Welcome to THE OBRERO (The ethno-blog introductory video)
Arriving to Madre de Dios
Footage of our arrival to Madre de Dios for the 2014-2015 long field research season set to the soundtrack of a multi-tracked vintage Moog Opus 3 synthesizer. This video also briefly introduces the importance of the Madre de Dios River for local and global economies.
Soundscapes of the Strike in Madre de Dios, April 2014
In the following video, I combine audio recordings (of strikers chanting, police vehicles, etc.) and photography from fieldwork in Puerto Maldonado with a short original composition (nylon string acoustic, bamboo flute, tabla drum) to depict the escalation of protests in the city as the regional strike in Madre de Dios progressed into its third week in April 2014. We are now completing day 23. Toward the end of last week it was no longer safe for me to document activities on the streets, so the second half of the video contains imagery mostly from a great local news source, La Revista Madre de Dios (see here for originals + commentary: https://www.facebook.com/larevista.mdd?fref=ts), and a few images from RPP Noticias.
Puerto Maldonado Cityscape
An impressionistic view of Puerto Maldonado from the obelisk, with manipulated speed, reversed pictures, and haunting ambient music
Impressionistic mototaxi ride down Leon Velarde
Beneath the Canopy: A Camera Trap Survey in the Peruvian Amazon
The following video is a montage my wife (Dara Adams, also a PhD candidate) and I put together of edited imagery from remote camera trap data collected at Los Amigos Biological Station in Madre de Dios Peru in 2013. The goal was to monitor felid movement and activity for a project on primate predator-prey interactions (this is part of Dara’s dissertation research, which investigates saki monkeys and some of their top felid predators, like ocelots and jaguarandis). After the 45-day camera trap survey, we had 369 photos and videos including 22 species of mammals and six species of birds. Check out the video below!
Surprising Ethnographic Insight
It is important to note that this camera trap survey unexpectedly became part of my own work as well, and became a sort of ‘interview prop’ during the 2013 ethnographic research season. I incorporated camera trap data during interviews to elicit narratives from research participants who were once involved in extractive labor. Many people related to the images, which invoked narratives about hunting and other subsistence strategies whilst working in mining or logging. I also learned about the very small pelt and exotic pet trade in the region (it’s more widespread in Northern Amazonia Peru i.e. Iquitos).
Bioelectrophilia: a “wild” genre of manipulated field recordings from Amazonia
In addition to assisting with the video editing process, I also helped with the sound- particularly the music! What you hear in the video was created using only 2 audio recordings from our first field season in 2008. As an evening ritual before bed , I would edit audio recordings from the day’s hike, identify different species of birds, monkeys, insects, etc. and use the samples to generate melodies and rhythms. The process is quite involved, but the soundtrack to the video includes 2 basic samples, and two samples only: a call of a screaming piha and a 30-second recording of a parrot vocalization bout. With only these two recordings, I made complex rhythms and melodies through a lengthy process of sample editing, synthesis, and sequencing. I modified these field recordings in a number of ways: I manipulated their pitch, modulated their amplitudes, filtered frequencies, and transposed the resulting sounds onto a chromatic spectrum (controlled by the QWERTY keyboard of the laptop in order to “play” the sound like a piano). The result is what you hear in the video!
I have been creating this kind of music for over the past five years, since first visiting Madre de Dios. Back in 2008, when I first started uploading this music for others to hear directly from the field, I wrote up this description:
This album reflects my aspiration to pioneer a new genre of music consisting of using animal samples from the Amazon Basin to generate electronic music. My catch-phrase for this concoction comes from the music genre ‘electronica’ and a term coined by E.O. Wilson, ‘biophilia.’ All but 6 of the tunes were recorded, remixed, and uploaded from the jungle via satellite internet connection.
Here is a song constructed entirely from a single short sample of a the common toucan vocalization:
Here is another example of this kind of musical work. The following song was constructed entirely from a minute-long field recording of oropendolas competing over food resources in a tree near the cabin where we resided for 3 months:
Finally, the following video is a short, romantic impressionistic selection of landscapes, flora, and fauna from the same site. I used my modular synthesizer to create the soundtrack, especially the Oakley Ring Mod (a clone of the ol’ Arp 2600 ring modulator).