This is an abstract from the Beyond Listening symposium program.

Secret Reception

Kristine Diekman, Ben Pagac

Wednesday 22 November — Presentations


Documentation of the lecture

Secret Reception is a sonic art installation that combines art and science to creatively engage questions related to sound reception in more-than-human worlds. This sonic art installation proposes new paradigms for understanding “hearing” or sound detection through the design and exhibition of tactile and haptic objects and interfaces that use vibration to transmit sonic information.

Secret Reception expands the idea of what hearing is, and proposes sensory modalities not necessarily associated with conventional modes of human hearing. Drawing on scientific research that examines how insects hear or detect sound through a variety of body parts, we transpose insect sound detection to decenter the conventional human hearing experience. We provide the visitor with a haptic experience of sound impulses. Our installation invites the human visitor to physically interact with various sound and vibration emitting objects and surfaces with parts of their bodies not normally used to “hear” such as hands, elbows, jaws, etc. Hand drawn images of species-specific receptors created with conductive paint, when touched, complete the sound-triggering circuit in microprocessors that trigger high-energy Bluetooth speakers.

Secret Reception invites participants to immerse themselves in eight different arthropod communication systems in a way that reaches deeper than, and beyond, their ears. It asks how we may now be doing things, unknowingly, that interfere with these unseen, unheard arthropod communities. While we know, through research, that arthropods use acoustic modalities that rely on far-field, near-field, and substrate sound, there is concern that anthropogenic sound can interfere with these complex systems and impact behavioral elements such as communication, mating, and predator and prey. What else might we be doing, sonically, that impacts unseen/unheard worlds? How can hearing like an insect change our human relationship to this otherwise secret world and to each other?


Kristine Diekman is a media artist and educator. Her recent media art investigates climate crisis and water scarcity. As an educator, she designs and facilitates community-based workshops using interactive tactile audio interfaces to tell stories. Her recent media projects focus on water and environmental justice, proposing new frameworks for political ecologies of water in California. As an educator, she facilitates international workshops in digital storytelling and physical computing that lead participants through writing, craft, computing, and sound production to create interactive tactile audio interfaces to tell their stories. She is a Full Professor in the Art, Media & Design Department at California State University where she teaches media theory and production, and sound studies. She is Director of Video in the Community, a program that collaborates with organizations and individuals to enact social change.

Ben Pagac is an entomologist by day but also an independent radio producer and sound artist based in Annapolis, MD. His interests include science communication, public health, and the impact of climate change on disease vectors. He is a founding member of the sound collective, Listening Lounge, based in Washington D.C.


Kristine Diekman, Ben Pagac: Secret Reception, archive of artist Ben Pagac, Budapest