Caught by the River

Echo in the Dark

16th September 2022

Blue Kirkhope finds a hopeful sense of collectivism at Hanna Tuulikki and Tommy Perman’s ‘bat rave’ in Arbroath.

Photo: Tiu Makkonen

During a mild September weekend in the grounds of the historic Hospitalfield on the north-east coast of Scotland, humans and non-humans convened for an evening of dance, music and light inspired by bat echolocation. Echo in the Dark is a new collaborative work by British-Finnish artist, composer and performer Hanna Tuulikki and Scottish music producer Tommy Perman. This unique project intricately weaves bat echolocation, Tuulikki’s voice and Perman’s rhythms into ‘a love letter to dance music’, creating a hybrid space that emphasises our co-existence with what Tuulikki describes as the ‘more-than-human’.

Tuulikki says: “My intention with the bat raves has been to create a space for joy – a space where we can begin to harness radical hope and to create change within ourselves and our communities. It’s an invitation to step into the dark, to hear the echoes, to follow what you feel and to change the story.”

Tuulikki tells me that bat echolocation is “the loudest sound we cannot hear”. Due to what has now been identified as a zoonotic spillover, bats have sadly gained an unfortunate reputation over the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet they are fascinating creatures, with the incredible ability to map out their environment by emitting high frequency sound pulses called ultrasound from the mouth or nose; sounds impossible for the human ear to detect. These more-than-human frequencies bounce off their surroundings, creating an echo as a tool for navigation and to catch prey. The duo translated and recorded these ultrasonic melodies using a superheterodyne bat detector, which converted the calls into audible synthetic sound waves. 18 bat species can be found here in the UK and, with thanks to technology, 13 feature on this record, all gathered in collaboration with local communities in Arbroath and Angus — from Soprano Pipistrelles to Daubenton’s bats.

Hospitalfield is a sanctuary in Arbroath, secluded amongst the trees. There are buzzards flying and mewing overhead as visitors to the site sip on their afternoon coffee from the cafe. Butterflies perch on the wildflowers in the garden as people stroll amongst the colourful vegetation. Crows burst from the trees and land on the towers of the building, as though declaring it their own. The album itself includes five bats that cohabit with the staff and residents of Hospitalfield. This very location reiterates the message of co-existence, and therefore it is the perfect host for the premiere of Echo in the Dark.  

Photo: Blue Kirkhope

The evening commences with a peach sunset that perfectly accentuates the majestic red sandstone of the 19th century gothic-style building, standing luminescent as the dancers make their way towards the audience. We are instructed to put on our headphones and with the push of a button and the glow of a blue light from the transmitter, we are suddenly transported into a world where bats and humans become one. Frequencies flutter through the headphones as Tuulikki’s voice veers in and out, luring us through the trees and towards the paddock where the bat rave is due to take place beneath an exquisite maritime pine and beech tree, both illuminated in emerald green light as we arrive at our outdoor dancefloor for the evening.

Photo: Tiu Makkonen

The music begins and limbs start to flail as Tuulikki and Perman DJ at the helm. The two trees have now transformed into a deep purple and the dancers command the audience to keep moving; flying in between our bodies, mimicking bat-like movements and showing us the way. There are impressive white lasers behind the stage precisely pulsing to the rhythm of the music, revealing bat illustrations on the trees, all hand drawn by Tuulikki. Much to my delight, as the track ‘Serotine Bat’ begins, the silhouettes of real-life bats fly upwards to the east of Hospitalfield, as if meticulously planned. Hundreds of tiny specks of red light then begin to flicker amongst the trees, imitating the same movements previously witnessed in the sky. Later in the evening, UV light cascades across the crowd, some of whom are wearing glow-in-the-dark make-up, and phosphorescent colours gleam from every angle. For the entirety of the evening my attention flits between the dancers, the lasers, the music, the colours and the performers — much in the same way a bat moves in the sky, continuously darting back and forth. Before the bat rave, I speak with Tuulikki and Perman and they pose the question — which of these elements are the performance? Whilst each part is worthy of being its own body of work, binding these components together for this special event allows them to encourage their audiences to reflect on their relationship to the more-than-human; a powerful performance in itself.

Photo: Tiu Makkonen

On Friday evening I found light in the dark. There was a hopeful sense of collectivism as our bodies danced with synchronicity, as though our movements were a radical act in navigating the climate crisis together. And it is this same notion that we must carry home with us and implement in our daily lives; to acknowledge that we are an intrinsic part of nature, woven into the same thread. Echo in the Dark is not just a momentary experience that concludes once the music stops: it demonstrates a new way of being in the world. One of awareness, of optimism and learning to be ecological. We must continue dancing to the rhythm of co-existence.

Photo: Blue Kirkhope


Blue Kirkhope is a writer, walker and birdwatcher from Glasgow whose work focuses on community, the environment, sustainability and nature connectedness. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Visit Hanna Tuulikki’s website here, Tommy Perman’s here, and the Hospitalfield website here.