In March 1798, two elephants, affectionately named Hans and Parkie, arrived at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris as spoils of war. That same year, on May 29th, a concert was performed in the Jardin de Plantes for the elephants. This experiment was organized not by scientists but rather by musicians, pondering if human music might elicit a reaction in non-human life forms. Allora & Calzadilla’s Apotome departs from this historic attempt of interspecies communication set against the backdrop of the French Revolution. The very concepts of man, life, nature and the boundaries between them as defined by relations to war, captivity, slavery, and other forms of social and political domination and control emerged with new significance in this period. To this mix is added the question of music, as a possible inter-species meta-language, a proto-linguistic, non-symbolic and affective trans-human mode of communication whose basis is biological and evolutionary.
Apotome is centered on the bone remains of the two elephants, currently stored in the Zooteque, a vast subterranean storage facility housing thousands of animal specimens. In parallel research, the artists came across vocalist Tim Storms, who has extraordinary vocal gifts allowing him to reach notes as low as G-7 (0.189Hz) – a remarkable eight octaves below the lowest G on a piano. The subsonic notes sung are so low that only animals as large as elephants are able to hear them. In Apotome, Tim Storms, in his unique vocal range, sings songs from that original concert to the elephants' remains. Songs include "Iphigénie en Tauride" (1779) by Christoph Willibald Gluck "O ma tendre musette" by Pierre Alexandre Monsigny and the Revolutionary anthem "Ça ira," among others.
The title Apotome is an archaic Greek word referring to an arithmetical division of musical sound, an interval of a semitone in the Pythagorean scale slightly greater than half. This arithmetical musical ratio isn’t lacking in exactitude on the contrary, it’s quite precise. It’s an excess of human sensation. The normal voice cannot produce it, nor can the ear detect it. Apotome is an irrational remainder or residue, literally meaning, "what is cut off."