bee-sharp honeybee

‘fly away peta’ from Bee-Sharp Honeybee:

Bee-sharp Honeybee is a brand new music work currently in development. It’s an independent art-science creation project, inspired by, and directly derived from the research of bees (with a focus on bee buzz frequencies/wing-beat speed).

In short, I’m creating quirky chamber music based on the bee-buzz (spanning a number of genres), to perform live, accompany silent claymation films, animate a sound and visual art installation, and help spread the word about bee culture: it’s my contribution in helping to promote bee research and educate the public about the importance of bees to human survival. Better bee-lieve it!

So. This year I spent time working with a community of Minnesotan hobby beekeepers, as well as scientists and researchers from the University of Minnesota (UMN) Bee Research Lab (USA), and the Bee Squad. With access to bee-hives in a number of locations, I immersed myself in field recording, as well as interviewing beekeepers, collating technical data, and analysing technical & musical (frequency) details of the bee buzz. Creating spectrograms (visual colour maps of frequency details) and frequency line graphs, I began to explore new ways of creating music and presenting the bee-buzz as visual art..

My research observations & analysis grew into musical starting points, which I workshopped with Minneapolis musicians the Laurels String Quartet. We experimented with tone, texture, phrasing, rhythmic elements and pitch, and from rehearsal recordings I developed these ideas further, and started designing a graphic notation system that best represented the concept and process of Bee-Sharp Honeybee, based on the way a bee-hive works, and so that every musician reads from the same score. A number of ‘Miniatures’ are now composed (each between 30 seconds and 4 minutes), using the graphic scores, part-improvised, guided by frequency information in audio & visual form, utilising structures of tone, pitch and wing-beat speed. Currently the work stands as a 21-minute musical composition for string quartet (including all Miniatures in succession).

Alongside this, and with the help of a small team (see below), I also produced a series of miniature claymation (animation) clips, to experiment with the bee-buzz as a moving image. This process included the making of the 3D claymation bees and flowers, 2D hand-illustrated backdrops that were then animated with stopmotion animation and after-effects computer programs. Additionally,  in the videos, the Laurels String Quartet are playing the sound of the bee-buzz!

‘meanwhile, back at the ranch..’, from Bee-Sharp Honeybee:

The nerdy part: The bee buzz tone (wing beat), can usually sustain approximately 250 beats per second (250Hz~ fairly close to middle C, or B#, hence the title). This frequency / wing beat intensity, changes with behavioural patterns (maximising pollen release, threatening situations etc), environmental/weather conditions and body/wing size- I’ve barely touched the surface of these buzz variations, so I look forward to digging deeper as the project develops.. (in bee-tween bee stings that is).

Long-term, my plan is to develop Bee-Sharp Honeybee into a large scale work, which will eventually culminate in a 40 minute chamber orchestral work with electronics~ the electronic component consisting of a pre-recorded element of bees (from the field recordings/interviews with beekeepers and scientists), and contemporary and abstract beats & samples derived and manipulated from these recordings. The animations will potentially grow into an animated score that drives the final work on a visual scale.

Huge thanks goes to the Finzi Trust for awarding me with a scholarship to get the ball rolling on this project. Thanks also goes to the UMN Bee Research Lab & Bee Squad, Jared Miller, Fiona Toth-Gillies, Deacon & Jenny Warner, Kurt Weimer, Celia and Ron Wirth, Independent Filmmaker Project MN, Emily Downes, Marcie LaCerte, Sam Ballis, MN Hobby Beekeepers Association, and many more yet to come on the next stage..

We performed the initial string quartet miniatures live at The Pollinator Party, on Thursday July 27, 2017, as well as a house-concert performance in Minneapolis the following evening. Stay tuned for a live-recorded video of this performance very soon..