Destination Salem Blog

70 finches, 14 guitars, infinite sonic potential

From Here to Ear at the PEM

The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) explores soundscapes and nontraditional forms of music in its newest contemporary art exhibition, FreePort [No. 007]: Céleste Boursier-Mougenot. Created by internationally acclaimed French artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, this installation transforms PEM’s Barton Gallery into a spacious aviary in which a flock of 70 zebra finches interface with an array of tuned and amplified guitars. As the birds explore their habitat and respond to museum-goers, they alight on guitar strings to create a constantly changing harmonic environment. From here to ear is the artist’s largest finch installation to date and is on view at PEM from January 18 through April 13, 2014.

Formerly a musician and composer, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot is known for creating installations that translate the visual into the auditory as well as for activating environmental systems that take on a life of their own. Boursier-Mougenot is interested in liberating the rhythms and vibrations of everyday life and believes “music is waiting to be revealed everywhere.” Extending the 20th-century tradition of experimental music in which chance plays a critical role, from here to ear fosters close listening and attunes us to the present moment.

“Boursier-Mougenot invites us into a three-dimensional score where the randomized activities of finches creates a sonic experience that is at turns melodic and ambient,” says exhibition curator and PEM’s Curator of the Present Tense, Trevor Smith. “This boundary breaking installation embraces the element of surprise, while asking us to consider the way we perceive, create and interact with music.


Where do the birds come from? The zebra finches are sourced from a specialty animal casting company whose professional animal handlers and trainers facilitate the installation and removal of the birds as well as certify their health. The birds were raised in captivity by professional breeders and will return to their owners at the exhibition's close.

What is the care and feeding of the finches? Twice daily, the aviary is cleaned and the birds are given fresh food and water. The finches’ health will be checked on a weekly basis by exotic bird specialist Dr. Elizabeth Bradt of All Creatures Veterinary Hospital. Additional “house calls” will be arranged as need be.

How are the birds monitored? Only 20 people are allowed in the exhibition at any one time and a gallery interpreter is on hand at all times to answer questions and ensure animal safety.

Where do the birds sleep? The birds rest in the hanging nest “condos” and special UV lights gradually come up in the morning and down again in the evening, so the birds maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. 

Do the birds ever escape? The aviary has been specially designed to prevent birds from getting loose and everything the birds need is provided in the installation. 


Find more interspecies art on view in the Art & Nature Center’s newest exhibition, Beyond Human: Artist–Animal Collaborations. From bowerbirds that create elaborate displays to Asian elephants that have learned to paint and Weimaraners that patiently pose for photographs, Beyond Human explores the varied ways in which contemporary artists interface with animals to create original and surprising works of art.


Each FreePort exhibition is an invitation to a contemporary artist to establish a unique dialogue with the museum and its audiences. These artists explore the dynamics of cultural change; their creative expressions open conversations across disciplines critical to the evolution of a 21st-century museum.

Learn more about From Here to Ear. 

Posted by Kate on 01/11 at 09:43 AM Permalink