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1 1 ENRICHING MUSIC WITH THE SOUND OF LIFE, ENRICHING L IFE WITH THE MUSIC OF SOUND: SYNTHESIZERS, NATURE AND LISTENING BY JIMMY SCHAUS A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Barry Freedland Sarasota, Florida April, 2009
2 2 ENRICHING MUSIC WITH THE SOUND OF LIFE, ENRICHING L IFE WITH THE MUSIC OF SOUND: SYNTHESIZERS, NATURE AND LISTENING James Schaus New College of Florida, 2009 ABSTRACT This main purpose of this project was to develop e lectronic musical systems that generated sound based on environmental changes (lig ht exposure and temperature) rather than the preferences of a human performer, and then to use these systems to create sonic environments in both natural and gallery settings. The work addressed the usual emphasis on the self in the artistic process and so ught to open this process up to factors beyond our immediate control or understanding. The project was important to me as a musician accu stomed to prioritizing my creative control in artistic creation. I felt a st ronger connection to the world outside of my own ideas rather than the usual reinforcement of self that accompanies the art making process. By distancing myself from the actual gene ration of sounds and focusing more on establishing systems to unfold sound in their ow n ways, I ironically found my control to be stronger than ever. I felt more like a garde ner and less like an engineer, and
3 3 realized that both of these roles entail great amou nts of control. In a way, striving to reduce my presence amplified it, though in a differ ent form. The project also emphasized the benefits of listen ing carefully to the world around us. The recordings were made in natural settings a nd picked up on natural sounds. The instruments were designed with feedback and unpredi ctability in mind to mimic the chaos that defines the sonic world around us. I sought t o emphasize that music is in the ear of the beholder, that to hear does not require CDs or concerts, but careful listening to our lives. In addition to discussing these issues and describing my processes, in the paper I also contextualized my work as sound art, discussed what sound art means and examined how it developed in part out of experimental and av ant-garde music traditions. Barry Freedland Humanities
4 4 Hearing, like seeing, is an act of perception, a w ay of relating to the world. Our ears, however, lack lids. Sounds are always rushin g in. Without a certain level of concentration, life can become a sonic wash. Most people possess a heightened visual concentration simply because that is what it takes to survive. Sounds, more often than not, reinforce what we first and foremost see. Whe n we hear a sound it is easy, instinctual even, to evoke an image, but is the opp osite so true? Sound art raises this and many other questions, an d in doing so challenges our usual way of perceiving. It is important if only f or the reason that a heightened sonic awareness can make for a richer life. Music is a g reat pleasure for many people. Listening to it might be when they are at their mos t sonically aware. What if this same intensity of listening was applied to sounds one co uld access without the assistance of an iPod, by simply walking into their kitchen or stepp ing outdoors? Devoting to music a heightened aural awareness tha t deflates into passive listening once the music is over coincides with a v iew that music, as privileged sound to be enjoyed in a different way from the dripping of a tap or chirping of a bird, is autonomous from the flow of life. There is nothing wrong, of course, with these moments of heightened aural concentration on music. They can provide their own unique moments of ecstasy. This ecstasy, however, is flee ting. The aural orgasm-inducing song, a static monument locked in the groove of a record or track of a CD, can lose its brilliance. Sound art and experimental music provide a differe nt approach to enjoying sound that emphasizes the continual motion of lifes flow dynamism in process and product, and active listening. In this paper I trace a devel opment of sound art from experimental
5 5 and avant-garde music and discuss a turn towards na ture in the creation of this art. I contextualize my project, which involves constructi ng synthesizers and addresses a unification of natural and synthesized, within thes e disciplines. As an artist working with sound as my primary mat erial, it is important for me to trace the development of an artistic space for soun d outside of, or not belonging to exclusively, the realm of music. I am focusing on h ow this space developed out of the early avant-garde and experimental music traditions I maintain that sound art as a discipline has emerged as a continuation of or reac tion to ideas and practices of certain musical traditions, that sound art and music are no t mutually exclusive categories, and that both, as disciplines utilizing sound creativel y, can exist together and benefit each other. The line between sound and musical sound, writes Douglas Kahn, stood at the center of the existence of avant-garde music, suppl ying a heraldic moment of transgression. (69) The first figure I focus on fr om this category is the Italian Futurist, Luigi Russolo. The Italian Futurists were a moveme nt of avant-garde artists whose work reflected the encroachment of machinery and war tec hnology upon every day life brought about by Italys industrialization. Russolo was ori ginally a painter among the Futurists until developing an interest in composition and a p assion for noise. Russolo coined the term art of noises encompassing a manifesto, book, noiseintoning instruments (called intonarumori ,) and a new form of notation. (Kahn, 56) The sentiment of the art of noises is best summed up in a quote from Russolo, quoted h ere from Noise Water Meat : We delight much more in combining in our thought s the noises
6 6 of trams, of automobile engines, of carriages and b rawling crowds, than in hearing again the Eroica or the Pastorale . (57) Here Russolo signified the need for change in music to reflect the changes of life. Douglas Kahn describes Russolos issues with music as such: music had become anachronistic, its self-referenti ality had afforded no link with the world while life all around it had energetically ad vanced into the modern world. (Kahn, 80) Russolo strove towards linking his music with t he modern world by incorporating its sounds in his compositions. Russolo avoided traditional musicality, opting ins tead to champion noise as music. He expressed his belief in the superiority of extra-musical noises over musical sounds, valorizing, as quoted in Noise Water Meat the great variety in the timbres of noises in comparison to the more limited ones of so unds . He denotes the difference between noise and musical sound as such: noise is generally much richer in harmonics than sound. (80) Russolo felt strongly that extramusical noises such as the subtle and delicate noises of nature and rural settings, the b rutal noises of the modern factory, city, and war, could exceed musical sounds in their aest hetic quality. (81) However, he never ceased considering himself a composer of music. He believed that noises from life could and should renew music, making listening more thril ling in its connection to the excitement of war and new technology. Music was the predominant creative use of sound in Russolos culture, and remains so in ours. Russolo has a legacy in sound art by opening up music to the excitement and diversity of the sounds of life. Th ough Russolo worked as a composer of music and never established autonomy for his noise music, he pioneered the idea that
