My turtles used to keep me up at night because they had such high energy during late hours, but they eventually synced to my sleeping pattern and now only produce noise during the day. By “noise,” I mean the sounds of them tapping on the glass of their tank as they swim around with one another. As many people do when they have pets, I began to imagine what it would be like if they could talk -- what it would sound like. I thought of ways in which they could express themselves to me sonically, and thought of how incredible it would be if they could respond to me through music due how often I play music for them. I discovered that aquatic turtles can hear low frequencies and sense vibrations, with the water acting as a conduit to help them hear slightly better than turtles that live on land. I also learned that pet turtles recognize their owners through sight and sound, and that is when I decided I would start playing music for them. I figured that I should try to make them used to these sounds because of how often I play music in my room. I play genres of all kinds, but it has become clear that they respond especially well to contemporary jazz music and will either look extremely relaxed, or swim over to the side of the tank that is closest to my speakers. Assuming that they would associate the music I play with their visual recognition of my face, I decided to allow them to control the music I play by translating their movement into sound without interfering with them, or creating any sort of discomfort.
With the help of my Professor, Alex Waterman, I was able to put a contact microphone in their tank to pick up each vibration and movement they made in close proximity to the mic, and send that information to the computer softwares Ableton and Max/MSP. I had a variety of sounds to choose from based on how my turtles responded to certain types of instruments, and all I had to do was select a sound and watch them compose the rest. The results are in the form of a video installation titled “Tortugas Electroacusticas” (Electroacoustic Turtles).
I like to think of their final composition in the same way I do for much of the music I listen to and appreciate on a daily basis, and give them credit as if they were actual musicians composing and performing an original piece. There is no way for me to know whether or not they realized that their movements were triggering each sound that they heard, but the footage I captured is certainly indicative of their behavior and curiosity when they sense musical vibrations.