Your Ocean Sound – Portraits: Cathal Kerins und Alexandra Tamayo

Christel Clerc

By Christel Clerc
16.06.2021 | 10 minutes reading time

In spring of this year, we organized the hackathon „Your Ocean Sound“ . 130 audio files with biotic and abiotic ocean sounds inspired the participants to create almost 30 compositions. In this post, we introduce you to participants Cathal Kerins and Alexandra Tamayo.

Cathal Kerins und Alexandra Tamayo (4th Place) - Lost in Sound

Alexandra Tamayo & Cathal Kerins - Lost in Sound

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Licensed under: CC BY-ND | Open in data portal

©Cathal Kerins ©Alexandra Tamayo
©Cathal Kerins ©Alexandra Tamayo

Portraits

Cathal and Alexandra are colleagues at the Digital Narratives Master’s program at the ifs (internationale filmschule köln). Cathal’s master’s project is focusing on sound while Alexandra’s emphasis is on bringing underwater creatures onto the streets through Augmented Reality.

One day, I was exploring some corals. Suddenly the light turned off. I did not understand what was happening until my dive partner hinted at me to look up. It was a gigantic manta ray swimming above me.

—Alexandra Tamayo

Tell us more about your composition.

Both: The fish market at the start of the piece reminds us of the livelihoods that depend on the sea for daily life. The rhythm of life in this tropical South American fishing village is given a musical expression. The market sound is the real sound of the fish market in the harbour of Puerto López, Ecuador. From here, we are then transported via a motorboat to the calmness of the open sea, which is a contrast to the engine.

We pause, we plunge into the deep and embark on a journey that is fraught with uncertainty. We encounter underwater creatures and a rhythm of life that is new to us but somehow strangely familiar. The beat of a hull. The melody of a snorkel. All provide the backdrop for an encounter with a sea creature. When it appears, there is a moment of hesitation between diver and creature. There is an interaction. A sense of mutual appreciation and understanding washes over animal and human. Then, both diver and creature part and return to the abyss of their separate mediums. 

The piece takes place in South America off the coast of Ecuador, where Alexandra captured the sounds as part of her documenting on overfishing around the Galapagos Islands. Together, we formed a narrative through sound to bring the experience of encountering a creature in these waters to life. 

The piece is dedicated to all the manta rays killed in this region as they enter the final weeks of their pregnancies. 

The repeating dolphin sound is a recurrent reminder of a cry for help and acts as an unsettling motif throughout. It seems odd, wrong and out of place. But it is the constant reminder that whether we are in the water or not, the cries of these animals still calling out in the deep and should ring out in our consciousness, too, despite the fact we cannot presently hear them. 

At the very end, the breath puts the listener into the role of a decision maker. After the encounter, only the listener knows or can imagine what will happen next!

Screenshot from https://vimeo.com/544911739,© Alexandra Tamayo
Screenshot from https://vimeo.com/544911739,© Alexandra Tamayo

Why did you choose to dedicate your composition to the manta rays?

Alexandra: I am from Ecuador and kind of an adventurist. I learned to dive and explore the natural wildlife in the ocean. One day, I was exploring some corals. Suddenly the light turned off. I did not understand what was happening until my dive partner hinted at me to look up. It was a gigantic 7-meter long manta ray swimming above me. I was scared and panicked. I did not know there were those animals living in my country. I was paralyzed, bounced into the coral reef and felt bad about it!

The situation took my breath away. Someone told me that the animal frequently comes to the diver because they love to clean themselves with the bubbles. I realized that this alien creature had a human touch. They can feel and have a family. I looked at her eyes. I felt like no one knew and cared about them being present in our country, so it was my call to tell the world that they exist and create awareness about them.

I promised them in the middle of the ocean to do anything I can to save them! Manta rays are the kind of colossal elephant of the oceans. I called all the scientists around. During my research, I fell in love with these creatures and realized that few people know about their existence. 

They are big beasts and a migratory species – they go from one coral reef to the next. In Ecuadorian water, the conditions are perfect for their reproduction. 80-85% of the manta rays seen in Ecuador are young pregnant females. Falling in love and looking for a man in Ecuador. Sorry for humanizing them! 

Cathal: But they can’t pass through Ecuadorian water because of the nets of the fishermen. Many manta rays get caught in the nets and die – as a bycatch. As Alexandra met the fishermen for her documentary, she realized that they are just local people and not industrial fishermen. They are poor and not educated. They are fishing as they have done for generations. The local tropical Ecuadorian music and the market noise represent their life.

How did you work together?

Cathal: Our professor at the seminar “Sound Storytelling” suggested the hackathon to us. We learned to build a digital narrative with the technology. First, we agreed on the story: we wanted to bring the listener from one place to another.

First, we used a sample of tropical songs to depict the daily life of the fishermen. The second one tells the story of the encounter between the beast and the human. The encounter with the creature has an uncertain effect on the listener. That is why we used a sample full of tension. It’is followed by a joyful moment of understanding when the listener realizes that the human and the beast are not a threat to each other. They are just two beings.

So, the narrative played a crucial role in your composition?

Alexandra: Yes, the narrative played a key role and it was exciting to tell the story only with sound. I also noticed how sound is much more flexible than video! Our school asked us to create a video format to showcase our project online. It was a challenge to create visuals for a story based on sound!

How was your experience with the data portal?

Cathal: It was great. We could sort out the sounds and download the format we needed. It was sufficient for what we wanted and mixed it with our sounds. Human interaction and human underwater noise are fascinating. More anthropogenic sound would have been nice to have.  

I asked a family member, an Irish fisherman, to send me samples of his boat. He refused to support the project and an initiative exploring connections between underwater species and human. As a fisherman, it felt like a threat and created a conflict in my family.

Alexandra: I would have loved to have a picture or a description of the animals. I didn’t know how they looked like. It was great that we were allowed to integrate our sounds. I liked the freedom we had at the hackathon to work with sounds.

Thank you for sharing your story and passion. 

You can find more information on the website of Alexandra and Cathal . Next week, as a closure of this interview series, we will dive into the universe of Artur Sommerfeld, 3rd place, and discover his composition Singing ice.