7 7 sounds culled from life could be just as beautiful and exciting, in fact much more beautiful and exciting, than those created by an in strument. Pierre Schaeffer approached a sonic art form auton omous from music, composed entirely from the manipulated sounds of life. He c alled it musique concrete because of its use of concrete sounds from the world, such as tr ains screeching to a halt. By manipulating these sounds, Schaeffer transformed mu ndane aspects of every day experience into something alien. The listener of musique concrete struggles to make associative links. By creating sounds lacking a symbolic link, Schaef fer gave sound a world of its own where it could exist as itself and represent no thing. The listener of musique concrete develops his own connections and meanings from pure sound, unmediated by traditional musical standards or direct links to ordinary exper ience. In a postmodern world where noise musicians with cheap tape players equipped wi th speed and pitch adjustment are a dime a dozen, certain listeners today might be able to visualize a guy turning knobs when listening to musique concrete Even if this philosophy of associative severance doesnt hold up quite as strong as it did back then, musique concrete forged new ways of listening and an artistic use of sound that was not music. The line between sound art and music concerned Sch aeffer. Towards the beginning of his career he stated (as quoted from Noise Water Meat ): From the moment you accumulate sounds and noises, deprived of their dramatic connotations, you cannot help but make music. (110) Schaeffer was intereste d in advancing music forward from where Russolo left off, remarking that Music has t o find a passage between noises and instruments. It has to escape. It has to find a c ompromise and an evasion at the same
8 8 time. (110) Schaeffer wanted a new music, comprom ising to old forms yet evading itself. Schaeffers work was an evasion, but a tot al evasion, leaving music to Do-ReMi and pushing onward as sound-works, sound-struc tures, but not music. (110) Though Schaefffers refutation of his work as musi c was intended to denote a failure on his part, musique concrete is invaluable to sound art simply for being the fi rst example of it; it was something you listened to for pleasure, but it wasnt exactly music. However, as John Cage has taught the world, this di stinction is entirely up to the listener. Schaeffer created a new world of possibility for s ound by removing the conditions that it had to convey any sort of symbolic meaning, instead existing as itself. This ties in to the philosophy of Cage. As he states in his ess ay Composition as Process, quoted here from Silencing the Sounded Self a universe predicated upon the sounds themselves rather than upon the mind which can envi sage them could be summoned to generate a piece of music. (32) Cage moved forward from musique concrete in insisting that in order for music to progress, composition wi thin the sonic universe, composition apart from the mind which can envisage, was neces sary. (32) Cage championed the idea of the sonic universe as a dynamic force, as always active. This is perhaps Cages largest legacy, exp ressed in pieces such as 433 the famous Silent Piece which instructed the performe r to make no sounds. The silence of the player exposed the loudness of life. The pe rformance forced the audience to recognize the sound active all around them, normall y dismissed as insignificant but when framed in the surroundings of the concert hall, whe n listened to as art, utterly alive and penetrating.
9 9 On top of bringing attention to the ever-presence of sound, 433 indicates a shift of control from the performer to the power of the s onic world itself. In between instructions of opening and closing the lid of the piano, the sounds produced depend entirely on the flow of life that is the situation at hand; the shifting of the audience, creeks in the structure of the concert hall, and other sou nds unmediated by the influence of the composer but rather naturally emergent from the est ablished situation. 433 expresses a non-dualistic view of sound and music. By framing a piece comprised of non-intended, natural sounds within th e setting of the concert hall, by using the musically traditional score to establish the si tuation of accidental sounds replacing planned, musical sounds, Cage revealed that sound u nmediated by human interest could be music. In Silence Cage insisted that the composer must give up the desire to control sound, clear his mind of music, and set about disco vering means to let sounds be themselves rather than vehicles for man-made theori es or expressions of human sentiments. (10) This quote presents a great parad ox. By clearing his mind of music, the composer finds more music than he knows what to do with. Cage believed that musics future was in devising methods to lessen, as much as possible, the control of the artist. Cultivating t hese sounds implemented a connection to nature, as illustrated in this quote from Silence : Until I die there will be sounds. And they will c ontinue following my death. One need not fear about the fu ture of music. But this fearlessness only follows if, at t he parting of the ways, where it is realized that sounds occur whethe r intended or not, one turns in the direction of those he does no t intend. This turning is psychological and seems at first to be a giving up of everything that belongs to humanity This psychologi cal turning leads to the world of nature, where, gradually or s uddenly, one
10 10 sees that humanity and nature, not separate, are in this world together (8) I do not wish to dwell specifically on Cages belie f that man and nature are one in the same, but rather aim to introduce Cages use of nat ural processes and how they connect art to nature. Cages method of organizing sounds into works of a rt relied more on chance than on artistic intention. In Silence Cage wrote that musical action or existence can o ccur at any point or along any line or curve or what hav e you in total sound space; that we are, in fact, technically equipped to transform our cont emporary awareness of natures manner of operation into art. (9) Natures manner of operation in relation to composition means non-intention, allowing order to naturally emerge from chaos. For sounds to exist as sounds, as Cage envisioned in hi s work, required a neutral method of their organization that strove to eradicate the art ists preferences. Just as nature is mysterious, so were the results of Cages experimen ts. Sound is everywhere; right now in the library, a p lace of quiet and solitude, the sonic universe is extremely alive. I can block out visual stimulus with my eyelids, but to block out sound requires the action of my hands, an d even then the blockage is incomplete. Actively engaging with this universe o f sound is paramount to my work. R. Murray Schaeffer describes the relationship bet ween the soundscape of the world and artistic production in The Tuning of the World : man unites himself with the soundscape about him, echoing back its elements. The impression is taken in; the expression is thrown back in return. But the soundscape is far t oo complex for
