(Haunting Genetics of) A Tuskless Mutation (2023) is an audio commission from the multi-year sound project and festival Fragments of Sonic Extinction.

To hear the composition please travel to the interactive website.

“In the form of a website, the project intends to shift the focus on ephemeral extinction and the complexity of the rapid changes within the sonic spheres of our world”.
This composition considers the epigenetic alterations in the remaining two species of African Elephant that has resulted in a ‘tuskless mutation’ resulting from ivory poaching and loss of habitat. Perhaps reflecting this trauma, the original field recordings themselves that form the underlying basis of this work, however skewed, have no information above 5000 Hz. So, the audio signature is doubly encoded with a spectral absence.

In the 1980’s Katy Payne and Joyce Poole discovered that elephants communicate through the Earth generating Extreme Low Frequencies (ELF) from their trunks known as ‘rumbles’. Elephants can communicate through the ground using rumbles up to seven kilometers. For the FOSE commission I borrowed rumble recordings from online sources to produce this composition.

What does it sound like to listen within and as the Earth as it holds the pain and memory of these highly intelligent, compassionate beings’ (they’re understood to have death rituals) seismic traumas?

The matriarchs of a community usually have the largest tusks, so they get selected and poached first (after the males have been decimated). The ghosts of elephants’ matriarchal social structures are also encoded in the rumblings of the tuskless mutation. The death of kin, especially a matriarch, devastates a community, often never able to re-organize themselves afterwards. When there are no elders left to lead or care for the herd, mating occurs without the matriarchs’ selection and coupling, eradicating ancestral lineages and cltural tropes. A hunter’s disinterest in tuskless elephants, means they’ve become more resilient, for the time being, to human encounter.

© All images are copyright Jol Thoms. Texts copyright Jol Thoms and the respective authors.