Something Going on Above My Head (1995-9) brings together the sounds of two thousand birds, creating what the artist calls a ‘sculpture’. For five years, Oswaldo Maciá (born 1960) collected bird calls from international ornithological archives and audio libraries, reworking them into a symphony, scored according to the birds’ pitches. Carefully positioned speakers fill the space with a mesmerising chorus that the visitor experiences above their head, much in the way that true birdsong is experienced.
Birdsong is usually thought of as something beautiful and pleasing even though it is often actually a call of distress or a defence mechanism. Illustrating Maciá’s interest in the ambiguity of language, the title of the work describes both the physical set up of the installation and alludes to the many daily events that go unnoticed by the majority of people. The inspiration for the work was a newspaper article that referred in passing to Russian submarines dumping nuclear residues in the Baltic Sea. Maciá was alarmed that such news could be easily missed among all the other information in the paper.
The installation includes a leaflet for visitors to take away and a diagram depicting an orchestra in which the instruments have been replaced by the names of birds in Latin.