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]

I am continually puzzled at 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?

There’s a lack of clear villains and heroes.

I try to dream myself into your skin; kiss with your sharp fangs; become your feral children; live as if a stray. [Woolgathering, 2020]

Across earlier projects, I entangled these voices, like Woolgathering‘s dream tales of animal-others. This current triptych echoes and unearths and more pointedly denies the ease of hubris. It exploits the embrace of dominion.

I don’t like these characters for the conceit they each espouse (undisguised and unmistakable or more subtle). I don’t like these stories and yet I am drawn to them, livid, furious, sad, ambivalent. The latter is hardest as I feel my 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.

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

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

how you treat them is what you are

Sit with each tale individually, unframed.
Absorb the motivation of a particular side to this hinged narrative composition.

The Hitman

summer 2021

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

The news coverage spread, including a phone call with the quickly identified ‘hitman’ who had posted a Craigslist ad, which came with a crudely annotated satellite image with detailed instructions on how to locate the bird. The Hitman was seeking a Shooter to carry out the job.

An echo of The Hitman’s voice stuck in my head as I worked to untangle my response to this barbarity. I enlisted radio artist Gregory Whitehead to channel it.

This nefarious act, imagined and voiced anew, illuminates a desire for control in an 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’


Pandemic 2020

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.


Fall 2012
re-mixed, 2021

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