Last winter Wren and I discovered the work of Peter Paul Kellogg, professor emeritus of ornithology and bioacoustics at Cornell University. Kellogg is known for recording and analyzing bird songs and other ambient natural sounds throughout the 1930s-1950s. As director of the Cornell Library of Natural Sounds in the 1950s, he played a significant role in consolidating bioacoustics as a new discipline and promoting a wide understanding of acoustics in the natural world.
Captivated, we began collecting Kellogg’s records produced by the ornithology lab. In some recordings, he was very present: you could hear his canoe moving through a lake, for instance. In others, only the birds were present — Kellogg was inaudible, invisible. One of these is “An Evening in Sapsucker Woods - The Songs of Birds and Other Denizens of a Northeastern Woodland,” and it felt to us more like a portal to a place than a scientific documentation of a particular ecosystem.
With Wren’s work in field recording and mine in filmmaking, we wondered if we could further blur the lines between scientific documentation and art. Our shared interest in the physical processes of recording natural phenomena — sound and light — with the material qualities of film and tape means we use analog equipment: a Nagra 111 for Wren and a Canon 310XL 8mm camera for me. This approach also pays homage to the technologies available to and developed by Kellogg.
We consider this installation a draft of sorts, generated from materials we’ve gathered together over the past year. In this shared experience of place, our presence as observers and collaborators is present but not omnipresent: our hope is to give the viewer their own, personal encounter with a place and time that we feel deeply.