Heloise Tunstall-Behrens & Auclair

Heloise Tunstall-Behrens & Auclair

A queen usurped; a home deserted; a colony of individuals who act as one. The Swarm is a drama of epic proportions.

Taking inspiration from the vibrations with which bees communicate, and the patterns created by their social organisation - The Swarm is a choral-sound piece that takes us on an intimate journey as a colony of bees takes flight in search of a new home.

The Swarm was born out of a collaboration between composers and bee-keepers Heloise Tunstall-Behrens and Auclair, with Tunstall-Behrens on vocal composition, and Auclair on sound design.

“From years of working with bees, we became more and more curious about their sound world. The physical sensation of being surrounded by their collective hum is really special, switching between modes of listening to the group and then to individuals. This got us thinking about different forms of polyphony where individual melodies are layered or intersect to create a sound that is bigger than the sum of its parts.” Heloise Tunstall-Behrens & Auclair, composers of The Swarm

The Swarm began life as a series of audio-visual performances at the Brunel Museum London, VAULT Festival and Liverpool's Car Park Space. The piece has since evolved into a multi-sensory experience, 360 audio film and full length recording out now on Amorphous Sounds.

Fans of Roomful of Teeth, Meredith Monk, and Steve Reich take note. These choral movements take us on a journey of intricate polyphonic explosions and tightly woven all-embracing harmonies, amidst a bed of deep electronics and field-recordings.

“We recorded hours of activity inside the hive. Hearing actual piping and quacking - the calls made by newly emerged virgin queens - for the first time was amazing. Off the back of the hive recordings we made, we did lots of research into the ways bees use sound and patterns - from identifying the key frequencies of their buzzing, to the mathematics inherent in honeycomb structures. We took our findings and figured out ways of translating it into the ‘human’ realm, working out all kinds of interesting musical parallels with polyphonic singing, hocketing and euclidean rhythms.” Heloise Tunstall-Behrens & Auclair, composers of The Swarm

Heloise Tunstall-Behrens & Auclair

“‘Dance Off’ is the pivotal moment within the narrative of “The Swarm”, when the bees have to decide as a group where they will build their new home together,” the artists explain. “Scout bees seek out potential new locations, like metal cylinders, ventilation shafts, hollow trees, and other cavities found in an urban environment. They then return to the waiting cluster of bees and communicate their findings using a sequence of movements, called a ‘waggle dance’. Each bee uses the dance to share information on the location and quality of each site with one another. Bees who have watched the dance then go to investigate, return and share their findings. The competing dances continue until they reach a consensus on the best site, at which point, the bees move en mass to the winning site.

“With the ‘Dance Off’ film we wanted to imagine the world from a bees-eye view. We collaborated with Rosalind Fowler who shot all the 16mm footage, Tilly Mint who created the psychedelic macro footage and editor Simon Ryninks.”

The piece is performed by an all-female choir, representing the core of a honeybee colony, and is a metaphor for the journey towards collective identity. The swarm is a ritual of social cohesion - the colony must unify in order to survive.

“We’re both part of the all-female group Deep Throat Choir, which is where we met actually, so it made sense to start there. Honey bee colonies are primarily made up of female worker bees, and Ttanslating their ‘voices’ felt like a direct way of empathising and connecting with them.” Heloise Tunstall-Behrens & Auclair, composers of The Swarm

Drunk with honey, and woozily awakening from slumber, opener Swarming is a gentle accumulation of nonsense-syllables that soothe like the sweet musings of a lullaby.

Polyrhythmic Cluster may sound at first like a cacophony, but is on closer inspection a precision of Euclidean rhythms, staggered and rotating at varying intervals. It is reminiscent of Terry Reilly’s minimalist approach, or the Baka singing traditions from which Tunstall-Behrens and Auclair have taken inspiration.

Dance Off is the album’s climactic point, as the music takes us on a journey from discovery to cohesion, culminating in the single unanimous declaration of “hollow tree!”.

Finally, Honeycomb, with words adapted from Maurice Maeterlinck’s “Spirit of the Hive”, is an anthem for the unity of the colony in their new queendom: “Daughters, sisters, this is only the beginning .... We have a new inverted city, hanging down from the sky. The bones and flesh of our new body, Together.”

Heloise Tunstall-Behrens & Auclair
Cloud (Live 360 Ambisonic film)

Sound by Coda to Coda (Will Worsley & Sam Britton) & Jack Reynolds

Video by Jake Cornish at

Heloise Tunstall-Behrens & Auclair

Honeycomb marks the moment when the bees have agreed on a place in which to build their nest with their new chosen queen. For the video, each of the nine vocalists interpreted and depicted "infinity" with their bodies. The short videos were then stitched together by film-maker Poppie Sköld.


Circling the sun

Circling the sun

daughters, sisters,

this is only the beginning

the walls resound, with the song of the royal presence

and work begins
Long chains are a bridge we rise

we are spinning in the boundless orbit of love

the wax is one with the skies

we are spinning in the boundless orbit of love


a never ending pattern

Heavy with perfume

fragrant light

a process of alchemy

fragrant light
We have a new inverted city

hanging down from sky

The bones and flesh of our new body