Metamusic by Alien Productions. Quite recently, the artist group Alien Productions started an extremely fascinating project that will be presented at musikprotokoll 2013.
The group’s plan is to produce sound installations intended for animals rather than people. From now until the presentation in October Susanna Niedermayr will provide documentary insight into the project, which will be broadcast at irregular intervals on the ORF Ö1 radio programme Zeit-Ton as well as appear on the Ö1 and musikprotokoll homepages. Last but not least, the artists themselves will give continuous project progress reports on their blog on the musikprotokoll homepage.
First Visit to the Parrots’ Home
Our first contact takes us beyond the outskirts of Vienna to Vösendorf and the animal shelter of the Vienna society for the protection of animals where on the same premises the ARGE Papageienschutz, dedicated to the protection of parrots, runs the parrots’ home. “What interests us most, is to talk to people who work with these creatures and know how they live, what they enjoy and if they perhaps like listening to music,” Andrea Sodomka replies to our question about her expectations for the first visit.
Martin Breindl explains why they chose to work with parrots of all creatures, “Parrots are very intelligent birds, therefore we want to see what they have to say. However, I heard that they are neophobic, that is they are very sceptical about anything new. That remains to be seen. We’re here to find out.”
Always on the Go
On the car park in front of the animal shelter we are joined by Iris Baldinger, the zoologist who set us up with the parrots’ home. Baldinger got to know and love parrots during her studies at the university and for a time, until she moved to Styria, she helped look after a group of grey parrots housed in a building of the Vienna University then. “When you work with these birds, every day is different,” Baldinger goes into raptures, “you’re constantly facing new challenges and have to come up with solutions. You’re always on the go.”
A Home for More Than 150 Birds
We meet Catarina Güttner, who runs the parrots’ home. She tells us that they have twelve aviaries that mainly house homeless grey parrots, but the group also takes care of Amazon parrots and cockatoos, among others. Most of the parrots come from private owners. As some species have very long lifespans with record ages of up to one hundred years, they often outlive their owners. By now they are looking after almost 150 birds.
The Intelligence of a 4-Year-Old
The zoologist, who has also studied primates, confirms that parrots are among the most intelligent creatures. “We know now that parrots have reached the developmental stage of 4-year-old kids,” Catarina Güttner explains and compares their intelligence to that of chimpanzees. “You can tell if you’ve ever owned a parrot. They require plenty of attention and variety. Otherwise they get bored quickly. Thank God we have some volunteers who are willing to spend a lot of time with our parrots, because we are already too busy just caring for them.”
Parrots Love Music
We notice that a radio is playing in the background. “We’re always listening to music,” Catarina Güttner says, “parrots love music, especially classical music.” Martin Breindl immediately comes up with an idea: Why not construct something like the foraging wheel – a selection wheel that would let the birds change the music, for instance make the music softer or more percussive?
The Scientific Group
Catarina Güttner brings us to an aviary that houses a very special group of parrots, two of them even known to Iris Baldinger from the days of her studies at the Vienna University, the grey parrots Kasi and Karoline. Parrots seem to be a rewarding subject for study, as there are always inquiries by students interested in studying them. “Most experiments go very well with this group of parrots,” Catarina Güttner explains, “they are extremely curious and interested and are always eager to participate.”
When we say goodbye to Catarina Güttner, she tells us we are always welcome. Heading back home after this inspiring visit I want to know how Andrea Sodomka feels about it. “I could play, talk, sing with the parrots for weeks!” she exclaims enthusiastically. Martin Breindl adds that what surprised him most was “the noise level, their enormous play instinct, and the interest the birds show once they get to know you a little, I mean when just being around the parrots and trying to understand them, that makes me optimistic.” Iris Baldinger, too, is looking forward to this project, “It is a completely new approach to keep the parrots busy and interested, it’s very exciting to me.”
Metamusic by Alien Productions is part of the project “Networking tomorrow’s art for an unknown future”, developed by the festival network ECAS (European Cities of Advanced Sound) and organised by musiprotokoll together with eight European festivals.
Text: Susanna Niedermayr
Translation: Friederike Kulscar
Ö1 Zeit-Ton, 9.1.2013