DWELLERS – Asynchronous phonotaxis

Dwellers. Performance. CHB, Sound Studies and Sonic Arts Masters’ exhibition. June 2023. (Image by Kim Wichera)

DWELLERS – Asynchronous phonotaxis

Performance. Installation. “Dwellers”. Sound Studies and Sonic Arts Masters’ exhibition. CHB. Berlin, 2023.

Sonic performance by Genesis Victoria (they/them)

Performers: Car-moth: Genesis Victoria (they/them). The operator: Kayla Elrod (they/she) Wearable and Sound design: Genesis Victoria (they/them)

Date and Time: 8th of June, 21 hrs. Performance Room 10 // 8B Corridor (installation). Sound Studies and Sonic Arts Master exhibition – June 8-12, 2023. Collegium Hungaricum Berlin, Dorotheenstraße 12, 10117 Berlin

“Dwellers” is a sonic performance and installation that reflects on accelerationism, ecologies, and queer identities. In this piece, a moth has built its nest in a crashed car. The symbiotic car-moth arrives at a gas station, where they encounter the operator, initiating a series of procedures and processes without a functional purpose. Through this dystopian premise, the artist aims to create an atmosphere that explores post-human phonotaxis—the behaviour of an organism in response to sound—and the emergence of sonic ecologies. Polyrhythms, patterns, and gestures are inspired by the asynchronous sounds of wax moths, mechanical labour, and the possibility of intimacy. Following a car crash, slowness emerges as an honest manifesto and a survival tactic. The performance incorporates wearable technology, including movement and temperature sensors, to manipulate sounds through gestures.

DWELLING: A narrative.

(these writings were developed by me during the process and were included as fragments in the post-performance installation at CHB)

A car crash. Interruption. Infinite parts spread in a past time. The abandoned machine is now the house of unexpected inhabitants: dwellers. A shell or a bone. Inorganic symbiosis, liquid ecology. Liquid environment, memories melting and creating a new space. A burrow of dreams crafting itself, mirroring and perceiving. Infinite prism spinning in a suspended time. The time of the slow openness where the sensory information emerges as vibrations and permeates the folded skin. Prismatic identities. Where are we going? To what we are attracted to? 

The first dweller, a moth that nested in an abandoned car, arrives at an eerie gas station. Here they meet the second dweller, the operator and begin a series of procedures. These procedures have no particular end but are procedures. Procedures transform into gestures, gestures into relations, heretic bonds, and multiplicities. A liquid dwelling, a space of inhabitants, is constantly emerging. These a-synchronisms and poly-temporalities create sonic ecologies where dwellers give and take in a consensual power play, top and bottom, creating knowledge through switching and care.

More fragments….

  • Car moth sounds a lot like karma.
  • Intrusive thoughts and anxiety feel like a car crashing through the walls of my memories and dreams. Involuntary interruptions. 
  • In my dreams, I elevate through orange roofs and hidden gardens. Insight: my main quest is to recover my oniric world. Curiosity.
  • To drive. To be driven. Desire. Drives. Thanatos and Eros.
  • When I was little I couldn’t jump with both feet at the same time. Do I also carry these asynchronous movements within? Out of pace, out of the pace of the world…
  • Car. Post Fordism. Accelerationism. /// slowwwwwneeeeeees
  • In the kitchen of the house where I’m currently living, the hands of the clock moved slower because a moth nested inside of it. The pace of it was slower due to its new inhabitant. An unexpected dweller. It is interesting this point that, due to their fast metabolism, little animals like insects can process more information in less time. Consequently, they perceive things more detailedly, so to say in “slow motion”.

The process: wearables, objects and sound

“In the theater of the past that is constituted by memory, the stage setting maintains the characters in their dominant roles. At times we think we know ourselves in time when all we know is a sequence of fixations in the spaces of the being’s stability – a being who does not want to melt away, and who, even in the past, when he sets out in search of things past, wants time to “suspend” its flight. In its countless alveoli space contains compressed time. That is what space is for.” 

(Bachelard, 1994)

I have always been interested in the idea of home as an aesthetic field, not just as a static place, but as something movable that carries and constitutes identity. Home not just as a place but as an armour, maybe. Home as something movable, as a carcass, a ship. In this sense, wearables are like movable homes that carry an entire universe within them. Within this ecological framework, my queer trans identity is formed, transcending binary limitations. It consists of various elements, much like the furniture in a house. However, in this case, the furniture is fluid and fragmented, representing collected memories and signifiers without definitive endings. Our home-being lies in our movements and events—action and becoming.”

Throughout my research, I have explored the concept of carrying a landscape (Cachalot), creating one’s skin (Latex Natulis), and in the case of Dwellers, an armour or a beautifully toughened skin following a car crash. In Dwellers, a moth finds its new home and thrives after the car crash, transforming itself into a mutant body.

