Wolfgang Müller - Séance Vocibus Avium
November 27, 2009
Some friends from Germany have been visiting for several days now, and as a gift they brought me a copy of a recent Wolfgang Müller project: Séance Vocibus Avium. Müller is a Berlin and Reykjavík based multi media artist. Müller got his start in the 80s founding the Berlin performance art group Die Tödliche Doris (The Deadly Doris). For the Séance project, Müller enlisted a group of artists to recreate the calls of extinct birds. Each of these artists was assigned a particular species and then provided with historical documentation to help recreate the call as accurately as possible. The result was released as a limited editon CD, and vinyl 7". Both are accompanied by a booklet containing sketches by Müller of each of the species.
In one regard, the recordings elicits nostalgia for a certain type of recording and documenting of species. I have a set of Roger Tory Peterson records from the 1960s found at a garage sale. They are 2 scratchy, well loved records containing the recordings of maybe a hundred species of North American birds. Before each call, Peterson says the name of the species. I love the warmth of the recordings, and sometimes even prefer listening to them over the "cleaner" and more recent recordings I can stream online. The Séance Vocibus Avium is in a way an homage to these older types of recordings.
What is different, of course, is that the bird calls on the Müller album are all made by human voice. There are 16 different artists representing 16 species of extinct birds, and each artist seems to embody each of their respective subjects to an almost possessed degree. All 16 species went extinct before any sort of sound recording technology was available, and thus recreation of their calls was entirely dependent upon written documentation. The fact that these are calls being recreated by human voice lends a little bitter sweet irony. The Séance recordings are extemely haunting and beautiful, and this is underscored by the discomfort in that these are all birds that either directly or indirectly were eradicated by humans. They are gone, and here we are decades (or more) later trying to call up their spirits again.
The last bird on the record is the Great Auk. The penguin-like Auks had no natural fear of humans, and so made easy prey. The last Great Auks were a nesting pair sighted on the island of Eldey off the coast of Iceland in 1844. They were killed (strangled) for their plumage on June 3rd of that same year by Icelandic fishermen Jón Brandsson, Sigurdur Isleifsson and Ketill Ketillson.
The CD format is sold out, but the 45 edition can still be found here at the Fang website.