Listen together with mussels at Struer Tracks

 By Sif Hellerup Madsen

With the installation in Struer I would like to give people this feeling, that it’s happening right next to us, because water and the ocean is all around us all the time, and still we very often forget our neighbors under the surface, even if they are just a few centimeters away.”

Sound artist Jana Winderen raises awareness to both the richness and fragility of our seas at this year’s Struer Tracks: grunting fish, singing mammals, crunching crustaceans and an eco-system all too influenced by human noise

"I like to call our attention to the underwater environment through sound,” says Norwegian sound artist Jana Winderen. Her sound installation for Struer Tracks is called ‘Listening With the Mussels’ and is based on hundreds of underwater recordings from the world’s oceans.

Why mussels?

But why mussels? Well, they are familiar to people in Struer - you can collect them yourself in Limfjorden, buy them fresh or order them in local restaurants. 

As for Winderen, mussels have always been fascinating to her. In her childhood, her family lived by the South Coast of Norway and collected mussels to use as fishing bait. And they are an important part of the underwater eco system as they - among other things - filtrate and purify the water.

Mussels are an important part of the underwater eco system, Jana explains.

The seas have changed

But in very recent years, there has been a decline in the population of mussels in the areas of Winderens childhood. The blue shells, she says, are not common anymore, their habitats have been taken over by Pacific oysters. 

The same with the fish population. 

She remembers how her grandfather told how he was able to catch all different sorts of fish, also the big ones like cod, wrasse, and mackerel. “And now there are none,” Winderen says, “It scares me. The seas have totally changed, and we need to change our ways too.”

Recording underwater

The recordings for Winderen’s work at Struer Tracks were made at Norway’s shores and also taken from her archive of sounds from all over the planet. She uses 2-4 hydrophones - microphones specifically made for picking up delicate underwater sounds - and lowers them into different depts. 

The sounds vary a lot according to the temperature and pressure, so on the boat I start making the composition already by listening very carefully, getting sounds from the underwater creatures as clear and audible as possible,” she says. 

Back home at the studio, she turns the countless recordings into a composition. At Struer Tracks you can experience the piece on 4 speakers in a little house on the pier where you can sit down and listen, right by the water.

The location of Janas sound art installation - an old pier cottage in Struer Harbor.

Grunting fish and crunching crustaceans

And what do we hear, when Winderen allows us to listen together with mussels? 

The crunching sounds of fish and crustaceans, and the filtration of the mussels make up a part of the underworld soundscape. “You will be surprised,” Winderen tells, “fish for example are absolutely not quiet creatures.” They can make sounds in a in a variety of ways 

By grinding their teeth together, contracting drum mussels on their swim bladder or by stridulating (rubbing body parts together). Some fish make long howling sounds and some grunt. We used to know this, but it seems to have been lost after we started using engines.”

We are making so much noise

Seismic testing, military sonars, shipping and industrial activity

The underwater sound environment is so essential to the creatures living there, and humans effect it massively often quite unaware of the damage we cause.

Noise pollution is not only caused by seismic testing, military sonars, shipping and industrial activity in the ocean: “We are making so much noise. Now a lot of people in Norway buy boats and water scooters, since they are having their holiday at home not being able to travel because of covid. 

We are disturbing life underwater along the coasts more than ever. The creatures can’t hear each other, can’t hear the predators, and can’t orientate themselves.”

Mussels are also affected by human noise and can be a stress factor that is slowing down the oxygen intake and growth, researchers suggest. “We need to be aware of this.” Winderen says

“With the installation in Struer I would like to give people this feeling, that it’s happening right next to us, because water and the ocean is all around us all the time, and still we very often forget our neighbors under the surface, even if they are just a few centimeters away.”

Jana Winderen is an artist who currently lives and works in Norway. Her practice pays particular attention to audio environments and to creatures that are hard for humans to access, both physically and aurally – deep under water, inside ice or in frequency ranges inaudible to the human ear. Winderen uses sound and listening to focus on important issues and questions in relation to the state of health in the environment around us, which we share with other living beings.

Struer Tracks is an international biennial of sound art that takes place in the urban space of the Danish town, Struer. The biennial will take place for the third time from August 20 to September 5th 2021 - The theme is "Landscapes of Sound" and is curated by Charlotte Bagger Brandt