collected silences for lord rothschild

date : 17.05.2012
location : entrance to track 4, waiorua valley
time : 5.03 pm
duration : 25:00

notes : recordings of the mounted specimens of two species of endemic New Zealand birds, the Huia (Heteralocha acutirostris), and the Laughing Owl or Whekau (Sceloglaux albifacies) held in the collection of The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Both these species were driven to extinction, partially through the actions of European collectors, in the early 1900s. They were both still recorded as alive during the 20th C's first blossoming, after the invention of recording technology, but neither of their songs are on record. Extant however in fragment is the human mnemonic record of the huia, namely an imitation of the bird as a recording of 1909 Huia Search Team member Henare Haumana whistling its call, in addition to some written descriptions and musical transcriptions. in this episode, the silences of the mounted birds recorded in the extinct bird cabinet out the back of Te Papa Tongarewa in winter 2010, via EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) techniques for contacting the dead, are transmitted back into the Kapiti forest. the reference to Lord Rothschild is apocryphal, and due to a story written up on Wikipedia about one pair of both birds being captured for placement on Kapiti Island in the very early years of its delegation as a bird sanctuary (1897), but these birds subsequently being diverted instead by New Zealand 'gentleman ornithologist' Sir Walter Lowry Buller, to England, and the collection of Rothschild, the son of a banker who kept up a keen interest in natural history and museology, whom Buller both supplied and had ongoing rivalries with. Interestingly, there is no verification of this story elsewhere in the literature. The turn of the century human bungling of a host of Huia collecting missions around the time of the formation of offshore island sanctuaries in Aotearoa is however depressingly well documented, including one story of three Huia captured for transfer to Kapiti that were never picked up by officials from Wellington, and so re-released. At risk of making Buller the sacrifical anode in such stories, the above Wiki 'chinese whisper' becomes an irresistible meta-text of sorts. the timing of these birds' extinction coincides with the pre-history of conservation in New Zealand and the first efforts to create a set of island sanctuaries for endemic birds. this inaudible transmission is a double silence, narrowcasting the silences (the EVP recordings revealed no voices under close analysis but my own, speaking the date, time and temperature....) of the extinct birds without receivers. It places an inaudible trace of the melancholy remnants of Victorian museological economics and colonial attitudes to the environment into the soundscape of Kapiti, making material the still recent silence in the biospheric fabric, a hole in the air, a placeholder where these birds were projected to be.


with thanks to James Gilberd of Strange Occurences Paranormal Investigators, Wellington, for advice and use of equipment, to Te Papa Tongarewa collection manager of Birds and Reptiles, Gillian Stone, and to Manaaki Barrett for showing me where the track, a prime spot for hearing Tieke, was located.