Hanna Tuulikki is inviting you to a bat rave: a party at the sunset of the September sun, driven by pulsating rhythms and lights. Hopefully, super-skilled flying mammals – common and soprano bats, Daubenton bats – will flutter over your head, dining on insects attracted to your body’s heat. Bats also provided the melodies: an album of 13 dance tracks written by Tuulikki with Tommy Perman, all mixed with echolocation calls sampled from 14 species found in the UK.
Bat calls are ultrasonic, beyond the reach of the human ear. The sounds used by Tuulikki and Perman were recorded by a heterodyne bat detector, which translates them into audible frequencies. Hearing bat calls for the first time through a bat detector a few years ago, Tuulikki was “struck by how much they reminded me of the Roland TB-303 synthesizer from the 1980s”. The squelching sounds of the 303 were key to acid house and techno – why not make dance music from echolocator bat calls?
A philosopher dueling with bats on a dance floor? It really is a deep house
The idea was at the back of Tuulikki’s mind until she was invited to propose a project for Hospitalfield in Arbroath. The arts center, set within its own grounds in a historic country house on Scotland’s east coast, was perfect for a playful piece focusing on bats. The records were collected via an open call and include five local Hospitalfield bats. In the spring of 2023, the bat rave (which is “silent” – broadcast over headphones so as not to disturb local bats) will hit other sites, including London’s Camden Art Center.
The idea of holding a rave came from Timothy Morton (“I’m a bit of a fan,” confesses Tuulikki.) The Houston eco-philosopher’s experience of being part of a mass of dancing bodies informed their ideas about ecology. “Your borders become permeable,” Tuulikki explains. “It is a model of ecological coexistence”. Morton makes a surprise appearance on the album. Mixed with the echolocation calls of the barbastelle bat, they are told that what we call the present “is actually this pulsating thing, which moves without traveling, which vibrates”. A philosopher dueling with bats on a dance floor? It really is a deep house.
Based in Glasgow, Tuulikki’s interest lies in what she calls the “more than human”. These are entities that Morton describes as “non-human people”: creatures and plants, rivers, insect colonies, mycelium networks and complex ecosystems. In her art, Tuulikki looks at extraordinary natural phenomena including the echolocation calls of bats and the vernacular traditions of mimesis: the imitation of other species.
I first saw her work in 2019: a double-screen film called Deer Dancer, which explored the worship and research of deer in various cultures. Tuulikki drew from a wide source of material, including the dances of the indigenous Yaqui natives of Sonora in Mexico, the horn dance of the Bromley Abbots of Staffordshire, and horn headdresses excavated from the Mesolithic settlement at Star Carr in Yorkshire. The result was a mesmerizing choreography in which Tuulikki danced in costume as five archetypal characters – the Monarch, the Warrior, Young Buck, the Fool and the Old Sage – to a haunting soundtrack she had composed and sung.
The voice is central to Tuulikki’s work. Duet with bats in the album made with Perman, Echo in the Dark. In another recent work, Seals’kin, he revives the Irish and Scottish traditions of the call and song of seals and the legends of the selkies: “the mythical people of seals who can get out of the water, shed the skin of seals and walk on earth in human form “.
“Some thought seals and selkies were the souls of the dead,” says Tuulikki, who founded Seals’kin after the death of a close friend last year. “The songs traditionally sung to call the seals to the shore could have helped negotiate the pain while maintaining that connection.”
Commissioned for the Sydney Biennale and on display as part of British Art Show 9 in Plymouth this fall, Seals’kin is a ‘contemporary mourning ritual’, with Tuulikki drawing on her personal experience to reflect on how people might suffer species and environments endangered by the climate crisis. In the film, she serenades and imitates a lively family of gray seals, whose mustachioed faces watch her curiously from the water of a narrow cove. The show is both sad and captivating.
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As part of the project, Tuulikki conducts participatory workshops, teaching and improvising the call of seals as a way to “make relatives”. A session took place on the River Clyde as part of Cop26 in Glasgow last year: “Almost unbelievable, in half an hour a seal came – far enough into the city center – it was magical.”
After Seals’kin’s melancholy, mixing rave tunes with bat calls is a celebratory change of pace, he says. “I’ve never done dance music before; it was great to work from a joyful point of view.