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Nature is the hacker par excellence

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Hi there, Dave Merleau here, creator of Forest Talk Radio, one of the two winners of the 2019 Sound Walk September Award. I’m writing to you to keep you posted on what I’m working on now, and to ask the community to help me spread the word about my new project.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with my schtick, I scour the interstices between folklore, science and technology, to create Storytelling Sound Walks that take you into the woods to listen to tales, where nature is a main character. I have a penchant for creating fictional scenarios where nature has somehow found a way to “hack” into our telecommunications’ grid in an effort to keep us from destroying the planet.

In the Forest Talk Radio Story Walks, I explore the arboreal grid created between trees and friendly mycorrhizae fungi, the network affectionately called the Wood Wide Web. With this fungal network in place, trees of various species can cooperate, allowing them to send messages and resources through the network. But some species, like the black walnut tree, can hack into this benevolent system in order to ’upload’ toxins that will effectively poison others connected to the grid. There are many such Black Hat Hackers in nature, and many are found in the insect world.

In Forest Talk Radio: Old Growth, the radio host character is fascinated by ants, and regales us about the Zombification of these insects by the unfriendly fungus, O. unilateralis. Essentially, this fungus commandeers the ant and in puppeteer fashion makes the ant do weird things.

In Old Growth, the radio host plays with the idea that ant colonies and human societies have uncanny similarities and he posits that perhaps the human collectivity is susceptible to being hacked by benevolent natural forces, the White Hat Hacker variety.   

This is the conceptual starting point for my next locative-storytelling work called AntVenture, where you get to walk around your own neighbourhood and experience it from the perspective of an ant.

The Antventure app is location-aware, (it uses your phone’s gyroscope to measure footsteps from your starting point) and it is also interactive, the choose-your-own-adventure functionality allows you to input sensory information about your surroundings into the story, and the story “adapts” to this changing information (“are your feet wet, yes or no; is it dark out, yes or no; etc…)  

This interactive modality is how the project becomes ‘locative,’ allowing the story to be tailored to your specific experience of your environment. You can walk the same route everyday and conceivably access a different “emotional pathway” through the story each time you use the app.

As for ants “hacking” into the human-grid? Yes, indeed! There will be four scenarios where the anthropo-myrmeco divide is bridged. Listen to this particularly comedic scenario, below.

AntVenture is my most ambitious project yet. I will be collaborating with over a dozen artists, actors, musicians and coders in order to complete it and I have international partnerships like with Andrew Stuck‘s the Museum of Walking to help promote and present the work when it is ready for launch.  

There is a lot more information about AntVenture on the crowdfunding page so please check it out. And if you like what you see, maybe you think the perks are neat, or you’re just excited to  see AntVenture come to fruition, consider contributing or simply sharing the Indiegogo link with friends and colleagues.

If you have any questions about AntVenture, or about any of my work, you can contact me at [email protected].  It will be great to connect.

David Merleau

David Merleau

Canada

I am a radio producer and folklore storyteller with a penchant for biology. My works construct collaborations between two creative forces: Technology and Nature. In my locative sound walks I aim to create a positive feedback loop where the site-specific ...

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Forest Talk Radio: Old Growth

David Merleau in partnership with the Municipality of Temagami

Temagami, ON, Canada