Sound not only directs movement but also serves as its invisible, fluid material. The mobile home is attracted to sound sources and frequencies, vibrating with its constitution as it moves towards them. In the field of bioacoustics, this behaviour towards sound is known as phonotaxis. Hence, I propose a creature of home that emerges through a sonic ontology, where sonic matter manifests itself, constituting sound events that attract the sonic creature. Through this attraction, common vibrations, patterns, dissonances, synchronicities, and asynchronicities are created.

By chance, I discovered that moths, as the most sound-sensitive creatures, perfectly embody this concept. Moths are creatures that rely on sound. Wax moths, for example, can perceive sounds around 300 KHz, operating within the ultrasound realm. They communicate through tymbals, a pair of exoskeletal structures that produce 75KHz pulses. Studies on their mating patterns have revealed their preference for asynchronous pulses. The asynchronism arises from the silence produced by the flapping of their wings. In this sense, I like to imagine that moths are drawn to the inharmonious dance of their pairs (Yikweon, Jang & Greenfield, 1996). 

The concept of the car is intriguing to me because it represents a form of mobile home that doubles as a commodity. This commodity signifies status while also serving as a rupture in the post-capitalist, post-Fordist performativity. Car plastic waste, in particular, poses significant challenges for recycling too. Life accelerated after the advent of the car. But what purpose does a car serve in a world where it is no longer needed? Where there is no use or functionality for it? Where does it reach its expiration? Where does it end? Do car parts have a memory of what they were? Does it retain memories of its past—of its previous drivers and the landscapes it has witnessed? 

The fascination with machine armour is evident in various cultural references, including the Megazord from Power Rangers, Matthew Barney’s fantasies, the use of fluids and machine imagery, Holy Motors, iamamiwhoami’s concert for a single fan in a car, and Arca’s concert on top of a crashed car. The list of references is infinite.

Then, while designing the wearable, my fascination with the asynchronous dance of wax moths grew because I realized that sound and gesture are inseparable from each other. This concept aligns perfectly with the core of a sonic wearable, where sound and gesture are intertwined. Consequently, I decided to create a wearable using broken car parts, continuing the narrative of the moth’s transformation from a car crash. The car-moth wearable imposed restrictions on my movements; I had to keep my arms separated from my body due to the sharp edges of the parts. Dancing on the floor or moving fluidly was not possible. My body remained rigid, but this allowed me to discover movement through shaking. As I shook, the parts of the suit collided, producing resonating sounds. This combination of sound and movement enabled me to embody the character of the bratty car-moth. The car-moth wearable was connected to a Genki ring, which modulated the time warp and delay of a synthesized string. Consequently, every movement I made created a dreamy, eerie sound.

Working on the car moth wearable at 303. Sound Studies. May 2023. (Photo by author).

For the rest of the performance, we collected car parts from various places such as trash pits and, ultimately, the auto press in Tempelhof, where I had to pay for discarded car lights. Finding trashed car parts in Germany is challenging due to recycling and waste handling regulations and norms. Working with recycled materials is an important statement for me as an artist because I aim to question the production chain and the fate of waste and trash, particularly in the context of the car industry. 

Car explosion near Kottbutser Tor. May 2023. (Photo by author).

The parts we collected included front car lights, spinners, pumps, traffic signs, tires, and more. These car parts also produced sounds when they collided. One notable car part was the headrest, which symbolized both intimacy and an intense fight, generating prominent clashing sounds. This gesture represented exhaustion and playfulness simultaneously. Considering my own experience of a car accident, the head is the most vulnerable body part and where the impact is most felt, reflecting on the function of airbags, for instance. Another interesting car part we incorporated was the spinners, which emphasized the concept of velocity and speed change.

Rehearsing at 303 Sound Studies with Kayla Elrod. May, 2023. (Photo by author).

In the performance, coffee grains and coffee played a prominent role. Initially, coffee represented an interchangeable commodity and value. It served as fuel and material, allowing us to create intimacy through a series of sensual gestures. Additionally, coffee generated temperature changes for the sensor. A central metal piece, welded by Andrew Grigsby (they/them), supported vessels containing coffee at different temperatures, along with a MIDI controller that enabled me to manage levels and effects. The operator was responsible for creating the mix using a water pump that was also in motion. With the temperature sensor, I used my mouth to speed up the beats per minute (bpm). Continuing with the coffee-fueled logic, a car fuel pump was used as the pressure sensor for the final part of the performance.

Welding with Andrew at their workshop. May, 2023. (Photo by author).

In summary, for “Dwellers,” three sensors were utilized: the wearable car-moth and its movement sensor (Genki ring), the temperature sensor for the liquids, and the contact sensor (piezo).

