Caught by the River


Wolfgang Buttress | 25th June 2020

As we near the end of National Insect Week, Wolfgang Buttress reflects on his Glastonbury and Greenpeace-supported BEAM sculpture, alongside brand new music from BE.

It was a year ago that BEAM was realised with Greenpeace UK and Glastonbury Music Festival.  

The project feels like it both happened yesterday and an eternity ago. The ideas behind the sculpture are as relevant and possibly even more pertinent today. 

Pollinators and other insects are facing existential challenges because of climate crisis, lack of biodiversity and pesticides. BEAM aimed to highlight and express as a multi-sensory experience the essential role that honeybees play in pollinating 30% of the food that we eat. The challenges facing the bee are universal; the sculpture expresses the intrinsic and essential relationship between bee and human bringing together art, science, sound and landscape through an immersive and multi-sensory experience. 
BEAM is a conversation and symphony between the insect world and us. Accelerometers (vibration sensors) were used to measure the activity of the Cornish Black Bee colony living at Worthy Farm at Glastonbury. These live signals were sent to the sculpture via a dedicated internet link; algorithms were used to convert these vibrational signals into lighting and sound effects, enabling the life of the bee colony to be visually and aurally felt as a live experience. No two moments were ever the same.

The project was the product of significant interdisciplinary collaboration with a special thanks to the pioneering work of Dr Martin Bencsik, whose research is helping us to understand how bees communicate with themselves and the messages that they are giving us. 

The soundscape was written and curated by BE (Tony Doggen Foster, Kev Bales and Wolfgang Buttress) and included generous and beautiful contributions from 200,000 Cornish Black Bees, Daniel Avery, Camille Cristel, Amiina, Kelly Lee Owens, Coldcut, Jason Pierce and Liela Moss. 
The sculpture has remained on site and has become a magnet and haven for pollinators and bees.