Heloise Tunstall-Behrens & Auclair: "The Swarm"

Heloise Tunstall-Behrens & Auclair: "The Swarm"

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.

The Swarm” began life as an audio-visual performance debuted at the Brunel Museum in London in 2016, and then performed at VAULT Festival in 2017. The piece has been developed into a recording due for release through Amorphous Sounds, the label collective run by members of the Deep Throat Choir.

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.”

Lower res

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.”

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.”

Track List

1. Solar

2. Swarming

3. Cluster

4. Scouting

5. Dance OFf

6. Buzz Run

7. Cloud

8. Honeycomb