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A Buzzing Musical Symphony The sound of bees is something not many people pay attention to throughout the course of their daily lives. a new art installation is seeking to change that.

Artists Deborah Margo (left) and Annette Hegel (right) are creating an outdoor art installation called "Apidictor symphony" to record and play the music of bees.

In the past few years, the recognizable sound of buzzing bees has been absent from gardens across North America. It’s part of the collapse of honeybee colonies, which experts have tied to neonicotinoids, a pesticide responsible for killing the bees. That’s where artists Annette Hegel and Deborah Margo come in. In addition to their love of art, they have another passion in common: pollinators.

When outdoor exhibit, Fieldwork, put out a call for proposals incorporating sculpture and sound to celebrate its 10th anniversary, Hegel and Margo began working on the idea of a musical bee art installation more than a year ago.

“There’s a research group out of the University of Berlin, they have gone out into the field and they have attached tiny radar devices to bumble bees and they let them go into a polluted field, treated with that pesticide, and they’ve found out it makes the bee disoriented. So basically what happens is the bees go out, they don’t know how to find their way back and they starve,” says Hegel.

“Why are the bees dying? Why are hives disappearing? It’s literally within the last two years they found out this is exactly what happens. It’s a neurological problem caused by the pesticide.”

“So the piece is not so much commenting on that, but it’s still the necessity of having the bees,” Margo says.

Deborah Margo's studio.

The artists have completed several of the honey-coloured nectar pods, which are made of fibreglass and resin. The pods are made using a balloon coated in saran wrap around a steel base to give the pods their shape.

The sounds of the bees will be recorded and amplified from the pods.

The first prototype for the pods.

Pollinators, including bees, butterflies and other insects transfer pollen and nectar between plants and flowers, spreading seeds so they can reproduce.

In November, Health Canada proposed a ban on almost all uses of a neonicotinoid pesticide called imidacloprid, which poses a risk to aquatic wildlife. Vancouver and Montreal have already banned neonicotinoids, as evidence mounts of their contribution to bee decline.

Graeme Peterson, a beekeeper with the Ottawa Beekeeper’s Association, says the pesticides affect “anything that’s in the ground, worms, bugs, ground-nesting pollinating insects; it’s a bigger problem than just the honeybees.”

“Basically it boils down to the chemicals not breaking down in the time frame manufacturers said they would. So they’re persisting longer, getting into the environment, getting into the water table, being soaked up by feral plants,” he says. “But bees still get impacted because they come and forage on the wildflowers that are now sucking this poison up into their system.”

The seeds Hegel and Margo planted in the fall will grow at different sites to attract a variety of pollinators, while the sounds of buzzing bees at different pitches move in waves, becoming an outdoor symphony.

“You can set up chords if you wanted to,” says Hegel. “Symphony also because this is real time, morning to night, so there is a whole set of movements and story. And if it’s overcast it’ll be silent because they don’t go out when it’s cloudy.”

While they don’t really have an apidictor as part of the installation, Hegel explains it was key to their idea.

“The apidictor itself is a very sensitive instrument that Eddie Woods developed to monitor his beehives in the wintertime. So turning movement in the hive into sound to analyze if the bees were healthy and getting through the winter okay,” she says.

“So it’s based on his idea of being able to take sound as a sign of health,” Margo adds.

One of the main things the artists hope people will take away from the piece is self-awareness.

“There’s always the people who will be afraid of being stung, but when people start to understand the beauty of them, bees are totally cool. The way their societies work together, live together,” Hegel explains.

Margo agrees. “We have a great deal to learn from them.”

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