The Drumming of the Moths

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Courtesy of Paul Walde

Flying insects are unwelcome visitors at outdoor nighttime events, but Canadian artist Paul Walde relies on them for his Composition for Light, Percussion and Ultrasound. Walde arranges a cluster of tom-tom drums containing high-powered lights that shoot beaming columns into the sky, then mikes and greatly amplifies the sound created by moths as they flit into and skitter across the drumheads. “It’s a rare treat to appreciate insects as musical artists,” writes Jonathan Bunce in the Canadian magazine Musicworks (Spring 2011), noting that “the bugs’ percussive performance provides an ongoing yet irregular rhythmic backdrop for the occasional high-pitched blasts of prerecorded sonar.” The blasts are ultrasonic recordings of bats, Walde explains on his website, “triggering an evasive response from the moths, who fall from the sky, landing on the drums as groups.” “I’m interested in fusing nature and culture and trying to come up with things that are interesting,” says Walde. “The piece looks to interpret nature however it happens in real time.”

Have something to say? Send a letter to This article first appeared in the July-August 2011 issue of Utne Reader

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