Coral Morphologic Teams Up With Animal Collective on Tangerine Reef

Coral Morphologic's J.D. McKay and Colin Foord (top right) collaborated with Animal Collective to create the audiovisual album Tangerine Reef.
Coral Morphologic's J.D. McKay and Colin Foord (top right) collaborated with Animal Collective to create the audiovisual album Tangerine Reef. Jacob Boll, courtesy of Festival of Disruption
Coral Morphologic’s Miami studio is home to the fluorescent corals and alien-like creatures featured on the audiovisual album Tangerine Reef, which commemorates the 2018 International Year of the Reef.

The album is the second audiovisual release by Animal Collective’s Avey Tare, Deakin, and Geologist. It's a 54-minute tour of psychedelic coral visuals provided by the Miami science/art duo Coral Morphologic and edited by John McSwain. Beyond displaying the otherworldly and sometimes haunting beauty of corals alongside experimental music, the album has a much deeper purpose.

Coral Morphologic, consisting of marine biologist Colin Foord and musician Jared (J.D.) McKay, initiated the collaboration by handing Deakin (Joshua Dibb) a DVD filled with early demos of their coral-scapes at a 2010 screening of Animal Collective’s first audiovisual album, ODDSAC, at the now-shuttered venue Grand Central.

That move led to several joint projects. Geologist created a soundtrack for Coral Morphologic’s short film Man o War in 2011. Later, Foord and McKay were invited to join Animal Collective on two diving trips (one doomed when Hurricane Irene hit Turks and Caicos). The two teams of creatives were eventually commissioned by Borscht Corporation to create Coral Orgy, “a site-specific performance celebrating the cosmic synchronicity of sex on the reef" at the 2017 Borscht Film Festival, hosted at the Frank Gehry-designed New World Center in Miami Beach. It featured an experimental ambient performance by the three Animal Collective members (minus Panda Bear), accompanied by projections of corals by Coral Morphologic.

After the initial performance's success, Animal Collective attended David Lynch’s 2018 Festival of Disruption in New York to again display the work that would later become Tangerine Reef.

New Times spoke with Foord and McKay before the August 17 release of Tangerine Reef.
“One of the biggest problems that corals have is people don’t recognize that they’re animals,” Foord says. They have no eyes, noses, or even brains. The duo took this concept further by referencing National Geographic’s One Strange Rock and citing the Overview Effect as an inspiration to make the creatures in the video album appear sci-fi-like and unrecognizable; the goal is to prompt viewers to step back and observe the ocean and corals from an outsider's perspective, like an astronaut viewing Earth from space.

Part of the album experience is to second-guess what one is looking at in the mix of the corals' colors, textures, and movements. "[Corals] could not be any more different than humans,” Foord says, referring to their alien-seeming appearance and the almost unidentifiable but human-like acts they're seen doing in the video, such as sperming, defecating, eating, and even dying. “We’re trying to show the similarities,” McKay adds.

McKay creates the soundtracks for Coral Morphologic’s videos. He says it’s rare for the duo to trust its footage with a band, but Animal Collective’s history in professional environmental awareness led the pair to the collaboration. McKay’s own soundtracks are released through Coral Morphologic, including the recent Fluoroscenes 1 Remixed, which features his tracks remixed by Miami musicians such as Nick León.

Quirky outcomes emerge in collaborating with a known band such as Animal Collective. “I was big fans of bands when I was a teenager, but I don’t remember being so speculative,” McKay says in amusement over his interactions with Animal Collective and its loyal fans known for their online presence. “I’d never been on the subreddit until recently, and I see what people are saying.” Foord and McKay themselves were fans of Animal Collective long before they met the band, so they know its fans can be hard to please. “Fans on one side want them to be experimental and weird, and fans on the other side want them to be like the Beach Boys,” Foord says.

The duo hopes the album will create the accessible awareness corals need. “The point is to introduce corals into pop culture,” Foord says. Instead of “preaching to the choir” by sharing their research and footage strictly within the scientific field, they aim to speak to people who have no interest in corals by letting the corals speak for themselves. “The only way they can be saved is by saving themselves, because they’re beautiful.”
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Coral Morphologic's work on display by Animal Collective at the 2018 Festival of Disruption.
Jacob Boll, courtesy of Festival of Disruption
Currently, Foord finds himself diving in dirty Miami ocean waters as part of research alongside the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and University of Miami. That research involves studying corals that live and even thrive along the sea walls and trash of the MacArthur Causeway, which connects downtown Miami to Miami Beach. Their findings about these “tough” urban corals and their resilience could help other corals around the world adapt to their own deteriorating environments.

Producers hope Tangerine Reef provides an opportunity to draw public attention and initiate the fundamental policy and behavioral changes necessary to save coral reef ecosystems.

The audiovisual album will be released Friday, August 17, on Apple Music and YouTube through the Animal Collective website, making it easily accessible and free to see. The album can also be bought as a limited-edition, 180-gram, double-vinyl green LP with an etching on side D. So far, there are no plans for a live Tangerine Reef performance or screening. Animal Collective's Panda Bear and Avey Tare are touring their 2004 acoustic album, Sung Tongs, and Deakin is separately on tour until September.

Still, if Animal Collective has an opportunity to perform the album live again, McKay and Foord say they're all in — especially if it's in an aquarium setting.
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Catherine Toruño is a music and arts writer from West Kendall. She enjoys sustainable fashion, attending local music shows, and exploring Miami on her bike.