free flock : siku ya uhuru 50
Notes on the domestic projection 1 for open house london 2013
a weaver bird colony on the lake at Maweni Farm, Soni, Tanzania, over the weekend of 10 - 11 DEC 2011
reconstructed on 21 SEP 2013 from 9pm at 54 Cambria Road, London SE5 9AS
free flock combines re-used office projectors and vintage hifi components to re-construct the sounds and sights of the colony as the birds build nests after the start of the seasonal rains
Siku ya Uhuru (Day of Freedom) 50 was an occasion for celebration and reflection.
Kilimanjaro beer bottles carried 50 Years of Freedom labels and the period was marked by official pageantry in Dar es Salaam
Elsewhere, the response was more muted, but no less significant
Most people were working, on the Day of Freedom itself, which fell on a Friday. But on the weekend immediately following,there was a sense of holiday. We were staying at Maweni Farm, a kind of eco lodge in the foothills of the Usambara Mountains near Lushoto, which is also the base for a progressive TZ-Swedish video documentary project. The house was built as a farm by German settlers, who briefly envisaged Lushoto as capital of the then German East Africa, before their military defeat and partial expulsion. The German period was associated with memorable acts of brutality, including during construction of the winding road from Moshi up into the hills of Lushoto, with its many cuttings and cut stone bridges, all constructed, as they say, by hand.
A gemstone prospector told me this story as we were driving up in the bus. A gemstone prospector has, we can say, a freewheeling approach to history and a rugged approach to the realities of human construction projects. This gemstone prospector, nonetheless dwelled on this period of construction as betokening a particular level of hardship and domination.
I am printing out the 10 views of the lake at Maweni on the back of cd covers - the light and density of the Maweni weaver colony continues to excite the eye, as they come creeping bit by bit out of the printer
The farmhouse at Maweni sits at the base of steep hills with agroforestry systems of extraordinary diversity and productivity. The cliffs concentrate the sounds from the gardens at Maweni, which are full of birds and other creatures. Over the Siku ya Uhuru weekend, a steady trickle of people came to visit and perhaps picnic in the grounds of the farm, sometimes coming to observe the weaver lake. Their voices can be heard on the recordings as they comment on the flowers surrounding the lake, other people present, including an American, and the weaver colony itself, which skirts the margin of a presumably artificial, certainly an enhanced and landscaped lake, with a curious stone jetty extending from one side out to about the middle. It is here that the camera and the microphones were located and where the reconstruction is centered. The colony was recorded on HD video and 16 bit stereo over two days, with the broad scene of the colony in reeds at the water margin split into 10 vertical bands, using a 16:9 format rotated 90 degrees to portrait mode. Clips from each band were arranged sequentially with brief cross fades between them, and the whole piece was re-assembled as a series of randomly interfering loops in the house at 54 Cambria Road, projecting onto walls, objects and whatever surfaces were available.
[see documentation by Megan McKenzie]
In the lead-up to Siku ya Uhuru, Tanzania media carried an accelerating flow of historical reflections, taking in review the 50 years since the Independence of Mainland Tanzania in DEC 1961. Those reflections combined an element of celebration, acknowledging the momentous fact of the break with colonial rulers, the ensuing utopian experiment orchestrated by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, and the current realities of a country combining economic growth and areas of wealth with startling ongoing poverty of the majority of citizens.
[At the same time I was reading the book Fireflies, which I found in the library by the fireplace at Maweni Farm, which tells the story of the time of independence from a particular and particularly affecting standpoint..]
In general, we can say that criticism and negativity about the history and current state of the nationstate of Tanzania tends to be muted. In some cases, as in Unguja (Zanzibar), there are stark realities of historical censorship, as attested, for instance, by Abdulrazak Gurnah in By the Sea.
In a more nuanced way, Siku ya Uhuru 50 was an occasion for realization, perhaps, of the startling concept: we are free! at the same time as facing the inevitable question: are we really free? and the immediately linked question: what does that mean: to be free? Free Flock gives a particular ecological turn to that question.
