Can we listen to the soil, what sounds could the soil make? A complex alloy of living beings, nutrients and minerals in constant interaction, we walk on a complete universe that I think it is important to give voice to today in order to understand the world around us in a different way.
A Science and Art project started in 2016 in collaboration with Fanny Rybak, bioacoustician, NeuroPsi, Orsay and Matthias Rillig from the Rillig Lab at the Freie Universität Berlin. It will be continued in October 2019 at Cornell University, in collaboration with Johannes Lehmann, pedologist.
The project has been the subject of a scientific publication, MDPI Sounds of Soil: A NewWorld of Interactions under Our Feet? With Matthias Rillig, Johannes Lehmann.
One of the recorded sound is edited by Unheard records, Compilation003: Infinite In-betweens
To show, to hear this living thing with which we are in constant dialogue, I imagined creating devices to listen to the soil. Their formal appearance came from the boat hatches, with their evocative names "ecoutilles from écouter in french", and the shells in which the sea would be heard. Amplifying sculptures that would take up the forms of myxomycetes, these "collective amoebas". Terracotta is the ideal setting for these sound collections, and I had in head for a long time ceramic mouths coming out of the ground to listen to the sound of underground life .
Since these sounds are difficult to hear and very tenuous, it is necessary to use amplifiers, and the "mouths" have been transformed into black rods like the soil, erected at ground level, to lean gently over this activity made audible.The sandstones are placed on a ground of soil.
Charlotte Poulsen, a ceramist with whom I had already collaborated, helped me to shape these sculptures.
In 2016, I met Matthias Rillig, who heads the Plant Ecology Laboratory in Berlin. His speciality is the study of fungi that colonize soils and plants. A first collaboration in Dahlem allowed us to determine a common desire, which would also have a scientific interest: can we listen to the soil, what sounds could the soil make?
I then contacted Fanny Rybak, a bio-acoustician in Orsay, who has since become a partner in the project. Together we tested different protocols in vitro to determine the best instruments for making these recordings. I went back to work in the Rillig group to carry out experiments from this falsely simple starting idea.
The soil is alive. It is the product of decomposing living beings and shelters an immense diversity of animals, plants, fungi, bacteria... The life of these organisms can be heard: their activity generates sounds, and constitutes a sound landscape of thesoil. The scientific study of the acoustic activities of populations, ecosystems or landscapes, attempting to account for the interactions that exist there, is a discipline that has recently emerged: eco-acoustics. But while the scientific study of the sound landscapes of airborne, and even aquatic environments, has been booming in recent years, no one has, to our knowledge, been listening or listening to a microphone to or in the ground. Recording techniques and equipment have recently been developed to access these sometimes minute sounds. At the freie universität in Berlin, Matthias Rillig's team is very interested in the results of these recordings: indeed, these new data could be part of their prospective research into the study of stress reactions in certain fungi populations, which has never been tested so far. Bridges based on these results are also possible in a second step with the team of the Laboratory of Ecology, Systematics and Evolution in the study in ecophysiology of the interactions of tree root systems.
Fanny Rybak studies sound communications in different species of birds and insects. In recent years, she has been interested in the acoustic diversity of freshwater aquatic environments, including environmental factors that control the diversity and abundance of sounds that can be recorded in them, reflecting the diversity and abundance of animal species present in these environments. Just like the sound signals of fruit flies, which Fanny Rybak studied during her thesis, the sounds of ponds and other watercourses are difficult to record, because they are not audible to the human ear.
This type of sound has generated other experiments, still ongoing, on behavioural changes in fungi communities exposed to predator sound sequences.
This project was supported by the Diagonale Paris-Saclay, the DRAC centre Val de Loire and the Micro-Onde centre d'art.