Original work by Matthew Herbert

FIVE THOUSAND DOGS

This is a short extract. The full piece is 2'58".

This work is part of a series that imagines floating over a city, selectively listening to just one aspect of human activity at a time. The series will culminate in an hour-long project made up of a billion audio events.

In this we listen to dogs. 5000 barks were identified and isolated by machine-learning scripts from videos on the internet, then ‘laid back to back and end to end’ in a collage ‘with some filtering to help tune our ears to a different way of listening’. We hear the sounds of joy, of aggression, of demanding attention and everything else dogs express so well, but also, a common theme in the artist’s work, it asks questions of what lies behind those sounds. In this case, it draws attention to a pet food industry whose scale and impact is staggering - pet food accounts for over a quarter of US animal farming: “It is yet another part of our food system that seems cruel, wasteful and disproportionately violent.”

This potent work is also brave, for it is controversial to suggest there is something unprincipled in the way we elevate accepted pets, adored as most are, while deeming other living beings “dispensable”.

There is something of Algernon Blackwood's 1910 novel “The Human Chord” about “Five Thousand Dogs”: “The first letters of the opening syllable of this divine and magical name were passing over the world ... shifting the myriad molecules that composed it by the stress and stir of its vast harmonics ... changing the pattern.“

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