11 11 human speech to duplicate, and so it is in music al one that man finds that true harmony of the inner and outer worl d. It will be in music too that he will create his most perfect m odels of the ideal soundscape of the imagination. (42) Though Schaeffer uses the term music, his idea can be applied to all artistic uses of sound. I agree with the notion that creating sonic art can foster a deeper understanding of the sounds of the world, and through this the world in general. Schaeffers influence in spreading the message of sonic awareness and also the dangerous effects of noise pollution with his World Soundscape Project makes him somewhat of a hero for many artists working in soun d. However, his aesthetic dismissal of all industrial or automotive sounds and belief t hat sound art possesses an ecological responsibility of preserving the sounds of nature s ets him apart from my artistic ideas and practice. The modern soundscape is amazing and com plex. I find the blending of natural and industrial sound fascinating. It has certainly inspired my work with natural synthesizers, receptive to environmental changes an d employing chaotic circuitry, just as it has inspired techno and rap music. While I symp athize with those who suffer as a result of noise pollution (especially my fellow New College students who live in dorms bordering on the airport), I find the sounds of mac hines, airplanes and cars to be as complex, beautiful, and natural as that of birds or flowing water. Synthesizers commonly have a reputation as more co mplicated keyboards. The synthesizers I constructed for this project do not have keys. After being turned on, they sound without the pressing of a key or pushing of a button. They produce sonic changes resulting from changes in light and temperature. Synthesizers are electronic machines, a fact reinf orced by the sound and appearance of the ones that I have built. They are boxes with protruding wires and
12 12 sensors, not keyboards with knobs and sliders. Mac hines that use rotary motion produce sounds that are similar to sounds in nature, rising or falling steadily in pitch as opposed to the segregated pitches common in music. Instead of rotary motion, which requires the physical action of a person, my machines are contro lled by natural changes. The sounds they produce are similar to natural sounds, cluster s of tones and noise rising and falling steadily. Like the rotation of a wheel on a machin e, the environment goes from light to dark and back again, from warm to cool and back aga in. It is a circular process occurring without human influence, a rotary motor lacking a h uman over-mind. The end result is sound that evokes nature as it is controlled by it s forces. I embrace these connections between nature and machine. My synthesizers connect to nature in other ways as well. As instruments lacking controls to be manipulated by a human, the sound ru ns independent of human interaction after they are turned on. As long as power is fed into the circuit, oscillation occurs and continues until the power is removed. The synthesi zer is a system unto itself; once activated, it functions. In Introducing Chaos Ziauddin Sardar defines feedback as a characteri stic of any system in which the output, or result, affects the input of the system. (20) It is because of feedback that oscillating systems beco me chaotic. (Sardar, 21) On a basic level this is true of the synthesizer. The sound h eard is an amplification of an oscillation between voltage turning on and voltage turning off. Voltage is fed into the input of the circuit when the switch is turned on, which sounds like a click. The circuit inverts this positive signal, making it negative. This negative signal is fed back to the beginning of the circuit and no sound occurs. The circuit then inverts this signal back to a positive
13 13 signal, which is fed back to the beginning. A clic k occurs. This continual feeding back produces an oscillation between the small click of positive voltage entering the circuit and the absence of sound resulting from no voltage entering the circuit. The rate at which this oscillation occurs determines the pitch. This basic building block of the synthesizer resem bles a natural flow; oscillation between 1 and 0, something becoming nothing becomin g something, etc. In most synthesizers, however, the rate at which this feedb ack occurs is steady and human controlled. Simple oscillation produces a steady t one, moving upwards or downwards depending upon how the player decides to turn the k nob or which key to press. In the case of my synthesizers, the feedback rate depends on light and temperature. Also, since the circuit employs chaos through multiple modulati on paths of the oscillators, the individual tones themselves, the very base componen ts of the overall sound, are unsteady and, to a certain degree, take on a life of their o wn. It is interesting to note that the atmospheric cha nges on our planet produce oscillations, discovered in 1998 by Japanese physic ists Naoki Suda and Kazunari Nawa as described by David Toop in Haunted Weather. (47) Below the range of human hearing, these oscillations, along with others prod uced beyond our control from the atmosphere, radio waves or electromagnetic machiner y, are felt more than heard. (47) When asked about their experiences in anechoic cham bers, the people who have experienced them (John Cage, most famously) describ e a feeling of great unease, uncomfortable pressure and suffocation. I predict that a deaf person would react in the same way; hearing is not only done through the ears but through the body as well. Sound, or more generally vibration and oscillation grounds us in this world,
14 14 reminding us physically that we are not alone, conf ined only to the buzzing and beating of our own nervous system and heart. Making art wi th sound is an extension of this security. Sound art and music are joyous activitie s that can soothe the mind and body. By amplifying my synthesizers in outdoor settings I transmit into the atmosphere audible versions of what the atmosphere transmits t o me. I believe that recording this process captures a momentary unity between nature a nd machine. This sense of unity is heightened by the fact that the tones themselves de pend upon environmental conditions, light and temperature, conditions which have sonic consequences themselves (an instrument sounds different in a cold room than it does in a warm room; in a dark room an instrument sounds different because the instrume nt in invisible, and hearing and vision are inextricably linked; if one changes, the other changes). The synthesizers I build function as systems with unpredictable results. The players of these synthesizers are the environment s in which they are installed. Though somewhat predictable, ultimately the environment is something that we do not control and therefore produces sound via the synthesizer th at could not be duplicated by other means; the sound is as unique as the particular spa ce at the particular time. Jessica Rylan is an artist whose work I feel an af finity towards. She builds modular synthesizers possessing chaotic qualities, and uses these synthesizers both as tools in musical performance and installation art. She is an up and coming artist who has performed throughout North America, Europe, Russia, and Scandanavia, and has conducted workshops in Los Angelels, Chicago, Bosto n, Ghent, Belgium, and Norway
15 15 (Center). She is currently a Research Affiliate at MITs Cent er for the Advanced Visual Studies, and has released records alongside Pauline Oliveros on the imprint Important. I am interested in Rylans use of her machines as p arts of art installations. Here I feel a strong connection to my work because of the way that the synthesizers, once installed and activated, become a dynamic element o f the space. In an installation at Mills Gallery and the Boston Center for the Arts, R ylan re-constructed a natural setting in a corner of the gallery. Amidst a pile of branches Rylan placed her Natural Synth along with a homemade amplifier. This synthesizer is entirely composed of white noise generators and low pass filters. The sounds are re miniscent of nature, like water or leaves. (Rylan, IRFP Presents: Natural Synth) Rylan built the synt hesizer wrong on purpose, which makes it feed back internally. (Ryl an, IRFP Presents: Natural Synth) This internal feedback implements chaos in the circ uit, so the sounds, like the sounds of nature itself, are varied and unpredictable. Dangl ing from above are electronic birds which chirp in unpredictable patterns like real bir ds. Untitled (nature diarama with natural synthesizer a nd electronic birds)
