Bee Here Now

Russian Bee Stamps 2005

British Bee Stamps 2015

Elsewhere other-accessible

Royal Mail bee stamps designed to raise awareness of species

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #47

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

The Sting’s the Thing – A Sting in the Tale, Dave Goulson (Jonathan Cape 2013)

Two Heads, Two TonguesExcuse my French! Fluent Français without the Faux Pas, Rachel Best and Jean-Christophe Van Waes (Kyle Books 2013)

Marred MoonVoid Moon, Michael Connelly (2000)

’Vile VibesIn Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile, Dan Davies (Quercus 2014)

One-Stop Chop-ShopToxic Trannies from Kastration Kamp 23: A Sinister Symposium of Academic Assholes Shamelessly Shmoog the Filthiest Films in Cess-Cinema, Dr Miriam B. Stimbers, Dr Samuel P. Salatta, et al (TransToxic Texts 2016)

Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Leaf Brief

Front cover of What A Plant Knows by Daniel ChamovitzWhat a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses of Your Garden – and Beyond, Daniel Chamovitz (Oneworld 2012)

This is a brief but burgeoning book, covering a lot of science and a lot of scientific history. Plants stay in one place and don’t seem to suffer pain or discomfort, so they’re good experimental subjects, particularly for introverts. That’s why Charles Darwin devoted even more time to plants than he did to worms and barnacles. Chamovitz describes Darwin’s ingenious experiments and the even more ingenious experiments of the researchers that followed him. Over millions of years the world has set problems of survival for plants; in solving these problems, plants have set puzzles for scientists. How do plants know when to flower and prepare for winter? How do they resist attacks by insects? Or prey on insects? Or invite visits from pollinators? And how do they communicate with each other? The answers aren’t just chemical: they’re electrical too, as research on the world’s most famous carnivorous plant has proved:

Alexander Volkov and his colleagues at Oakwood University in Alabama first demonstrated that it is indeed electricity that causes the Venus flytrap to close. To test the model, they rigged up very fine electrodes and applied an electrical current to the open lobes of the trap. This made the trap close without any direct touch to its trigger hairs … (ch. 6, “What A Plant Remembers”, pp. 147-8)

Acoustics is also at work in the plant kingdom:

In a process known as buzz pollination, bumblebees stimulate a flower to release its pollen by rapidly vibrating their wing muscles without actually flapping their wings, leading to a high-frequency vibration. … In a similar vein, Roman Zweifel and Fabienne Zeugin from the University of Bern in Switzerland have reported ultrasonic vibrations emanating from pine and oak trees during a drought. These vibrations result from changes in the water content of the water-transporting xylem vessels. While these sounds are passive results of physical forces (in the same way that a rock crashing off a cliff makes a noise), perhaps these ultrasonic vibrations are used as a signal by other trees to prepare for dry conditions. (ch. 4, “What A Plant Hears”, pg. 107-8)

All of this is mathematical: a plant is a mechanism that processes not just sun, water and carbon-dioxide, but information from its environment too. But then sun, water and CO2 are all part of that information: sunlight signals plants as well as sustaining them. Its strength and duration are cues for the seasons and time of the day. So is its colour:

By the time John F. Kennedy was elected president, Warren L. Butler and his colleagues had demonstrated that a single photoreceptor in plants was responsible for both the red and far-red effects. They called this receptor “phytochrome”, meaning “plant colour”. In its simplest model, phytochrome is a light-activated switch. Red light activates phytochrome, turning it into a form primed to receive far-red light. Far-red light inactivates phytochrome, turning it into a form primed to receive red light. Ecologically, this makes a lot of sense. In nature, the last light a plant sees at the end of the day is far-red, and this signifies to the plant that it should “turn-off”. In the morning it sees red light and it wakes up. In this way a plant measures how long ago it last saw red light and adjusts its growth accordingly. (ch. 1, “What A Plant Sees”, pg. 21-2)

There’s an obvious analogy with a computer automatically turning itself off and on, which would make phytochrome and its associated chemicals a kind of hardware created by the software of the genes. Plants share some of that software with human beings: in one fascinating section, Chamovitz discusses the links between healthy plants and sick people:

The arabidopsis [A. thaliana, mustard plant] genome contains BRCA, CFTR, and several hundred other genes associated with human disease or impairment because they are essential for basic cellular biology. These important genes had already evolved 1.5 billion years ago in the single-celled organism that was the common evolutionary ancestor to both plants and animals. (ch. 4, “What A Plant Hears”, pg. 105)

What a Plant Knows stimulates human minds as it discusses plant senses. It’s one of the best briefest, or briefest best, books on science I’ve ever read, packing a lot of history and scientific information into six chapters. Plants don’t move much, but they’re a very lively topic and botany is a good way to understand and appreciate biology and scientific research better.

Angst, Anguish, Abjection

It’s half tradition, half tic. At every Ruin-Dredger gig, the lead-singer Jerome Daziel asks the same simple question. Sometimes he shouts it and demands a reaction from the audience. Sometimes he whispers it and ignores what the audience does. Depending on the country, he’s asked it in French, Italian, Greek, Russian, Georgian, Mandarin, Thai, Samoan and Quechua. He’s also asked it in complete silence, having written it across his chest and on the palms of his hands in phosph-ink, invisible when the lights are on, glowing ghoulishly when they’re turned off. Occasionally he’s asked it backwards. In English, the question runs like this: “And What Doth It Mean To Be Flesh?”

