Composer Robert Smith and Dr Jennifer Rowntree talk about their collaboration on the piece HIVE, inspired by research into honeybees

Dr Jennifer Rowntree

Senior Lecturer in Ecological Genetics and Applied Conservation

A headshot of Dr Jennifer Rowntree

Dr Jennifer Rowntree

My research involves trying to understand what the honeybees of Manchester (and further afield) eat and how their diet impacts of their health and development. Traditionally, urban areas have been thought to be poor, low biodiversity habitats. However, changes in land use over the past 50-75 years have meant that some urban areas can contain comparatively high levels of biodiversity and support pollinating insects well, whilst some rural areas have become less suitable. With my research group we are asking where in the landscape the diet of bees is high, and does high diet diversity translate to healthy bees?

Composer: Robert Smith

Robert SmithOur primary concern was the representation of ecological variation in a musical form, thereby opening a new perspective on practices well established within the scientific community. There were two methods by which the graphical outputs from the honeybee project were used to create source material for the composition. Firstly, several sessions in which the performers were asked to improvise based on the shapes of the graphs. Secondly the direct ‘sonification’ of the graphs by putting musical parameters on the axis. Variation is thereby represented by the working of these two groups of materials into a dense ‘HIVE’ structure, where each line has a knock-on effect on another.

The brief for this to be a truly interdisciplinary project, with a two-way interchange between music and science, was a challenge. Initially it was hard to envisage how the collaboration might inform the scientific process, until Jenny realised that the sounds of a hive could be used as a potential indicator of colony health.

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