16 16 Art galleries are sterile white cubes, plain in or der to maximize the art on display. In such environments, art becomes severed from life and all its distractions. Similar to the inclusion of extra-musical sounds in music, the use of natural materials in an art gallery cracks the vacuum and re-assures the audien ce of their place in the world. This has become a tradition in visual art thanks to arti sts such as Robert Smithson. By amplifying her Natural Synth in the gallery, Rylan evokes life outside of the gallery through sound as well. Plenty of artists use sound in their installations, but they are often static recordings. By installing and amplifying th e Natural Synthesizer, chaotic and alive from its wrong construction, Rylans incorporatio n of life into the gallery is truly an honest one. Synthesizers are commonly thought of as future ins truments, synthetic, closer to outer space than planet earth, but early analog syn thesizers and the ones made by artists such as Rylan and myself possess a natural quality to them. The player of these machines (in my case the environment itself) is connected to the energy producing the sounds in a way that is not found in digital or software instru ments, where the sound is produced in an increasingly microscopic compendium of computer intelligence, or sampled. In Haunted Weather, Brian Eno discusses generative music, which he deem s is like trying to create a seed, as opposed to classic al composition which is like trying to engineer a tree. (186). Generative music reaches its completion only through developing a relationship to nature. Once planted by the artist, the aural seed grows,
17 17 uprooted and moved else where after its bloom or le ft to continually flourish, or wither, indeterminately with its environment. The work of Joe Jones, Gordon Monohan and Jem Finer reflects these ideas. They are a central ele ment of my work as well. Joe Jones began his musical career playing jazz be fore becoming involved with John Cage and Fluxus. In the 1950s and 60s Jones became involved in making experimental music. In 1961 he began work on music machines as an experiment in sound. (Jones, http://www.sukothai.com/X.SA.07/X7.Jones.f1.html ) These machines were made from motors, found or broken instruments and simple supplies such as rubber bands, elastic or balls. (Jones, Xebec Sou nd Arts 7 Joe Jones) Though working with machinery, Jones felt a desire to avoi d elaborate complications, stating, I think its better natural. Like little butterfl ies, or a bird, playing the music. (Jones, Xebec Sound Arts 7 Joe Jones) Solar music was made with music machines whose motors were controlled by solar powered outputs of voltage. Performances of solar music (also called the solar orchestra) consisted of installing the machines in natural settings and simply letting them sound, functioning in accordance with the amou nt of sun shining that day. In the interview with Jones that I quote from, the intervi ewer, musicologist Nakagawa Shin from Kyoto City University of the Arts and Music, d escribed the solar performances as having a real time relationship to nature. (Shin, Xebec Sound Arts 7 Joe Jones). Jones stated that the performances occur from when the sun comes up to when the sun comes down, and that when the clouds come, they m ake it go quiet, so I dont touch it. (Jones, Xebec Sound Arts 7 Joe Jones) Like in my work, the natural waxing and waning of sunlight determines the flow of the sound s.
18 18 Since these performances occurred out doors, the s ounds of life would intermingle with the machine sounds and, since the machines had loose, dangling parts, factors such as wind would have an effect on the machines as wel l. These performances developed a relationship between art and nature that I am inter ested in exploring with my own work; natural changes affect a sound-making system, and t he sounds produced as a result of this in turn affect nature via its soundscape. Recordi ngs of these solar performances reveal a similarity between the sounds of the machine and na ture, blurring the line between the two. This is an aspect of my work as well. The work of Joe Jones also occupies a space betwe en sound art and music, linked to the relationship between experience and artifact The solar orchestra performances themselves could be considered music events, art ev ents, or both. Jones large and visually impressive machines were certainly somethi ng to look at, but were not necessarily the centerpiece of the experience. Per formed outside, the audience was free to walk around and experience the event from a vari ety of vantage points. At one moment an audience member could marvel at the machi ne making the sounds, similar to an audience member watching the band while listen ing. At another moment, though, an audience member could be somewhere else, experie ncing all sounds (the sounds of nature mixing with sounds of the machine) as one, u nmediated by the visual presence of the machine. Music performed in a large, flat area encourages the audience to disperse and figure out their personal favorite location to listen. In 2008 I booked a band called Sunburned Hand of t he Man to come and play at New College. I held the performance in a square co urtyard outside of the mail room. Most of the bands played in a small nook within the courtyard, but Sunburned Hand of
19 19 the Man set up in the more open front area of the c ourtyard, bordering on a large grassy area. I enjoyed moving around and observing the ch anges in sound from a variety of points, as opposed to sticking to one fixed positio n and hearing only one of an infinite number of versions of the sound pouring from their amplifiers. The artifacts of the solar orchestra performances exist as CDs, tapes and records, musical documents of the installations. To listen to a recording of Joe Jones (the only way Ive experienced his work) is, I imagine, an ex perience quite distinct from the live one. I noticed very gradual changes, imagining the sun, clouds and wind waxing and waning with the sound. I am intrigued by the idea of multiple works of art emerging from one experience. The solar orchestra recordings exist as works of art in their own right, unique, complex and not necessarily indicati ve of their source. Another connection between my work and Jones work is the centrality of sun light in composing the sounds. I employ sunlight a s a determining factor of sound because of its associations with the passing of tim e, a central component of the sonic experience. To hear a sound or to experience a pie ce of sound art or music requires the passage of time. It is time specific; denotations involving time exist for sounds. A sound is short or long along the axis of time, whereas an image is short or long along the axis of space. The waxing and waning of the strength of the sunsh ine determines the sounds the synthesizer makes. This waxing and waning also pro vides us with a way of measuring time in our daily lives; it divides our days into d ifferent sections, its rising and falling synchronous with our rising and falling. My work d ocuments the passing of time in certain places, and alludes to the temporal nature of experiencing sound.
