Music for Natural History

Music for Natural History is a multi-media installation and live sound performance work that literally gives voice to the taxidermized birds and mammals, artificial trees and painted landscapes that form the dioramas of the Natural History Gallery at the Royal BC Museum (RBCM) in Victoria BC.

The project takes four forms: a) a site-specific sound performance inside the Natural History Gallery at the RBCM; b) an installation featuring video footage of the RBCM Natural History Gallery dioramas and performers with an audio soundtrack; c) an immersive live multimedia sound performance featuring a video environment adapted from the installation and represent­ing the dioramas; d) an audio publication featuring elements of the installation soundtrack

The Elk Concerto and Shoreline Operetta are the two main pieces of Music for Natural History. Through careful cataloging, research, transcription and notation, the sounds of the flora and fauna of the major dioramas of the Royal BC Museum’s Natural History Gallery were orchestrated into two naturalistic compositions performed by a small orchestra and chorus of musicians and vocalists. The Elk Concerto is a sonic portrait of the 5 biomes in the Forest Exhibition on a single day in early autumn; Shoreline Operetta explores the soundscape suggested in the Seashore Exhibition over the period of one year.

Elk Concerto audio trailer

Shoreline Operetta Trailer


Music for Natural History is part of a growing global movement of art projects that intend to foster renewed connections with a rapidly changing biosphere. The project blurs boundaries between sonic mimicry, soundscape composition, classical music, and dadaist sound poetry, reminding us of the complex array of biospheric sounds being silenced by loss of habitat and species extinction.


In 2012 the Royal BC Museum invited sound artists to sonically re-imagine the displays in its second and third floor galleries. Music for Natural History was Tina Pearson’s and Paul Walde’s collaborative response to this creative challenge. Walde brought a broad conceptual framework for the relationships between sound art, the visual arts and music, while Pearson contributed her long background in music transcription, field recordings, experimental music composition, improvisation and sonic mimicry. Walde and Pearson recruited and trained Victoria musicians, students and community members to participate in a workshop version of this project, which was performed on April 28th, 2012 as part of the Museum’s Site and Sound program.


Music for Natural History being performed at the Royal BC Museum, Victoria, Canada, 2016

In 2015, supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, Pearson and Walde further developed the scores for the Elk Concerto and Shoreline Operetta, and introduced crucial staging strategies and other elements that enhanced the audience experience of the complete work. On January 14, 15 and 16, 2016, Music for Natural History was performed to sold out audiences in six shows at the Royal BC Museum. Leading up to the performance, musicians and community members partic­ipated in specialized workshops designed to enhance their listening and soundscape awareness. Sixteen vocalists, sound artists and instrumentalists learned to embody and mimic the sounds of wind, birds, mammals and rain, in order to replicate a dry coastal forest, a rainforest stream, or the dynamic sounds of ocean surf. Alternately cacophonic, dramatic and serene, these performances were bookended by two com­plementary site-specific audio installations: Prelude in Blue and Delta Transposition, which were installed in the Wooly Mammoth and Delta Estuary displays.


An excerpt of the performer instructions from Elk Concerto

The scores for Elk Concerto and Shoreline Operetta are a combination of conventional music notation, graphic notation, diagrams, and text instructions complemented with audio samples and individual instruction for each vocalist or instrumentalist. The performers use acoustic instruments and voices to attempt an accurate replication of the sounds of each creature represented in the dioramas. Non-traditional uses of instruments and extended techniques are essential in the realization of the score. The composition also includes vocal notations for sounds of the specific vegetation, waters and winds associated with the microclimates represented, and interactive elements based on the communicative behaviours of the birds and mammals. There are no pre-recorded or electronic sounds in the live performances of these works.


This EP is a collection of shorter compositions derived from the longer works that make up Music for Natural History and provide an opportunity for further exploration of these sounds.

This work can be downloaded here

This release was made possible through the assistance of the Digital Originals program of the Canada Council for the Arts


A still from the forthcoming video installation

All four audiovisual compositions of Music for Natural History are being developed into discrete audio visual gallery works: Elk Concerto into a 3 channel multi-screen projection work that occupies 3 walls; The Shoreline Operetta to a dual screen projection work that fills a long wall. Both pieces incorporate detailed ultra-high definition (4K) video documentation of the dioramas of the Royal BC Museum’s Natural History Galleries and staged performances for the camera.

Shot with a professional film crew on a RED cinema camera, these panoramic immersive installations do not attempt to recreate the site-specific performances but instead offer audiences a distinct artistic experience.
The accompanying soundtracks were recorded at the Phillip T. Young Performance Hall at the University of Victoria and will be remixed, layered and produced at the University of Victoria’s sound studio.

In contrast, the audio compositions, Prelude in Blue and Delta Transposition, are combined with carefully composed video footage of the respective dioramas for which these works were created: the Wooly Mammoth and Delta Estuary. The result is two stand-alone single channel video works with high quality stereo audio tracks intended to bookend the larger more elaborate multi-screen works in this proposed exhibition.


The multi-media performance features live performances of The Elk Concerto and Shoreline Operetta each approximately 30 minutes in length. Experimental musicians, vocalists and sound artists bring to life the sounds of the Pacific Northwest lifeforms represented in the Royal BC Museum, within an immersive environment of three large-scale projections that surround the audience. There are no pre-recorded or electronic sounds during these these pieces. The projections include slowly revealing footage of details of the dioramas, but unlike the installation version, shows no footage of the original RBCM performers. This version of the piece is prepared for the creation of an equivalent soundscape by live performers, with the projections acting as a moving set, part of the score, and larger-than-live environment for the audience, resulting in a unique viewing and listening experience. Bookending this live performance are two pre-recorded audio/visual works: Prelude In Blue and Delta Transpo­sition.


The audio recording is an audio-only version of the installation soundtrack prepared for a listening audience. It features remixed and rearranged elements from the original Elk Concerto and Shoreline Operetta recordings. In addition, the publication of the audio recording—including a vinyl record and digital download — will feature notes by the artists as well as score samples and images selected from the performances and installation.

Performers 2016: Ajtony Csaba (cello), Alisa Gordaneer (voice), Arlene Carson (accordion, water whistle, voice), Chris Tooley (voice, whistles, recorders), Claire le Nobel (percussion), George Tzanetakis (clarinets, sax, flutes), Geraldine Bulosan (voice, recorder), Janet Sit (recorders, percussion, voice), Joanna Hood (viola), John G Boehme (voice), Julio Lopezhiler (violin), Nathan Friedman (clarinets), Paul Walde (percussion, recorders), Rachael Wadham (percussion, recorders), Tancha Dirickson (recorder, antlers), Tina Pearson (flute, recorders, voice)

Performers 2012: Grace Salez, Geraldine Bulosan, John G Boehme (voices); Andie Lemus, (voice, violin); Steeve Bjornson (guitar, percussion); Olie Dason (clarinet); George Tzanetakis (clarinet, saxophone); Alfons Fear (trumpet, euphonium); Sasha Opeiko (violin); Dong Kyoon (ocarinas); Julia Zhu (flute, recorder, slide whistle); Paul Walde (guitar, percussion, cymbal); Tina Pearson (flute head, slide whistle, ocarina, voice).


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