Regarding the composition, I created 38 high-frequency patterns that underwent phase and pitch changes, drawing inspiration from the wax moth’s pattern and polyrhythm. A drum pattern was included to emulate the asynchronous silence between the signals of the moths, and I incorporated some samples from wax moths as well.

Inspired by the concept of time warp, accelerationism, and the perception of time experienced by other creatures or in different states, such as the time of remembrance, memories, or the classical distinction between aeon/chronos, I delved into working with radical changes in beats per minute (bpm) to craft an atmosphere of ambiguity and dreaminess. As previously mentioned, I utilized the temperature and contact sensors to regulate the bpm. By leveraging the temperature sensors and varying temperatures of the coffee, I could control the speed of the bpm, enabling both the operator and the car-moth to dance to different rhythms. The patterns gradually transformed into high-frequency textures, and the drums followed suit. Towards the conclusion of the performance, to induce a sense of collapse, the contact sensor abruptly crashed the bpm from 20 to 999.

The composition itself was created using Ableton Live and managed through a Max patch that translated the analogue and digital input from the Arduino into MIDI information.

My max patch transmitting Midi data to Ableton. 

Working from February until June on the composition and concept. 2023. (Screenshot by author).

Dwellers: the performance and installation

Dwellers. Performance. CHB, Sound Studies and Sonic Arts Masters’ exhibition. June 2023. (Image by Kim Wichera)

My primary objective in entering the sound studies program was to discover a point of convergence between sound and performance art, where sonic events could give rise to the emergence of listening queer trans bodies and sonic ecologies, as I had been exposed to previously. I aimed to push my performances further by incorporating narrative elements and experimenting with a queer sonic dramaturgy. Additionally, in recent months, I have been involved in König, a drag project for Kings, Quings, and creatures catering to FLINTA* individuals (*Women, Lesbians, Intersex, Non-binary, Trans, Agender, and others). Within this project, I created my drag persona named Apnea, a non-binary amazona from the sea. Through drag performativity, I explore what I refer to as “unmasking through masking,” where drag becomes a means to augment oneself rather than assuming an entirely different identity.

I invited Kayla Elrod (they/she) to participate in my performance as the character of The Operator. Kayla and I have collaborated on various performance projects that explore the intersection of sound art and performance. We are both members of the LODE collective, which aims to develop sound art projects involving bodies beyond the white hetero cis aurality and the obligatory technophilia and high fidelity.

Through discussions and extensive rehearsals, we developed a framework centred around transformation, power dynamics, consent, and trust. This framework encompassed the creation of intimacy between ourselves and the materials, the automation of gestures, synchronicity and asynchronicity, the concept of fuel and liquids, and the liberation of roles and forms through unbridled joy and pleasure. Our personal biographies and shared experiences as friends also found their way into the performance, manifesting as anecdotes and connecting moments. For instance, the idea of using coffee emerged from a conversation we had while eating chocolate-covered coffee beans. We reminisced about the energizing effect of consuming coffee while driving at night and refuelling at a gas station. As the director, I aimed to push these conversations and gestures further to create scenes or structures that evoked a sense of urgency, tapping into our sensitivity and emotions. Both Kayla and I also integrate elements of kinkiness and sexuality into our works as part of our sonic embodiments. An example of this can be seen in Kayla’s project, PLZ KRUZH. We incorporated power play with objects, taking turns guiding four distinct scenes.

The performance setting, referred to as scene zero, featured me as the car-moth, inviting people into the room with a portable speaker playing the pattern used throughout the first scene at a very slow tempo of 20 bpm. The Operator awaited inside the room, positioned within a marked rectangle, engaging in repetitive shaking movements. Various objects were scattered on either side of the room, except for the main pedestal and the water pump system.

Dwellers. Performance. CHB, Sound Studies and Sonic Arts Masters’ exhibition. June 2023. (Image by Kathrin Scheidt)

The first scene, which we refer to as the “recognition,” focused on the acknowledgement of ourselves as performers, the materials we worked with, and establishing a connection with coffee. Coffee served as both an offering and a medium of exchange between the car-moth and the operator, facilitating their intimacy and fueling what was to follow for both characters. Coffee became a sacred offering and an interchangeable commodity. The operator then sensually spread coffee across the car-moth’s body, engaging in a sensual play reminiscent of inspecting a car. This ritual encompassed areas such as the neck, armpit, and thigh, symbolically checking different parts of the car. Subsequently, both performers proceeded to gather the scattered car parts and construct the space, all while the soundscape maintained a constant, slow pattern.