20 20 Another artist producing sonic work entwined with nature is Gordon Monohan. Since the 1970s this Canadian artist has installed numerous Aeolian and Aquaeolian instruments that are played by the weather. Many o f the installations are permanent, providing their surrounding environment with new ad ditions to the sound-scape. Long Aeolian Piano consisted of an old upright p iano placed outdoors in a field (Jolicure, New Brunswick, 1984), in a public park (Edmonton, Alberta, 1986), and on top of a mountain (St. Johns, Newfoundland, 198 8) (Monohan, Gordon Monohan -Long Aeolian Piano sound installation). The stri ngs of the piano were oriented 90 degrees to the prevailing wind, so that Aeolian ton es are excited in the strings. (Monohan, Gordon Monohan -Long Aeolian Piano so und installation) In installations such as these, nature completes the work, echoing t he work of land artist Robert Smithson. Jem Finer, an original member of the Irish rock ba nd The Pogues, has since leaving the band become a prominent sound artist. His most recent piece, entitled Score for a Hole in the Ground consists of a long, wide hole dug into the ground of Kings Wood in Kent, England, outfitted with pivoted bowls that make dripping sounds as they collect rainwater. The sounds are amplified by pa rabolic reflectors feeding into a large brass horn, projecting the sounds into the environm ent of the forest. The installation, like a number of Monohans, is permanent, adding a new s onic element to that portion of the forest for visitors to enjoy. The piece expresses a unity between sound and natu re, the sounds becoming one with the climactic forces of the forest, relying pu rely on gravity, water and wind for their energy, as he states in his essay Score for a Hole in the Ground (41). The piece is
21 21 entirely dependent upon the environment, relying o nly on the ongoing existence of the planet and its weather systems (43). The piece ex presses a desire to give up human control of sound, instead relying for its compositi on on the amount of rain that falls in the area. Joe Jones, Gordon Monohan and Jem Finer are import ant for constructing systems that work intimately with the natural world. Their work reaches completion only through the continual motion of nature, which is something that my work depends on as well. I feel an affinity towards these artists. However, m y method of documentation, which involves video, and how I present this documentatio n, which involves interactive sound installation, sets me apart from these artists. As discussed previously, the central elements of m y work are the synthesizers I construct. I construct them as both art objects an d instruments. I employ an aesthetic inspired by plants and science fiction. The synthe sizer is a sculpture that sounds. I constructed the synthesizer to be played by mean s exclusively other than direct human intervention (though they can be played by a human with interesting results). I install these synthesizers in nature to be played by the natural changes occurring in that environment for the specific time period of the ins tallation. My idea is to create a system to install within nature (literally entwining senso rs with branches and leaves), affected by nature and effective towards nature by altering its soundscape. After I integrate the synthesizer physically into the environment, I turn it on and leave it there to run. I amplify it with small bat tery powered amplifiers placed around the
22 22 setting so that the sounds of the machine blend wit h the sounds of the life around it. The synthesizer changes sound as the environment change s, specifically the amount of sunlight falling on the space and changes in temper ature. The synthesizer breathes with the flow of life occurring in that area. As e nvironmental conditions change, the sounds of the machine change. As time moves on, th e sounds of the environment change. The sounds occurring in the area become linked in a parallel relationship, expressing the passage of time together. The variable resistors of the synthesizer that con trol the pitches of the various oscillators change resistance based on the amount o f light shining on them. The synthesizer has twelve oscillators in total. Each oscillator is paired with another; one oscillator gates another. An oscillator gates anot her oscillator by turning that oscillator on and off depending on its state of voltage. As e xplained earlier, oscillation depends on a switching between positive voltage (which makes a click) and no voltage (which is silent). So when the first oscillator has positive voltage the second oscillator is activated, and when the first oscillator does not have voltage the second oscillator does not function. I used varied capacitors so that the osc illators all have different pitch ranges, producing a wide variety of sounds with the gating. I mixed these oscillator pairs with diodes (which makes them modulate each other) in various ways and fed into chips that divi de the pitch into lower and higher octaves. I then mixed these lower and higher octav es with diodes to four separate outputs. The outputs vary based on light as well. In this synthesizer there is a lot going on, but in such a way that even a slight change in one oscillator affects the rest of the circuit. The core of the synthesizer is the collec tion of twelve oscillators. From this
23 23 primary stage some are gated, some do the gating, a nd all are mixed together and divided in a somewhat chaotic fashion. As the primary osci llations change based on light, all other parts of the circuit change with it since eve rything is connected. The synthesizer is a system of cause and effect; the smallest chang es in the primary stage of oscillation effect all other parts of the circuit. Everything is connected like in an ecosystem or our bodies. Before the documentation stage I consider my work similar to that of Joe Jones, Gordon Monohan or Jem Finer, in that it involves th e installation of a sound making system into a natural setting where it is played by the change of environmental conditions. My work diverges from theirs in how I document it, and in turn create new work. For Jones, the period of installation was an art work, a performance that people were encouraged to experience. The sounds of these performances were recorded and released as music, producing a different art work w ith its roots in the generative event. For Monohan, the installation is often permanent or installed for a very long period of time. Monohan changes the sound scapes of entire a reas for what are often indeterminate periods. The art work exists when people happen up on it or make plans to go hear it, but it is not bound by a performance time, as it is w ith Jones. The same applies to the work of Finer. I have been certain along the way that I did not w ant the installations to be performative, like the Solar Orchestra. I imagined the experience to be more solitary and meditative, hanging out with the synthesizer in nat ure and contemplating the passage of time by listening to the mixture of and feedback be tween the machine and its surrounding environment. I knew that some form of documentatio n was necessary, though, so I
24 24 decided upon video taping the area for the period o f the installation and using time-lapse techniques to create digestible documents of the ex perience. The first piece I completed is The Sun Rises on the Bush Outside of my Window. The installation took place from about 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., and I did the time lapse as the installation unfolded, meaning I filmed for one second every five minutes or so. The synthesizer was installed in a magnificent bush out side of my window, running through four battery-powered amplifiers. The bush has grea t resonance in my life as one of the first things I gaze upon after waking up in the mor ning. The camera I used was equipped with an audio input that mixed two microphones. I placed the microphones far apart from each other to achieve an accurate spatial representation of the sound. I placed the micropho nes far from the amplifiers so the sounds of the synthesizer would mix well with the s ounds of nature without one overpowering the other. During the installation I began playing around at random, doing silly time-lapse effects of random objects moving through the frame, changing the camera angle, and other things that at this point I regret. The expe rience less affected by me would have been a purer realization of my ideas. The video employed a variety of shooting technique s and camera angles, with the intent of emphasizing the presence of the synthesiz er, bush, and the surrounding area. I also included shots indicating my presence, includi ng the plethora of small fuzzy seeds that sprung up on the bottom of my pant legs and th e sleeping bag I relaxed in for parts of the installation.
