A Ballarat composer has translated the hum of a beehive into music for a string quartet and the soundtrack for a new documentary that has been screened in the US and will have its Australian premiere next week.
Rae Howell poked microphones in to beehives around the US city of Minneapolis to capture the buzz and the sounds from within, then used computer programs to analyse the pitch, frequency and rhythm of the bees before writing music to reflect it.
“During 2017 I spent time working with a community of Minnesotan hobby beekeepers, as well as scientists and researchers from the University of Minnesota Bee Research Lab. With access to bee-hives in a number of locations, I immersed myself in field recording, interviewing beekeepers, collating technical data, and analysing technical and musical (frequency) details of the bee buzz.
“Creating spectrograms (visual colour maps of frequency details) and frequency line graphs, I began to explore ways of creating music through the visuals of the frequencies.”
Howell had been recording music in the city when she met an engineer who had a beehive in his back garden, then linked in to a passionate group of apiarists committed to protecting the future of bees.
Despite poking around hives for weeks, Howell was only stung once. “I went on a bit of a journey with them and, knowing that bees are dying out and facing challenges, I feel it’s important that everybody knows what they can do at a local level.”
The husband of one of the apiarists was Deacon Warner who decided to make a documentary on the insects in conjunction with Howell’s music and animations.
They collaborated with musicians, scientists and animators to create Bee-Sharp Honeybee, an original multimedia string quartet composition that has aired at several US film festivals and will make its Australian debut at the Environmental Film Festival of Australia at Melbourne’s ACMI on October 13.
The name of the documentary comes from the sounds the bees make.
The bee buzz tone (wing beat) is usually about 250 beats a second or 250Hz which is close to middle C or B# in a musical tone.
This changes with behavioural patterns, environmental/weather conditions and body/wing size.
Now back in Invermay, Howell is working to expand her 20 minutes of music for string quartet in to a string orchestra piece which she dreams of being performed on stage with a live honeybee hive on stage with a microphone amplifying the buzz from within the hive.
To do so she has launched a crowdfunding campaign at www.raehowell.me