Mussel, organ pipes, sensors, drone engines

The Waddenorgel, or Organ of the Wadden Sea, is a sound installation consisting of sixteen organ pipes that react to the gape width and heartbeat of a single mussel lying in the Wadden Sea. The distance between the lower and upper shell of this bivalve determines the harmony of the instrument, whilst the heartbeat provides a continuous rhythmic push and pull. Created in collaboration with the Waddenacademie and the Oerol festival, the Waddenorgel offers new practices of listening in order to get a deeper understanding of the mussel as a vital part of the oceans’ ecosystem. Scientist Katja Phillipart sees the mussel as a canary in a coal mine, because they can detect potentially dangerous water pollution faster than most man-made instruments. Thus, tuning in to the animals behavior gives us a very clear overview of the state of its surroundings.

“... anyone who listens attentively discovers a new attitude in the Wadden organ. Admittedly not in relation to a general nature - no one has an attitude towards such an abstraction - but rather to something specific and non-human: the mussel. That attitude is not that of the ruler, or the steward, but that of a child with an ear on a parent's chest. The Wadden organ gives exactly that experience. The child hears the sounds of an esophagus, a stomach, it hears the heart beating. I hear the clam open and close its valve, sometimes fast and then slow. The child feels the blood flowing and wonders if it should be worried about a whooshing sound. I ponder whether the surge is too violent. Then the heartbeat gets lost. Is it still there? When the child turns her head up, her cheek slides over a soft sweater. Shortly shaved beard perhaps rubs across her forehead. It hears breath and no longer worries. I hear the organ sway again and am relieved that the clam is alive.

At your parent's breast, you learn the fragility of your caregiver. You learn that your greatest dependent depends in turn on a working heart, strong lungs and good bowels. The mussel is just such a carebear for us in many ways. Katja Philippart calls the critter a canary in the coal mine during this symposium. If we listen carefully and with the right tools, the mussel tells us something about the presence of hazardous substances and bacteria such as algal toxin, E. coli and tetrodotoxin. Mussel beds contribute to the cushioning of waves and can play a role in the water safety of the Netherlands. Moreover, the mussel tells us something about the state of the sea. The instrument is therefore not called the Mussel Organ but the Wadden Organ, I think, because who plays it? The mussel is also an expression of an environment. Sea water quality, ecosystem health, there's a whole world here on the organ: a climate.”

- Het klimaat voelen, kan dat? by Tjesse Riemersma, 2022


The Waddenorgel is created in close colaboration with Jelle Reith, Katja Phillippart, and the Waddenacademie.