John Cage tells the story of how the NY composer Morton Feldman, on returning from observing birds in the park, famously remarked: they're not free; they're fighting over bits of food [Silence]
the free flock does not proposes an equation between the weaver bird colony and some human communities, to compare and contrast eg the alternating cooperative / competitive behaviour of the African Golden with the Grosbeak weavers - in their contrasting plumages - yellow / black; or with a white patch behind the beak - with their different nest shapes and materials - whether dry brown or fresh grey green grass
Rather than compare and contrast *that* community with *this*, the proposal behind the reflection is to push out the boundaries of the community *as a whole* - that is always the movement: as in where Bruno Latour says: the field is now wide open
This *wide* *open* *field* is what we are auditioning.. we are on the edge of it:
“There is a desert. Again, it wouldn’t make any sense to say that I am in the desert. It’s a panoramic vision of the desert, and it’s not a tragic or uninhabited desert. It’s only a desert because of its ocher [sic] color and its blazing, shadowless sun. There is a teeming crowd in it, a swarm of bees, a rumble of soccer players, or a group of Tuareg. I am on the edge of the crowd, at the periphery; but I belong to it, I am attached to it by one of my extremities, a hand or foot. I know that the periphery is the only place I can be, that I would die if I let myself be drawn into the center of the fray, but just as certainly if I let go of the crowd. This is not an easy position to stay in, it is even very difficult to hold, for these beings are in constant motion and their movements are unpredictable and follow no rhythm. They swirl, go north, then suddenly east; none of the individuals in the crowd remains in the same place in relation to the others. So I too am in perpetual motion; all this demands a high level of tension, but it gives me a feeling of violent, almost vertiginous, happiness.”
D&G : 1000 Ps p32
The report of something reassuring, even 'soothing' is a kind of knee-jerk reaction with bird song: 'It's so soothing", a person says.
the free flock is far from soothing, I'd say. S came out looking green. Sat on a log by the red gate. It was after 10. The bats had gone from the dark sky. Inside the house the 1000 weavers continued looping. This queasiness is not just a question of over amplification - in fact the levels of the weavers and other birds and animals in the piece were not amplified much, if at all. Nor is it just to do with the warmth and the dusty fans of the former office projectors, or the amplifiers' hot tubes
The White Capped Robin Chat is heard over and over on the grass above the lake - part of the exhaustion is from the paradox of repetition, which invokes the gap beween live life and the present recording, and thereby the linked history and prospect of an extinction event
it is a tiring place at the edge of this event
essentially the queasy feeling comes from an ongoing confrontation with dense life: the intensity of the weaver colony is part of what it is about: free flock would ideally report on individual vocalisations, returning them via lavalier microphones on each nest under construction : that is the fullest report we can imagine technically..
you can imagine the free flock as a draft of that piece: each weaver bird nest will have a microphone and each microphone will stream independently in real time, capable of reconstruction anywhere a set of amplifiers is available with 1000 channels. the piece will be called 1000 weavers, and the reference to D&G will be explicit: we are not interested in "a weaver bird", much less "the weaver bird"; "some weaver birds" is what we are *really* *interested* *in* ; here: 1000
Who is ignorant of the fact that wolves travel in packs? 1000 Ps p31
I was free on Friday. Why? Because 50 years ago I was freed. We freed ourselves. Now, if anything we are either *doubly* free or, in some sense, our freedom has degraded, over time. Who knows how many people were aware of the freedom they were entering into in 1961? Communications, in some ways, were not so good. [In other ways, of course, they were better]
Every day we get up and ask ourselves: how can we free ourselves - from what? from each other? In some sense, we are here to celebrate the freeing of one of us from the other. In fact, that is not so direct, if only because I am not an Englishman, and the time is not then. If only because we were not then.
And now that is not the answer. If anything the opposite is the answer: because in another way, we are here for the related and opposite purpose: to flock together:
The occasion [de Certeau]
And did we free ourselves of each other? Of course not. If only because I am an American. An American came to the lake and his voice appears on the tapes, answering questions in an amiable, slightly autistic way, as of somebody with a little Swahili, a little tired of being unable to answer these questions, which he knows so well. What are you doing here? What is my name? and so on
Because part of the reflection is also about the extent to which the utopian project of Ujamaa grew up in the Cold War, and like the history of the Cold War more generally it became a nightmare: an appalling fantasy and a farcical diversion, betraying everybody and everything it touches. In that sense the Cold War functions like God: Its depth and reach knew no limits: It scorched the planet: penetrating the narrowest channels right down in to the homes of citizens, and between those citizens: in to their intimate relations.
And on that basis we ask ourselves: how free did we become? if we never escaped from the clutches of Empire? [from each other's clutches?]
