karen werner - swimming through butterflies

 Photo by Laura Wulf

Photo by Laura Wulf

Swimming Through Butterflies was produced by Karen Werner for ABC's Soundproof. It features the voice of Laura Wulf and the cello playing of Reinmar Seidler.

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Karen says: 

A few years ago, my friends Laura Wulf and Reinmar Seidler traveled together to the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico, to see the monarch butterfly migration. I was very moved hearing Laura describe the sights and sounds of being amidst so many butterflies and wanted to record her.  

Wondering how to turn this into a radio story, I realized I could ask Reinmar, who is a conservation biologist, to describe his experience of the butterflies and make a kind of duet with Laura’s version. Then I had the idea to ask Reinmar to “tell” his version only by playing the cello in response to my questions.

 I liked the idea of getting a biologist to “speak” in sound and not in words or facts.  Reinmar is an amazing cellist and, without hearing Laura’s version, described his own experience of being amidst the butterflies with a lot of passion and subtlety. In my editing, I wove Laura's and Reinmar’s versions together.

On her process:

I learned a beautiful interviewing technique from a talk Rikke Houd gave at Third Coast Festival where the interviewer sits beside an interviewee and asks them to close their eyes and slowly describe the scenes of a story in present tense. It’s an intimate interviewing practice and allows one to draw out very associative and sensory-rich tape. I know Laura very well and felt comfortable trying this approach with her. Plus this butterfly story lends itself so well to a visual experience for the listener and was a story I personally wanted to experience as closely as possible. Trying out this interviewing technique is really what got this radio piece off and running.

Inspirations from inside and outside the world of radio and sound:

Muriel Rukeyser’s poem, Poem (I lived in the first century of world wars), walking, Fred Moten, Layli Long Soldier’s poem, 38. I’m inspired by working collaboratively lately, and also by a video about phantom limbs called “Reflecting Memory” by the artist Kader Attia. Attia has wonderful ideas about repair.

And a new friend named EE Miller has had a long time radio show, Death Jewel, where guests play sounds and music and tell stories to honour their dead.

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Constellations says:

We love the interdisciplinary and collaborative approach that Karen took in this piece. The scoring of this piece feels raw and vivid - clearly the cello is a second narrator in this piece, seamlessly harmonizing with the speaking voice and pointing to both speech's and the narrative's musicality. This piece makes time slow right down, with musical interludes complex and abstract enough to bring the listener fully into this conjured fluttering space. On every listen, we're left with a potent sense of wonder.

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Karen Werner is a radio producer & sociologist based in Montague, Massachusetts. She is currently producing Strange Radio about Holocaust postmemory in Vienna.  Karen's sound piece, Haus, part 1: Covenant of the Tongue is playing inside the MuseumsQuartier Tonspur passageway in Vienna through February 23, 2018. Haus, part 2: Zirkus will be the focus of a group exhibition at the gallery MAG3 in Vienna, opening February 23, 2018.

Upcoming projects: Creating Haus, parts 1 and 2 for Kunstradio on Österreichischer Rundfunk (Austrian national radio); working with students at the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice, Poland to make an episode of Ghosts Radio; creating a compilation of Strange Radio episodes in 2018-2019.