Cover of Triple-A by Ruin-Dredger (2000)

But you could see the whole of a Ruin-Dredger gig as asking the same searching thing. The band specialize in unusual frequencies that hunt out – and hum out – the resonances of the human body: the lungs, the bones, the blood. And their music sets up strange resonances in the mind. It’s both mindless and masterful, at once tearful and tyrannous. Sometimes it sounds like mathematics trying to come to life, and sometimes like mathematics trying to commit suicide. There’s a lot of science in their music, and a lot of silence too. “Star-clusters having tantrums,” is how one early review ran. “With occasional episodes of narcolepsy.” That mixture of sound and silence is mutually reinforcing: the sounds are sterner, the silence is sharper. They began their career with the albums Xoli-Hein (1992) and Pyramidion (1996), where they forged a series of griffs, or “gruff riffs”, that were often Ohrwürmer, or “ear-worms”, as German calls tunes that stick in your head. Even if you don’t want them to. But I’m not sure “tune” has ever been the right word for the music Ruin-Dredger create. It’s part industrial noise, part wolf-howl, part bat-twitter, but mostly “folded, fused, fissured, fractured, fidgety phonaesthesia.” And if you want to sample it, this album from the turn of the century is a good place to start.

What to call the album is one of the first puzzles it will set you. The band’s website usually calls it “a3” or “a3”; in interviews, the band themselves refer to it as “Triple-A” or “that A-fucker”. The second name comes from a plagiarism suit by the astro-music veterans Kargokkult that put Ruin-Dredger’s career on hold for nearly a year, 2002-3, and allegedly threatened to bankrupt their record-company. In the end the case was thrown out of court and even today some conspiracy-minded Dredge-heads claim it was cooked up for publicity between the ’Dredgers and the Kargonauts. The case might never have got as far as it did without that lunar cover for Triple-A, where the corroded letters of the band’s name and the album’s name hang above a lifeless moon-scape. Only it isn’t our moon. And it isn’t necessarily lifeless. Ruin-Dredger have a bee in their bonnet about the pre-biotic – the conditions necessary for the appearance of life. That’s what the first track on Triple-A, “Invention of the Cross”, is about: the chemicals that gave rise to life. And it literally has bees on it: the band sampled bees and bumblebees in flight and gathering nectar. They then altered the pitch and speed of the buzzing and made it sound both unearthly and unsettling. I’ve known people demand the track be turned off or skipped when it’s played to them.

But skipping track one of Triple-A is a bit like jumping from the frying-pan into the fire, because track two, “Seventh Sword”, is even more unearthly and even more unsettling. Bat-twitters hurtle through the speakers, falling from the ultra-sonic to the infra-sonic, rising in reverse, twisting, turning inside-out, mating, mutating and miscegenating. Then, as though the band have taken mercy on your ears and your mind, everything slows and soothes for track three, “Titanomachia”, which is often preceded in concert by the aforementioned carnal question: “And what doth it mean to be flesh?” This track is one of the last outings for the griffs of their early career: a slow, synth-based triple chord underlain by a sample of waves washing on an unknown shore. Track four, “Breathing Vacuum”, has also been known to provoke a “Turn it off!”, because the mumbling beneath the music is both sinister and sorrowful. You feel as though you should understand the words or, worse, that you will in your dreams. The chimes in the track are sinister too: they sound like a deep-sea, or deep-space, monster tapping on its fangs before putting them to famished use.

Which sets things up nicely, or nastily, for track five, “Scylla / Charybdis”. This is named after a pair of sea-monsters faced by Odysseus on his journey home from Troy and has been described by the ’Dredgers as a “battle-song”. The waves on “Titanomachia” are back, but bigger, badder and in a mood to fight. Daziel’s electronically treated voice wolf-howls a series of unintelligible questions, answered by patches of silence and gong-like drum-rolls. Track six, “Nyctogigas”, starts softly, builds back to the volume and violence of “Scyl/Char”, then breaks apart to allow the bats and bees of “Whilom” to steer your imagination out and up into the freezing star-light on the outer fringes of the solar system, where comets, shorn by the cold and dark, wait to swing sun-ward and regain their blazing locks. I like to listen to “Whilom” in the dark, wearing a blindfold, but then that’s the best way to listen to all of Ruin-Dredger’s music. Listening like that conjures visions and commands the viscera. Not an easy album, nor an unrewarding one, Triple-A isn’t their finest hour, if fan-polls and sales are any guide, but it’s an excellent guide to where they had come from and where they were about to go. If it’s the alpha-and-omega of their career, perhaps that explains the title: the “a” is the alpha (α) and the “3” an omega (ω) tipped on its side. I see it, or hear it, as a bridge between the ’nineties and the ’noughties: they’d give up the griffs and big up the bats, from then on, but they’ve never stopped asking that simple, sinister/sorrowful question of themselves and their listeners: “And What Doth It Mean To Be Flesh?”

a3 / a3 / Triple-A (S.R.K., 2000)

1. Invention of the Cross (5:26)
2. Seventh Sword (3:33)
3. Titanomachia (7:18)
4. Breathing Vacuum (9:03)
5. Scylla / Charybdis (6:11)
6. Nyctogigas (4:20)
7. Whilom (13:37)