And [turning to the weavers on the lake] : what of these birds, this colony, which, like a colony of bees, remains, as we believe, from the moment of Independence of Tanzania Bara - *the* Day of Freedom - the *First* because unique in history, like today - building and vocalising in a seemingly constant process of dense life: species being? [frère dupont] but all this time - we could say: to another rhythm, to another time scale - each one a channel: look at them building! weaving their nests! with their beaks going in an out between the strands of grasses, as they tie them to the reeds high near the top (African Golden Weaver) or lower down (Grosbeak Weaver) - in the case of the first, pulling two stems together and binding them in a stronger basis - or, in the case of the second, lower down, on a single, thicker, because lower: stem. look at them : doing their thing: and listen to them! constantly calling, in a wave of sound rising at dawn and dusk, declining in the heat of the day, but constant, uninterrupted, throughout, we can say, these years and days of freedom
Like a colony of bees that lasts many years, they are not the same individuals.
Who is ignorant of the fact ?
Nothing prepared you the for aural density of the gardens at Maweni Farm and none of the equipment you brought could capture it. It cannot be captured
--> maweni and farm at self-noise.net
There is "a man with a wild head of hair" and "a dense beard" who described going up the allotment first with his grandfather when he, Maurice was eight, "with a toad in my pocket". He described in the meeting how his grandfather's vegetable plot was surrounded by grass, and how he found in the grass a variety of creatures. Maurice was reporting on the period immediately after the Second World War. The density of life in the period preceding the introduction of industrial agricultural technologies in the 1950s is legendary, for us. The young Maurice or Morris was deeply impressed by this band of densely inhabited grasses, which became his prime motivation. Lying in such grasses, in the heat of summer, is exciting: all these organisms: calling and carrying on in different combinations at different rates: it's wild: a kind of ecological delirium envelopes you
sound works such as David Tudor's rainforest are human analogues to these places of dense life
and new human and non human collectives are the most compelling flocks
It is a memory,  whose attainments are indissociable from the time of their acquisition and bear the marks of its particularities.
de Certeau: The Practice of Everyday Life p 82
 “Memory,” in the ancient sense of the term, which designates a presence to the plurality of times and is thus not limited to the past. PoEL p218
however gently we switch them off and turn them down, when the event is coming to an end, it jars: the house will shortly be: - quite quiet. the surplus dream of wild birds filling the kitchen and the living rooms proves to be an electrical aberration.
it is autumn, a few days later: it's a warm fall: very many insects lit in the sinking sun fill the air near the top of the house by the sycamore tree. tiny brightly illuminated flecks something like shooting stars shoot downwards. I think these are sugary dew excreted by aphids on the leaves. the leaves have not yet turned. I say that. A few leaves among the canopies of the limes are yellow now. s/he was drawn to the window by an unfamiliar call: even though the call stopped and the bird was never seen, the scene, in effect, was transformed. these examples of the transformative impact of objects and especially other organisms, especially via sound, take us to the Parti Pris des Choses of Ponge. commonly translated as The Voice of Things, The Way Things Are or The Nature of Things, the tactics of this collection can better be indicated in the sense of : Siding with Things, in the sense of allowing the alignment of the human to be magnetically displaced and or expanded in the directions of other forms. While Ponge is famously associated with the thing paintings of Braque, the closest latent association can be felt to be with the paradoxical aural vacuum elicited by the late Braque paintings, most famously by the large canvas with white cockerel crowing, of which the evocation of silence, as in the lute paintings of Hals et al, exerts a quasi magnetic force on the viewer / auditor, inviting a kind of acute philosophical attention: each one of his great paintings from each of his periods, Ponge wrote, was like a stage in my ethics
--> there are those
the free flock is registering in part an experience of overwhelming - as if the sublime, after passing to the technological, creeps back towards the non-human in the forms of colonies, flocks, other communities which confront us intensely: not as a soothing chorus or drone, but as a multitude of individuals paradoxically immersed yet distinct from: some collective - that can also disturb or sting
in fact the picnicers who come to Maweni hesitate, uncertainly, on the edge of the lake, noting the flowers, unsure how to quantify or qualify a response to the multitude of birds that outnumber them so decisively, and surprisingly, so they are partially repulsed and partially drawn
the dream of birds in the domestic setting, covering the walls and the utensils, is one that speaks, partly, of an obsession, and partly of: exactly the way it is: a vision of an idea, in everyday life. in fact the kitchen of everyday is illuminated and animated by the mental machineries of its inhabitants, so that the cellar, the bedroom and the kitchen each functions as a receptacle for the ideas of some home, projected by the inhabitants, who are also the migrants, as so eloquently evoked by Gaston Bachelard, and Michel de Certeau and Chiristopher Alexander
Marlies comes by. she says Maikke is working on the courtship songs of fruitflies, of which there are some 1000 species, each with a different song. The courting fly produces a sound which seems like a buzz, using one wing only. if they use two wings, they fly, she says. Maikke is working with a scientist on both the songs and their perception by the insect ears