25 25 I was very pleased by the sounds of the video. Th e gated oscillators sounded like insects and mixed with the sounds of actual insects reaching their peak mid-morning. It was this synthesis of natural sound and machine sou nd that I was interested in creating. The second piece I completed is called Sun Sets on a Barbed Wire Fence This time I installed the synthesizer on a barbed wire f ence separating my property from my neighbors. The synthesizer was again run through f our battery-powered amplifiers and I used the same techniques with the microphones and t he camera. The time span of this installation was only two hours, from about 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. This installation was a more passive experience. Due to the darkness of night the sounds of this vi deo were quite different. The pitches move down instead of up, eventually devolvi ng into a labored pattern of clicks (the opposite sonic result of installing the synthe sizer during a sun rise, as with the previous installation). During this installation I made the blunder of dan gling the microphones on the fence as well, so they faced downward towards the a mplifiers on the ground. This arrangement only picked up the sounds of the synthe sizer, which is unfortunate. The syncresis between the images of night falling and t he sounds of the synthesizer moving down and down until becoming entirely rhythmic plea ses me, however. The synchronized sound and video of the sun settin g is over-layed with shots and sounds of me activating the synthesizer with a flas hlight. Seeing the environment through my video camera during the installation, I noticed that it was so dark that the synthesizer was not visible. As with Sun Rises I wanted to showcase the synthesizer in the video. So I decided upon using the flashlight, which produced both vary satisfying
26 26 images and sounds. I am happy I did this because i t illuminated both the image and sound of the synthesizer, which otherwise would hav e been invisible. It also denotes the location of the synthesizer. In the video, the fen ce is visible, but the synthesizer is not so much. By overlaying the fence with a close-up shot of it, I allow the listener/viewer to see its location, if only for fleeting moments Having activated the synthesizer with the flashlig ht also has its drawbacks. It is a contradiction; the project is about lessening human intervention in creating art. By shining the flashlight, I intervened. I had an int ention to make something look and sound cool. The coolness overtook me during the edit ing process, and I decided to include it. I recognize this as a potential flaw of the vi deo, but so be it; I wanted the synthesizer to be more present both visually and sonically, and by using the flashlight I accomplished this. A common element between the two videos is the bri ef presence of Peggy, my beloved dog. A perk of making art outdoors is that you can have the companionship of your animal friend. I took advantage of this perk, and occasionally Peggy decided to saunter in front of the camera. I chose to present these two videos as part of the 2008 New College art thesis group show, Faces, Spaces and Sound I showed the two videos ( Sun Rises , Sun Sets ) looping on a television set, set atop my keyboard s tand that I use in musical performances. The audio of the videos was provided by a pair of headphones draped on one of the plastic ends of the keyboard stand. The headphones were an important aspect of the ins tallation. Though the actual project incorporates the sounds of life, I did not want the other sounds of the videos in the
27 27 room to be heard. I recall an art show where the s ound of one video dominated the whole room, casting a new light on otherwise (besides for being in the same show) unrelated pieces. I also did not want to inflict this damage on any of the other pieces in the room, especially considering that I desired a heightened presence of sound, which would have proved very distracting for experiencing other work s. To the right of the television screen I displayed the synthesizer itself in an on position, amplified and made available to the ears also through headphones. The videos portray how the synthesizer relates to light; as th e sun comes up it moves up in pitch, and as the sun goes down it moves down in pitch. To al low the audience to experience this concept, I built a glove with super bright LEDs sewn into it and put it on display next to the synthesizer. My intention was for the audie nce to wear the glove and play the instrument as if their hand was the sun. A helpful fellow student addressed that the glove, with its rough, handmade appearance and exposed (but not unshielded) power w iring, might be perceived as dangerous to an audience member. In all actuality the glove posed no threat whatsoever to the audience. I considered the context of the p iece; a college art show in an on-campus gallery with a large chunk of audience members who know me and know that I am not sadistic. I decided that the gloves appearance was acceptab le. Real dangers aside, I do appreciate the specter of danger in an art piece an d the suspicion of the audience. I enjoyed watching people approach with caution, know ing that it would be okay while not denying themselves at least a slight sense of paran oia, and then easing in to the totally safe way of playing the synthesizer. Maybe I am sl ightly sadistic, then. I also enjoyed
28 28 observing the effect of the figuring out process on the whole audience; one person would watch another person, and it sort of spread l ike a little virus in the back of the room. Though the project is first and foremost about sou nd, I cannot deny its visual elements. A glove pouring out bright light from it s palm in a darkened room is a strong visual image. I wanted people to take notice of th e glove and consider putting it on and using it to play the synthesizer. Also, bright lig ht affected the synthesizer far better. Another visual element to consider was the synthes izer itself. It is rough in its construction; for me, the appearance of the synthes izer was not as important as its proper functioning and quality of sound. Electronic music instruments have a connotation as sleek consumer products; I choose to counter this w ith a rough, hand built aesthetic. Again, sound is at the forefront. The synthesizer s sound is far closer to perfection than its physical appearance, and that is okay with me. The last stage of my thesis work is a continuation of my prior work, only strengthened by a stricter process and more specifi c goals. This stage of my work also introduces a new instrument, a synthesizer that is sensitive to changes in temperature. Using it in conjunction with my light sensitive syn thesizer, I created a new stereo synthesizer system that is both light and temperatu re sensitive. For this series of installations the four outputs of the light sensitive synthesizer were mixed to one signal like at the Faces, Spaces and Sound show, only routed to one small battery powered amplifier instead of headphon es. The previously mentioned temperature synthesizer is actually an analog synth esizer that I built for my second
