Travel Magazine

The Symphony of the Extinct Orchestra

By Frontiergap @FrontierGap

Today Into the Wild is looking at the remarkable creation of an extinct animal orchestra created by Hoxton designer Marguerite Humeau. By using fossil evidence, engineering and design Humeau and her army of helpers were able to reconstruct the heads, larynxes and vocal cords of extinct animals and recreate the sounds of the past.

The Symphony of the Extinct Orchestra
The Symphony of the Extinct Orchestra
   Photos courtesy of Stuart Bailes. Left: Proposal for resuscitating prehistoric lives- Mammoth Imperator, July 2011 Resonance cavities 50Wx 150L x 100H CM. Right: Proposal for resuscitating prehistoric lives-  Autralopithecus Afarensis, July 2011.-4,4 -1M years ago, installation view,  50L X 115H X 30W CM. Resonance cavities, larynx with vibrating vocal cords, windpipe, air compressor, programmed breathing system. Collection: MoMA, New York.

In February of last year Hoxton Designer Marguerite Humeau came up with the spectacular and frankly genius idea of recreating the sounds of extinct animals. Humeau quickly set about making her idea a reality sending off a bunch of emails to various scientists, which got straight to the nitty gritty: “I’m contacting you because I want to create an orchestra of extinct animals”.

The Symphony of the Extinct Orchestra

Photo courtesy of Clifford Sage. Proposal for resuscitating prehistoric lives- Mammoth Imperator: July 2011. - 4,8M -4500 years ago, installation view, 600L X 300H X 100W CM. Resonance cavities, larynx with vibrating vocal cords, windpipe, air compressor, programmed breathing system, subwoofer.

This led to Humeau collabrarting with more than a 100 scientists from palaeontologists to zoologists, biologists, speech therapists, radiologists, vets, surgeons and sound engineers. Each unique branch of science, engineering and art had its own integral role to play in the process without which the project would not have been a success. This extensive team set about reconstructing the sounds of three creatures which have long been extinct: a mammoth, an ancient pig known as an entelodont and an ambulocetus – a whale that lived 50 million years ago.

THE LIVING DESCENDANTS from Marguerite Humeau on Vimeo

However the process of creating this extinct orchestra was no mean feat. In the case of the mammoth Humeau was given MRI scans of a 10,000 year old mammoth by French explorer Bernard Buigues who combs Siberia searching for woolly mammoth carcasses. She then had to combine the MRIs with fossil data provided by Digimorph.org in order to sketch a design of the animal’s anatomy. The sketch then needed to be converted into a digital 3D representation before it could be constructed in foam using a computer numerical control (CNC) machine. The finishing touches came with the fitting of silicon membranes to simulate vocal cords and the installation of an air compressor and with that the sounds of the iconic mammoth were ready to grace modern ears for the first time.

The Symphony of the Extinct Orchestra

Photo courtesy of Stuart Bailes. Proposal for resuscitating prehistoric lives- Mammoth Imperator, July 2011. Larynx with vibrating vocal cords, windpipe and Mammoth Imperator. Resonance cavities.

This collision of the art and the science world has led to a unique collection of reconstructed vocal cords and now a soundtrack to accompany it. In Humeau’s exhibition – Politique-fiction - the reconstructed heads, larynxes and windpipes of the three extinct animals play a score composed by Julien Bloit, a researcher from IRCAM (a center for the science of music and sound).

Humeau remarked: “I’m not only recreating a shape, but also data that has disappeared – we’ll never be 100 percent sure this is accurate...but when I heard it roar, it felt real”. If you want to hear the extinct animals harmonising, Humeau's Politique-fiction exhibition opens at Cité du Design in Saint Etienne on the 3rd of May this year and will run until January 2013. To find out more about how Humeau made her extraordinary collection head over to her website.

By Hannah Jones


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