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Icelandic Meow Echolocation

A short video by Laura Alice Watt

A housemate of mine once came home with a puppy. The little dog was so black that when its eyes were closed, which was much of the time (since it slept so much), it looked more like a silhouette than it did a live animal. However, when it was awake, the puppy was very awake. At some point, early on as a member of our multi-species household, the dog was placed in the backyard and left to explore. How it did so was fascinating to observe. On its first entry into the yard, which was quite large, the small dog started at the fence and ran, full speed, around in a circle. With each circumference, the puppy drew closer and closer in until it finally reached the center of the yard, and when it arrived there it collapsed out of utter exhaustion from the exertion.

In this video, some kittens are seen and, more to the point, heard doing their own version of exploration, in this case of an old interior space. These are the ruins of a former herring factory in Djúpavík, Iceland, perhaps best known as a spot where the band Sigur Rós has performed. Like Sigur Rós, the cats appreciate the rich echoes of the metal container. Their meows linger in the air for lengthy periods of time, measurable in multiple seconds, far longer than they’re no doubt used to. A meow generally has a quizzical quality to it. It sounds inherently interrogative: Where are you? When am I going to be fed? Here it seems to provide an echolocative utility, sounding out the three-dimensional topography of this strange structure. It isn’t only the cats who benefit from the exploration. Their meowing give us humans a sense of the space, as well: its contours, its unique qualities, its sonic potential

The video is by my friend Laura Alice Watt, who posted it at flickr.com.

By Marc Weidenbaum

Tags: , , , / Comment: 1 ]

One Comment

  1. Jochen
    [ Posted June 10, 2021, at 5:28 pm ]

    This reminds me of the Levy distribution: https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna18684016 Funny enough, their “free will” is just another algorithm, and behavioral geneticists now tell us the same is true of humans, though this feels to me like mistaking the model for the thing itself. Certainly I am biased…

    Sawyer Fuller at the UW did some visualizations of these experiments: https://www.biointeractive.org/classroom-resources/fruit-fly-art

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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