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Listening to the Silencing of the Bird Cliffs: Listening to Coexistence with Kinokophonography


Elin Øyen Vister by Norith eckbo
Elin Øyen Vister by Norith eckbo

Elin Øyen Vister is an artist, composer and DJ from Norway. She has been recording on the Norwegian Røst Archipelago for nearly 5 years and has seen and heard dramatic changes in the environment. You can hear one of her recordings “A Symphony of Seabirds” at Kinokophonography on 8th of September.

Kinokophonography brings together soundscapes from an international group of artist / field recordists who share their recordings with each other and you - the public. Kinokophone have created a communal listening experience, a space for sharing sonic experiences in an otherwise visually dominated world. This is why I love Kinokophonography and always want to contribute to the event. Sound cinema is for me a novel way of making mind travels to other spaces and places, above and below water, that I would otherwise never have access to. In our world of ecological transition, a listening event like this can become an alternative way of traveling too and experiencing the acoustic realities of other cultures, if we are trying to turn away from extensive fossil fuel travel and re-learning to need less, crave less.

I have been doing field recording in the Røst Archipelago, Nordland, northern Norway since the spring of 2010. In March the same year, I did my first recording of the remarkable bird mountain Vedøy from a boat just below the cliffs. There were still around 4000 Kittiwake pairs, however almost nothing compared to the 22,000 Kittiwakes and 12000 pairs of Guillemots back in 1980. A rushing Niagara of voices. When disturbed by predators such as Sea Eagles, Ravens or Black Backed Gulls, the Kittiwakes would let out an intense cheer as they flew in and out of their nest sites, similar to the sounds from crowds shouting for a goal in the world cup. And now, four summers later as I write to you from my desk at Skomvær Lighthouse station, Vedøy is silent. Only a few thousand Kittiwakes are still breeding here and they are doing awful. The Guillemots are all together extinct from Vedøy. Røst has lost its ancient sound mark.

""Ah, what an age it is. When to speak of trees is almost a crime. For it is a kind of silence about injustice! " - So wrote the German poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht in a poem in the thirties, apropos of the intellectuals silence on contemporary political disasters in Europe"

I am listening intently to the grave voice of the Iranian born poet Athena Farrokhzad as she begins her 90 minutes contribution to "Summer on P1", on Swedish national radio. Her voice is resonating and Bertolt Brecht's words are cutting straight to my heart.

Puffin at Hernyken II Hphoto by Håvard Eggen
Puffin at Hernyken II Hphoto by Håvard Eggen

So I find it hard right now to talk to you about my love for trees and my passionate love for listening and field recording, without also talking to you about listening to spaces and places where avian inhabitants are diminishing, not even to mention those who already are gone. I still mourn the loss of the Great Auk. The last few of the ancient Auks were brutally slaughtered in the 1850s by eager collectors who wanted to secure the last few specimens for their museums or private collections. We can never experience the original northern flightless Penguin, Pinguinus Impennius. We can never listen to how it sounded or vocalized when it fed its chicks, or mated or socialized. A description of the vocalization of a captive bird is all that remains:

"The Auk's calls included low croaking and a hoarse scream. A captive auk was observed making a gurgling noise when anxious. It is not known what its other vocalizations were like, but it is believed that they were similar to those of the razorbill, only louder and deeper. "

The bird mountains of the world are becoming silent as the seabird populations are decreasing. Climate changes and warming seas, pollution, over fishing and pressure on habitats are amongst the many reasons for troubles in the marine ecosystems. It's a global challenge; from the Farallon Islands in the Pacific to Svalbard in the North Atlantic.

So I want to take this opportunity to ask you, my human fellows, to begin listening to other creatures, other than human life. If you where listening, you would know we are in trouble, and there is worse ahead. We should take an active part in the ecological transition. We could begin practicing an all-inclusive listening; a collective listening to co-existence. Try to listen horizontally - to embrace trans species listening; to listen beyond the dichotomy of nature-culture, beyond gender, beyond race, beyond...

What we could perhaps describe as a queer eco-feminist type of listening. We are after all interdependent of each other and all other living organisms in its immense diversity. I think this is part of what the Deep Listening practice and philosophy is all about, as founded by the prodigious composer and my great inspiration, Pauline Oliveros.

Don´́t you also wish to exist in a place where you are surrounded by and can hear the infinite variation of the voices of the world, and not just the voices and noises of the human world? I think that deep inside you, or even at the tip of your tongue, the answer is yes.

"For the Amahuaca, the Koyukon, the Apache, and the diverse Aboriginal peoples of Australia - as for numerous other indigenous peoples - the coherence of human language is inseparable from the coherence of the surrounding ecology, from the expressive vitality of the more-than-human terrain. It is the animate earth that speaks; human speech is but a part of that vaster discourse."  -David Abram, Spell Of The Sensuous

Elin Øyen Vister, Skomvær Lighthouse, 67°25′46′′N 11°52′46′′Ø, Norway, 2014

Kinokophonography is made possible in part with public funds from the Manhattan Community Arts Fund, supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and administered by Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.


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