26. Helga Jakobson


Helga Jakobson is a Canadian artist whose practice consists of exploring conditions of limbo, with a focus on death, time and the ephemeral. Her research often leads her to short-lived and organic material with which she develops new systems and methods for engagement. This takes shape by building digital interfaces; instrumentation used to explore, amplify and reflect what is barely visible, tangible or audible, while expressing the resonance and relationship between people, plants and organic matter. She presented her project entitled 'Arachnes Sonifier', in which she captures and makes audible spider webs. Her spider web record player, which she developed for this purpose, is an instrument that plays, registers and converts a spider web into sound by means of light sensors. She passes on the notation she distils from this to music companies in order to come to performances.

Knowledge sharing across traditions has often taken place through oral mythology. Creation myths, such as in the Hopi and Navajo traditions, often centre around a grandmother spider figure who wove the night sky with her silk. There are spider figures in West African, Akan and Caribbean myths personifying the spider as a trickster. In Japan there's a focus on the lure of the spider, where it is sometimes likened to a prostitute. However, my favourite spider myth is from Greek mythology; that of Arachne, who wove a tapestry better than Athena, the Goddess of weaving and war. Arachne challenged Athena, believing in the superiority of her own abilities and with the support of her community. During the competition, Athena wove a tapestry depicting all of the times mortals challenged the Gods and lost, while Arachne wove accounts of the many times Zeus had raped mortal women. After Arachne won the competition, Athena transformed her into a spider, and this is where the name for arachnids originates. Arachne, a disturber of the status quo, is thought of as one of the first feminist authors.

Using the material bequeathed to Arachne's doomed progeny, I've been weaving a visual and sonic tapestry of my own, using digital technology to form new means of mythologising and disseminating non-verbal experience. The sonification of spider webs asserts a reverence for the environment, the beauty of the ephemeral and loss. When the webs are harvested, my hand affects their original form. These webs then become a game of Cat's Cradle of sorts between the spider and I, not quite a collaboration but rather more of an exercise in ongoingness and recognition of loss. The intact web will not exist long in the world, and with my interference even less so. This strange, affective relay continues into the recording process, which results in the interpreted sound of an interpreted web. These actions are complicated and tenuous, as most human relations with companion species are. The recordings I make of the webs are an act of commemoration, and as Myers and Husk propose, 'This requires reading with our sense attuned to stories told in otherwise muted registers.'

The idea of a graphic score, a readable gesture, aids in the playability/repeatability of a piece of music that through its repetition allows for exploration, interpretation and imagination. These spiders have laid out scores in the form of webs that are barely visible ephemera drifting between branches or street signs or windows and I long to understand them. They remind me of George Crumbs circular compositions; minus the pen and paper. In actuality, they are visual representations of the spider's consciousness (who can forget Dr. Peter Witts experiments with drug use on spiders and their resulting webs). A spider web is not only an illustration of a spider's mental landscape, but an instrument it plucks and plays. These structures are scores and instruments unreadable/unplayable by humans, but interpretable through speculative fabulation, in the case of the recordings I create.

The webs I've chosen for this publication were harvested in the fall of 2018, after the first snowfall in Winnipeg, Canada. To find them I searched through basements, and bars, and zoos, and homes, and parks; though I found the majority of them in a greenhouse where I teetered over cacti and lavender bushes to collect them. The process of finding them could be likened to trying to make the invisible visible. In searching I began imagining where I would make a web, and then marvelling when I would find one in the most unlikely place, which only enchants me further into the world of spiders and webs and mythology. They aren’t entirely in line with Darwinian structures after all, not serving a solely evolutionary purpose; unlikely structures vulnerable and more powerful in space and time.


We became acquainted with Helga Jakobson's work through Bas van den Hurk, who at the time of introduction was teaching on the postgraduate program that Helga took part in at St Joost. Bas encouraged her to contact DE PLAYER as she was occupied with developing a machine that produces sound through the process of reading spider webs. We had an appointment and it was immediately clear that this project was of interest to us and we decided to present her prototype at an event in which other inventive ways of sound making were presented. The idea of a spider web as a score was also very closely aligned with the 'Pushing Scores' project. This project, named 'Arachnes Sonifier', became more and more developed over time and we will soon publish an album (DOB094) including the sound, images and conceptual information on our label.

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