how you treat them is what you are

how you treat them is what you are

I wonder if every animal is a spirit. That rabbit you saw on the road, the dog you live with, the birds on the feeder in your garden, the spider that hangs in the corner of your bathroom. What if they are all spirits sent to you and how you treat them is what you are? [Paul Kingsnorth, Beast]

It is puzzling how humans set themselves apart from other animals and why they behave so abhorrently towards them—and benevolently so.

We love them as they swirl around our ankles, purring. We feed our beloved companions with potentially tortured animals. Even for those who eat flesh and can imagine happily docile farm denizens, there’s conflict: do they feel pain? fear death?

I try to dream myself into your skin; kiss with your sharp fangs; become your feral children; live as if a stray—a poetic strand was voiced in Woolgathering. Again, here, there’s a lack of clear delineations: villains and heroes, wild and domestic.

Across earlier projects, these entangled ideas appear in other voices (in Woolgathering, as dream-tellers of animal-others; in Flesh has turned itself to stone or dust, as a whispered inquiry: are animals messengers or promises?; through twinned vocalization and conjoined attachments and dead-bird counts in Catalog of Mourning). This animal triptych hinges three stories about our assumed control over another species. It echoes and unearths and more pointedly denies the ease of hubris. It exploits the embrace of dominion.

These characters are unlikable for the conceit they espouse (undisguised and unmistakable or more subtle). These stories are distasteful and we’re drawn to them—livid, furious, sad, ambivalent. The latter feeling is propped up by complicity.

Each scene in the human-animal entanglement is a witness to climate chaos and disease and to the precipitate expectations of commerce as we attempt to control the related, churning mayhem.

As Paul Kingsnorth wonders and can be further universalized, how we treat them is what we are.

The audio loops around itself with an imposed linearity, catching the listener at whim, radio-like.

It’s framed by a barely audible ‘presence’ and the earth’s version and scale of companionship.

how you treat them is what you are

… it pulsed with the power of strange radio … refreshing, nourishing and galvanizing all at once. 
[Sherre DeLys]

featured online, on air, in festivals

Hubris & Humility: A Conversation – J. Schuman, Guest Curator, XMTR Radio Hour, Social Broadcasts/UK, ep. 27 (“The Hitman”) – Jan. 2024

The Sound of Violence, curator, Wilfried Agricola de Cologne, international group show, The New Museum of Networked Art (“The Hitman”) – Nov. 2022

Radiophrenia: A temporary art radio station, Centre for Contemporary arts, Glasgow – Feb. 2022

Afternoon Show – WGXC-FM, Wave Farm, Radio for Open Ears – Dec. 2021

Earlid’s Monsters & Ghosts featured “Extinction”; participating in EXTRACTION: Art on the Edge of the Abyss, a multimedia, multi-venue, cross-border art intervention – Dec. 2021

shimmer & loop – conversation with sound artists about fear and creative practice (feat. Joan Schuman, James T. Green & Adriene Lilly), with field sound from Anna Friz, Earlid, fall-winter 2021

Sit with each tale individually, unframed.
Absorb the artist’s creative process and motivation of a particular side to this hinged narrative composition.

The Hitman

Urgent texts arrived from my neighbors: Mr. P., the wild peacock living in our secluded park, had been brutally murdered.

The news coverage included a phone call with the quickly identified ‘hitman’ who had posted a Craigslist ad, which came with a map and instructions on how to locate the bird.

An echo of The Hitman’s voice stuck in my head as I untangled my response to this barbarity. I enlisted radio artist Gregory Whitehead to channel it. Co-imagined, these voices mire a listener in textural and vocal contrasts. It’s an endeavor at illuminating a nefarious desire for control in an ongoing uncertain world.

Field Sounds, Composition, Mixing:
Joan Schuman
The Hitman & Peacock Song:
Gregory Whitehead – morphed from 13th-century bestiary, Bartholomeus Anglicus
Customized ‘books-on-tape’ synth voice: ‘Amy’


When I began hearing news reports about pig farmers culling their livestock due to pandemic-related kinks in their processing chains, the abundant irony was not missed. Too many animals ready for slaughter, but exploited workers, sick with Covid, were absent from their butchering posts.

A Fox News reporter offers a despondent tone. And the pigs? the farmer? the congressman? They play their parts.

Despite my intentional blurring, the story is still ‘legible,’ pushed to the rear amid other ‘voices’ and the breathable spaces we inhabit.

Like re-reading Kingsnorth’s Beast as ritual, I am attending to a sacramental practice to listen anew to these stories.


A farmer’s ideas of humanely slaughtering Esperanza, the resident cow, peeks through the family’s daily chores with other farm residents.

As a non-animal-eating human, I am complicit, still, in this bargain. Another vantage of these voices can be heard here.

Farmers: Albert, Jen and Caleb
Blue Blossom Farm
Arcata, CA