See the Sounds of the Amazon in This Mesmerizing Video
Color and texture punctuate sound in Andy Thomas' mind.
Thomas, a mixed-media artist living in Melbourne, Australia, doesn't actually have synesthesia, a condition in which one sense stimulates another. "For me it's really just an overactive imagination," he says. But that doesn't dull the sensation. "I close my eyes and I see these things very vividly in my mind," he says.
For his latest video, entitled "Visual Sounds of the Amazon," Thomas translated the soundscape of the rainforest into visual form. Each recording imagines a tropical bird call as a pulsating mass floating in air. Chirps radiate vibrant flashes of light; trills snake out as twisting ropes.
With these colorful pirouetting shapes, viewers experience the rainforest in an unexpected way. Thomas hopes that in doing so they gain a greater appreciation for the plight of this spectacularly diverse environment.
The Amazon hosts the greatest number of species on the planet. But it's in trouble. "Market forces, population pressure and infrastructure advances are continuing to pry open the Amazon rainforest," according to the World Wildlife Fund website. It's a story told time and time again. And as Thomas aptly notes, people tend to stop listening at the hint of this 'save the rainforest' refrain.
"What I've realized is that people have compassion fatigue these days," says Thomas. "They hear about the destruction of rainforests and decimation of species across the world, and they become numb to it." He hopes that through his art he can revive compassion for these wild spaces.
Thomas' work takes on this task by combining two fields that are often at odds with one another: technology and nature. Though technology can be used to help the environment, its negative consequences are just as potent—from our gadget-driven energy consumption to habitat destruction as a result of industrialization. According to his website, Thomas wants his work to be “a symbolic representation of nature’s collision with technology.”
Interestingly, the 41-year-old artist found his inspiration at a party.
"I used to go to a lot of dance parties in Melbourne here in the 90s," he says. "When I first went to one outdoors, I heard electronic sounds in nature and I was quite surprised at how well they went together—these really dark electronic sounds in the beautiful gum trees."
He began to use a combination of digital technology and watercolors to create fantastical abstract images, bursting with color. These experiments eventually led him to 3D animation. "That was the perfect medium for me really," he says. With animation he can create a more immersive experience for his viewers, combining natural sounds with detailed, moving abstractions.
In 2010, Thomas visualized his first natural sounds, those of a whale and the Australian magpie, a striking black and white bird with a warbling multi-toned call. He has always paid particular attention to birds’ songs, and after animating the sounds, he was hooked.
"Birds are amazing creatures, they're so prolific and so diverse," he says, his passion evident in his words. "To think that there's so many different [varieties of] one creature is quite wonderful."