Dwellers. Performance. CHB, Sound Studies and Sonic Arts Masters’ exhibition. June 2023. (Image by Kim Wichera)

The second scene involves a playful fight using the headrests. Following the intimate interaction, both the car-moth and the operator engage in a mechanical dance where they mirror each other’s movements in opposition. The car-moth, reclaiming power through their bratty demeanour, provokes and annoys the operator, escalating their mechanized performance into a fight. During this intense exchange, both the operator and the car-moth lose control. The headrest becomes a source of excitement, producing a significant sound and creating a moment of tension. Eventually, exhausted but content, they find solace in each other’s care and rest.

Dwellers. Performance. CHB, Sound Studies and Sonic Arts Masters’ exhibition. June 2023. (Image by Kathrin Scheidt)

The third scene focused on recharging energy and undergoing transformation through liquid coffee. The operator prepared a series of vessels containing coffee at various temperatures, pouring the coffee into the pump and then transferring it into the vessels using a tube. Meanwhile, the car-moth positioned themselves on platform shoes, elevating their height. The operator concluded by pumping liquid from their mouth into the final vessel. Car-moth, equipped with a temperature sensor, altered the BPM (beats per minute) of the slow pattern, creating a fluctuating tempo each time they moved the sensor from one vessel to another. Simultaneously, the operator put on their shoes, adding to their height. This growth through the shoes symbolized transformation and being fueled, preparing them for pleasure through sound. The scene concluded with both of them playing with the spinners at different intervals.

Dwellers. Performance. CHB, Sound Studies and Sonic Arts Masters’ exhibition. June 2023. (Image by Kim Wichera)

Dwellers. Performance. CHB, Sound Studies and Sonic Arts Masters’ exhibition. June 2023. (Image by Kathrin Scheidt)

Dwellers. Performance. CHB, Sound Studies and Sonic Arts Masters’ exhibition. June 2023. (Image by Kathrin Scheidt)

Dwellers. Performance. CHB, Sound Studies and Sonic Arts Masters’ exhibition. June 2023. (Images by Kim Wichera)

The final scene manifests a concert of freedom and transformation, where both the operator and car-moth discover joy and fun through sound. As the operator dances within their cubicle, car-moth engages with the temperature sensors in the various vessels and their own mouth, altering the BPM of the drum patterns and wax moth sounds. Following the concert, car-moth returns to the slow 20 BPM beats and gradually approaches the designated area where the last sensor is placed. This contact sensor instantly shifts the BPM from 20 to 999, causing the patterns to accelerate rapidly and become chaotic. While playing with the sensor, car-moth invites the operator back to the scene, and together they engage in energetic play and dance, crashing into everything around them until all the sounds gradually fade away.

Dwellers. Performance. CHB, Sound Studies and Sonic Arts Masters’ exhibition. June 2023. (Image by Kim Wichera)

After the performance, the wearable car-moth, along with the collected car parts, props such as wigs, shoes, and coffee beans, and the pump used for the coffee, were meticulously arranged and displayed in an immersive installation. This installation aimed to extend the sensory experience and evoke the essence of the performance. The car-moth wearable, adorned with its sharp-edged car parts, stood as a testament to the transformation and power play witnessed during the live performance.

Dwellers. Installation. CHB, Sound Studies and Sonic Arts Masters’ exhibition. June 2023. (Image by Kathrin Scheidt)

Surrounding the installation, the video footage of the performance played on a little screen, offering glimpses into the dynamic narrative and sonic explorations that unfolded during the event. The footage captured the intensity, intimacy, and intricate movements of the performers, allowing viewers to immerse themselves in the world of the car-moth and the operator.

Dwellers. Installation. CHB, Sound Studies and Sonic Arts Masters’ exhibition. June 2023. (Image by Kathrin Scheidt)

The exhibition space was carefully curated to create an atmosphere that echoed the themes of the performance. The display of the props, including the wigs, shoes, and coffee beans, added tactile and olfactory elements, inviting visitors to engage with the sensory remnants of the performance.

As viewers navigated through the installation, they were encouraged to reflect on the intersections of sound, performance, queerness, and transformation that were explored in the live event. The combination of visual elements, tangible artefacts, and video documentation offered a multi-dimensional perspective on the artistic journey undertaken by the performers.

Dwellers. Installation. CHB, Sound Studies and Sonic Arts Masters’ exhibition. June 2023. (Images by Kathrin Scheidt)

Overall, the installation served as a continuation of the performance, allowing audiences to delve deeper into the conceptual layers, sensorial experiences, and thought-provoking narratives that unfolded during the live event. It provided an opportunity to appreciate and engage with the materiality and traces left behind, further immersing viewers in the world of the car-moth and the operator.

Dwellers. Installation. CHB, Sound Studies and Sonic Arts Masters’ exhibition. June 2023. (Image by Kathrin Scheidt)