29 29 independent study project as a New College student. I support the idea of a thesis project as a cumulative academic effort, reflecting not onl y work completed within the two thesis semesters but also work completed in the process of growth towards that final goal. For this reason, I was pleased to use this particular s ynthesizer instead of constructing a new one for this project that would have done the exact same thing. This synthesizer contains two voltage controlled o scillators, which means that the pitch of the oscillators can be controlled by the v oltage outputs of a separate device. In this case, that separate device was a digital micro controller that I programmed to output multiple series of analog voltages determined by ch anges in temperature. An integrated circuit temperature sensor connected to the microco ntroller read the temperature. To program the microcontroller I first had to figu re out what voltages it would output and also the durations of these outputs. I decided, in the tradition of visual artists such as Donald Judd and Mario Merz and composers su ch as Bela Bartok and Elliot Sharp, to use numbers from the Fibonacci sequence, a sequence of numbers commonly found in nature discovered by the 13th century mathematician Leonardo of Pisa. The sequence is generated by starting with zero and the n one, and then by adding the two prior numbers (i.e. 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, etc.). To output analog voltages from the microcontroller I used pulse width modulation. This produces a series of pulses, whic h have a programmable on-time to offtime ratio more conveniently known as a duty cycle. The output voltage corresponds to this programmable duty cycle. I used the Fibonacci numbers for this parameter, and also duration of output.
30 30 I chose to use Fibonacci numbers because I did not want to decide the duty cycle values myself. This project strives towards a less ened human influence in creation and also towards unifications of nature and machine and nature and art. By using a naturally occurring sequence of numbers in determining voltag es that in turn determine pitch, I invoke a natural system to generate pitch change, n ot my own preference. In analyzing Judds use, in Donald Judd: Colorist of the Fibonacci sequence as a means of determining the sizes and spacing of objec ts in installations, Dietmar Elger states that sequences of equal-status elements abolish any form of hierarchy, and establish an egalitarian principle in which no one individual element may be set above or below any others. (24) This view corresponds to my use of Fibonacci numbers. I did not want the gradual rise or fall in temperature to cor respond to a gradual rise or fall, as expressed by pitch, in sound; there is no value to a temperature, to hot or to cold, it just is. By using Fibonacci numbers, value was removed from this aspect of the composition process. What is important is the change, not in v alue or mood or anything like that, but simply the change. It is important to note that these numbers were us ed to determine the output voltage, which then would affect the pitch. There was a separation between my decisionmaking and the musicality of the sounds. In assign ing voltages, I tried not to think in terms of what it would sound like, rather just focu sed on programming the numbers. I saved my interest in the pitches for when I would e xperience them as a surprise, out in the field and dependent upon the temperature condit ions for that particular span of time. This took effort; my aesthetic brain was surely cur ious. This experience, along with others throughout the project, testifies to the imp ossibility of denying the aesthetic brain.
31 31 I simply work at lessening it, putting forth mental effort to let factors beyond my control have as much influence as possible. Programming raised other issues of control. For e ach change in temperature, a new Fibonacci-determined duty cycle would produce a new voltage for a Fibonaccidetermined duration. Obviously, a range of tempera ture was required. To determine this range, I studied the typical temperatures of Saraso ta in the month of January. The existence of this information contradicts my statem ents about nature being a chaotic force, making the music beyond my control. Just as I can only sever my influence from artistic creation to a certain extent, nature and the weather are chaotic factors in my project only to a certain extent. However, when I first started testing the temperat ure sensitive synthesizer in a portion of our land, I noticed the temperature was consistently much higher than the predictions decreed. I do not think that this resu lted from the microcontrollers heat, as the sensor protrudes from it by long wires. For an other installation, the weather was much colder than predicted. I am again reminded of Brian Enos discussion of generative music in Haunted Weather He compares it to gardening in that both involve having a level of control but not knowing precisely. That s the wonderful thing about gardening. It responds to conditions during its growth and it changes and its different every year. (186) I employ the weather as an element of control over sound. Generally some elements are predictable, but the exact character o f the sounds produced is a mystery hidden by the atmosphere, revealed only as time pro gresses and I sit and listen. I installed the light sensitive synthesizer and te mperature sensitive synthesizer in various locations in the land of the For Sale pro perty across the street. It basically
32 32 amounts to a field, but with a lot of variety; cact i, heaps of dried up shrubs, sand dunes, small, oblong shaped bodies of water. I was intere sted in the variety of the land and the way the different formations would affect the synth esizers. I tried to choose the locations in an almost automatic fashion, not concentrating t oo hard. If I did think, I tried to think sonically; how will water affect the way the microp hone picks up the atmosphere, or if I install the synthesizer amidst this area of tall gr asses, how will their swaying affect the amount of light that hits the sensors? The light sensitive synthesizer ended up being wind sensitive as well, not just as the result of t hings swaying and periodically blocking light, but with the movement of the sensors themsel ves. The areas I decided on were as follows: a collecti on of dunes nestling a long, thin pond; a field-like perspective with dunes in the ba ckground and shrubbery in the foreground; a patch of land with tall trees in the background; and an area with many tall grasses and burnt up branches. My first step was t o determine locations for the synthesizers that would stimulate them in a way mor e varied than direct heat and light for hours on end; amidst the grasses, in the shadow of a dune. I would then place the microphones in positions that allowed a blending of synthesized and natural sound. My intention was to pick up, sonically, as much as I c ould about the field. I wanted to capture the sounds of the concentrated area (where the synthesizers were), the sounds of the synthesizers themselves moving in parallel with the light and temperature of the space, the field at large, and the rest of the worl d beyond the field (cars, planes, etc.), all blending together into something not so easily defi ned but with its roots in the space depicted by the video camera.
