni sonor propi d’una sèrie de contextos culturals on a l’entorn mediambiental, a causa del creixement econòmic, són previsibles canvis irreversibles a curt i mitjà termini. Les diversitats cultural i biològica, encara enormes, són massa fràgils. Mereixen ser tingudes en compte i la seva gran importància, divulgada. El patrimoni intangible, i amb ell, el sonor, està seriosament amenaçat en molts llocs del món. Un cop produïts els canvis que ara ens semblen inevitables, els sons, i amb ells les seves causes, hauran desaparegut per sempre.

Enregistraments: Josep Manuel Berenguer

Josep Manuel Berenguer
Josep Manuel Berenguer és coordinador i professor de Psicoacústica i Música experimental del Màster en Art Sonor de la UB i director l'Orquestra del Caos. President d'Honor de la International Conference of Electroacoustic Music del CIM / UNESCO, President de Quantum Art Lab, membre del Patronat de la Fundació Phonos i del grup MISAME. El seu treball inicialment electroacústic s'ha orientat a la instal·lació, al temps real i a la interactivitat. Les temàtiques desenvolupades inclouen qüestions relacionades amb la filosofia i la història de la ciència, els límits de llenguatge, l'ètica, la vida i la intel·ligència artificial, la robòtica, el metabolisme de la informació, així com els límits mateixos de la comprensió i la percepció humanes del món. Luci, que explora els comportaments complexos emergents de superposicions d'elements simples, va rebre el Premi ARCO-Beep d'Art Electrònic.

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