Still from Mel O’Callaghan’s ‘Centre of the Centre’ (2019), 3-channel HD video with sound, 20 minutes.Still from Mel O'Callaghan's 'Centre of the Centre' (2019), 3-channel HD video with sound, 20 minutes. Courtesy of the artist; Galerie Allen, Paris; and Cassandra Bird, Sydney. Collection University of Queensland Art Museum, Brisbane.

Pulse and Body

A response to Mel O’Callaghan


A five minute piece that incorporates found sounds from the natural environment (bees, river, hummingbird), the sounds of Earth and the Sun from space (care of NASA), and the Doppler ultrasound from my daughter when she was in the womb. I included four of my invented instruments to form an actual song: the waasii, Prostrepolapsus, Moosebone Lute, and Boom pipe.

Pulse and Body


The world hums of bees and drums

Of dreams from days long gone

Ancient voices call out even amidst the silence,

Ancestors in the rolling winds.


The mother of all, she cries and laughs

At times she wails and screams

through it all she whispers nourishing guidance

Endless spinning time.


The sacred waves ripple through mind and life

It can be seen in every song

Every blade-green a small great presence

In the energy that floats on.


The Old Man’s pulse quickens upon the land

From the backbone, belly and hand

This place makes his body, soul and distance

Miles, every drip travels far.

This is Napi’s world. His very body marks the land of the niitsitapi. The evidence of his wanderings and relationships still echo in the names of this country. Marks, paintings, and effigies still sit at the sites of his wanderings – though many have tried to hide, erase, ignore, and rename his being. The evidence is there and the people remember. Some of it is foggy, and exact locations hazy, through the purposeful hands of colonial disconnection. But his places still remain, the network of unique landmarks and pulsing veins that start at the North Saskatchewan, along the spine, down to the three forks that form the Missouri. Yellowstones, red ones and sandy hoodoos, iinnii march east on the dry rolling lands. In coulees, canyons, mountains, and cliff sides, the evidence still stands. The stories are there, painted and etched in Napi’s skin. 

Look at the names of the places here and you will see his body for yourself:

Badlands Guardian – A valley that resembles a face, it was “discovered” in 2005, but an Elder told me that we were aware of the geoglyph. It’s likely, since it was along one of our major trade trails (Highway 1).

Bushy Head Hill/Belly Buttes – Mookowansiists.

Belly River – Mokowanis: “belly”.

Chin Hill/Coulee/Village – Mistoamo: “beard”, named for the shape of the hill as seen from a distance.

Elbow – Mohkintsis. 

Bow River – Nehtsiksowai: “Place where wood is obtained for arrows”.

Old Man River (Specifically “The Gap” but not Napi’s Playground) – Apistoki: where Old Man went into the Mountains. There are three cairns overlooking this junction (a short distance from the rectangular rock-combos of Napi’s Playground.) One is eight feet tall and wide, and known to be ancient, with two smaller cairns beside it. 

Mountains are the backbone of the world.

Nose Hill, Hand Hills, Kneehill. 

Tongue Creek (Highwood River) — matsin-awastam: Old Man hunted a family of elk, killing all but a doe. He hung the tongues on a pole to dry for food. A wolf wanted the meat for his pack, so he lured the Old Man away to run a race with him, to distract Old Man, while the pack stole the tongues. They ate the meat and a mouse ran up the poles and ate the tongues.

(There are also other names for parts of his body. These were mentioned to excite and encourage further investigation on the reader’s behalf.)

Notes on Pulse of the Planet

The overall concept of Pulse of the Planet is an encompassing theme. Most of the oldest and holistic cultures in the world are based on this idea of the world being alive as a nurturing figure (Mother) of which we are children. It is a near-universal belief and connection that can be understood with countless stories and creation myths that connect the dots of our collective identity and histories. Those stories have grown and morphed as we humans have spread and adapted to the various geographies and climates of the world, but the base spiritual knowledge that we learned and communicated is still the same. The beating heart of the world and its abundance of resources are there for our benefit, if we take care of them. Many of the powers that be nowadays have forgotten or ignored this truth and the results should be obvious to everyone at this point.

Outside of Blackfoot / Treaty 7 history and Traditional Methods of Making, one of my main creative interests is in instrument making / invention and the science of sound. The beauty of sound science is that while there is a never-ending line of tones and notes, “A” is always in the same place in the sequence of notes in the scale, whether it is a higher or lower octave in either direction, until our human ears can no longer perceive it. 

Most people also don’t realise that sound is actually a physical manifestation that has specific shapes, patterns, and resonance particular to different animals, objects, people, and places. These physical waves are called Cymatics and they can be collected in water and other light materials (such as sand, dirt, or other liquids) and can be visually broadcast in the material. Physical objects can communicate these waves in different ways, depending on the various shapes the objects come in. For example, if you go to a concert and stand next to a speaker and feel those waves move your body and clothing, or if you practise an instrument and play a certain note that sounds louder than the others, that means that the room you’re playing in is in the shape of that specific note and amplifies it when it’s played. This is the same for a person; it’s why musical styles and notes can alter moods, or produce a preference to a song or genre. It is based on the shape of an individual’s ear canal and their own body, not just how they interpret the sound by hearing it.

So, what’s really interesting about the performance of First sound, last sound is that it specifically uses massive tuning forks as the sound communicators. Their purpose is to broadcast a specific tone / note that resonates and ripples in a specific way. Every person who participates in the performance actively or passively feel the waves interact with their bodies physically (like swimming), visually (seeing the forks struck and vibrate), and auditorily (the tone they emanate). 

Oh, what those cymatic waves would look like if we could measure them, emitted from the forks, bouncing off of the walls and through us in the audience, like seeing what Mother Earth sees, hears, and feels. These waves that pulse in and around us every day without any fanfare or the reverence they deserve.

Still from Mel O’Callaghan’s ‘Centre of the Centre’ (2019), 3-channel HD video with sound, 20 minutes.

Mel O'Callaghan: Pulse of the Planet

View Exhibition »

Mel O'Callaghan: Centre of the Centre

View Publication »
Print This Essay