VLF-recordings, glass pods, boat chain
High Voltage Waggle Dance uses VLF-recordings to cultivate a patient, sensory attentiveness to the visible and invisible energy-ecosystems within the atmosphere, the earth, and the more-than-human actors inhabiting it. The 12-minute sound work, consisting of three movements, investigates different VLF-recordings made throughout the artist’s 2022 Gornji Grad residency in Slovenia. The piece includes the crackling and whistling of lightning bolts, time-stretched signals of bees interacting with the receiver’s antenna, and recordings of electro-communication within the hives tended by the Slovenian beekeepers.

High Voltage Waggle Dance offers a space for deep listening that aims to generate an intimate understanding of the entangled systems of electromagnetism that inhabit our world but are always outside our natural perception.


High Voltage Waggle Dance is made possible by the generous support of Residenza Gornji Grad and the Mondriaan Fund. The work has been made in collaboration with Van Tetterode Glass Studio, Amsterdam.

Pictures by Aad Hoogendoorn and Jostijn Ligtvoet



Natural radio is best heard at dawn, so it was with sleep in my eyes that I cycled through the dark towards a meadow I had spotted the day before. After about an hour I arrived at the site; a hilly fen in the middle of the ancient forests surrounding my temporary home. Here, the cold and dark of the Slovenian mountains, along with the time-pressure of a looming sunrise, made setting up my equipment a stressful ordeal. I grounded my Very Long Frequency (VLF) receiver (to listen to the atmosphere one needs to be in-circuit with the earth), set up the makeshift antenna, switched on the device and was reminded once again that the air enveloping me is all but neutral. I was met with an orchestra of pops, crackles, whistles, and spherics. The bustling sounds of our atmosphere.

Naturally occurring radio waves are created by the electromagnetic discharges of lightning strikes, cosmic radiation, and auroras. These signals mostly fall within the Very Long Frequency spectrum, between 3 and 30 kHz [1]. VLF signals can travel vast distances by bouncing between the earth and the upper layers of the atmosphere. Meteorologists measure them to detect incoming thunderstorms and modifications of the earth’s electric ecosystem due to our changing climate.
After enjoying the evanescent, alien-but-not-alien noise for a while, I started to become aware of another voice that had joined the choir. Through my receiver, I heard the buzzing of a single honeybee interacting curiously with the antenna. Surprised by the seemingly acoustic presence to what should be a solely electromagnetic ensemble, I started to make noises myself to test if those too would be picked up. They weren’t, which meant that the insect must somehow be transmitting through an electric modality.

Bees gain a charge as they fly through the electrical gradient in the atmosphere. It is this charge that is a key factor in their ability to detect and broadcast electromagnetic fields, and is crucial to pollination[2]. A bee’s positive charge will induce a greater yield in pollen exchange between itself and the negatively charged flowers. Honeybees also use electro-reception as a means of communication. Returning foragers perform a waggle dance, which communicates details of food sources to other workers within the hive. In addition to spatial cues, electrical signals are produced by the dancing bodies of electrically charged bees.

The serendipitous encounter with the honeybee’s electrical field generated a resonant spark within me. A spark that made me want to understand the depth of this electrical ecosystem which lies just outside of my human perception. Luckily, I was smack in the middle of bee country. Gornji Grad, the site of my residency, has one beekeeper for every thirty inhabitants. I reached out to one of these stewards, Matej Krebs, who lives with his dog Speedy on a small farm at the outskirts of the village. Together we spent many hours listening to the different frequencies that came to us through an antenna we delicately placed within one of the hives. We heard the characteristic bzzzz of bees flapping their wings to control their colony’s temperature (the flapping displaces the static electricity on their bodies), the mmmMMMMPOP! of soldiers challenging the copper spire that had suddenly appeared in their home, and the phewphewphew of a forager performing its waggle dance through spatial, sonic, and electromagnetic cues.

The relationship between honeybees and the electricity in the atmosphere is reciprocal. A swarm of honeybees can change the air’s electrical field by up to 1000 volts per meter[3]. It is speculated that a large enough swarm could generate enough electricity to affect weather patterns. 

I remember my first encounter with a hive. I remember the bees responding to my anxiety when I approached them. I remember the bees responding to my calm as the beekeeper reassured me. I remember resting my bare hand gently upon their collective body, feeling the fizz of what I now know to be the accumulated electricity of thousands of vibrating insects. The warm smell of wax and honey. The rising buzz to let me know that I was overstaying my welcome, the return to a lower register as I retreated. A single sting as a keepsake, a reminder that although these insects live in close proximity to our homes, they will never be truly domesticated.

[1] S. McGreevey, The VLF Story, January 1995.
[2] D. Clarke, “The bee, the flower, and the electric field: electric ecology and aerial electro-reception,” J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol, June 2017.
[3] E. Hunting et al., “Observed electric charge of insect swarms and their contribution to atmospheric electricity,” iScience 25, November 2022.