33 33 I placed the light sensitive synthesizer to my lef t and the temperature sensitive synthesizer to my right. The microphones would lea d back to their respective inputs on the camera, creating, from the perspective of the c amera, a triangle in which the camera was the head. This spatial arrangement was based u pon the initial placement of the synthesizers, which then affected where the microph ones were placed, and in turn affected where the camera was placed. Each installation lasted roughly five hours. Whil e the synthesizers ran constantly, I recorded for ten seconds every five minutes, yiel ding time lapse videos roughly ten minutes in length. Two of these installations occu rred between roughly 7 a.m. and noon. The other two occurred from roughly 1 p.m. until 6 p.m. I wanted to focus on parallel periods of the day: sun rising/the day warming up and the day cooling down/sun setting. There is symmetry to this: light to dark, dark to light, cool to warm, warm to cool. Coinciding with these environmental symmetri es are sonic symmetries, both with the sounds of the synthesizers and naturally occurr ing sounds. In the early tape loop pieces of composer Steve Re ich, such as Come Out and Its Gonna Rain, symmetry is initially establishe d with two identical tape loops playing on two different players, one hard-panned to the le ft channel and one hard-panned to the right. As the piece progresses, the slightest chan ge in motor speed in either of the two tape players causes the symmetry to slowly disentan gle, generating a chaotic storm of human voices tugging at both sides of the brain. It is a powerful listening experience, made all the more amazing by considering the simpli city of its construction: two identical
34 34 particles of sound and the element of chaos that ca uses one tape loop to eventually move slightly faster or slower than the other. Symmetry gives way to disorder, but eventually new order is formed as complex rhythms emerge from the rubble. I strive towards a similar invocation of the fluid relationship between chaos and order. There was an order to the sounds, both natu ral and synthesized, that occurred during the symmetrical installation periods. Ins ects buzzed ferociously at midday, cold weather yielded polyrhythms from the temperature sy nthesizer, traffic sounds washed over the soundscape from the nearby highway at both morning and evening rush hours, a bright sun caused high frequency warbling reminisce nt of a radio caught between stations to emerge from the light sensitive synthesizer. Ob viously, though, there was also great variance. General patterns existed, but within the se patterns were differences, some slight and some large. The two synthesizers operated both with and agains t each other; sometimes they sounded like two random pieces of machinery, while at others they bleeped and blooped in magnificent syncopation. Sometimes the synthesi zed sounds were at odds with the natural sounds, creating a sense of mechanical domi nation over nature, while at others it seemed as if the birds had found perfect musical pa rtners in the electronic instruments. I hope to invoke both chaos and order in the galle ry installation as well. I plan on (with the help of some kind volunteers) beginning e ach video simultaneously: two mornings changing into two afternoons, two afternoo ns changing into two evenings, all at once. Each DVD player will act, somewhat, as Reich s tape machines acted. Reichs tape pieces are elegant in that from one particle o f sound and two similar machines an
35 35 utterly captivating piece of sonic art naturally un folds, activated by the simultaneous pressing of two Play buttons. The process of ord er disintegrating into chaos and then re-emerging as order will be less explicit and line ar than in Reichs piece, but will occur nonetheless. Moments of harmony and dissonance, cr eated by both synthesized sounds and natural sounds, will float around the room in a n unclear trajectory. With each new cycle of loops, however, these moments will shift. If an audience member can stand to be in the gallery for more than ten minutes, he or she will experience an evolving, generative sonic work, just as I experienced in the field making its components. Sound installations in galleries provide an audien ce with an alternative listening experience, different from listening to music tha t was developed to allow everyone to hear the same thing simultaneously as stated by th e Japanese sound artist Akio Suzuki in Haunted Weather (101) Suzuki goes on to state, the flat situatio n you have in a gallery enables people positioned in various places around the room to hear a variety of things . (101) An earlier instance of this approac h is La Monte Youngs mathematical sine-wave pieces, which he presented as installat ions rather than performances that set up an aerial architecture in which the listener is an equal determinant in the shape of the work. (Toop, Haunted Weather, 256) This encouragement of active listening can ins till in the audience a new perspective on sound and the act of hearing. To move through sound physically affects the body and its relation to space in a way that passively allowing it to enter the ears from a fixed position does not. Moving your body around sound, particularly bare oscillations such as Young s sine waves, can have a psychoactive
36 36 effect as well, a sort of peculiar, cerebral massag e. I experienced this while walking around my activated and amplified synthesizers in t he field, particularly in moments of harmonization with the drone of the nearby highway or when wind would perturb the vibrations in the air. My intention in presenting this project is to acti vely engage the audience member as a listener, whether listening to the synthesizer on headphones or walking through the gallery installation. I want the audience to move freely around the room. I want them to experience the natural/synthesized a malgamation of tones, drones, chirps, whooshes and cawcaws from the infinity of vantage points their bodies are capable of. Even a slight change in position will result in a d ifferent perception of the sound. For me, the music came from the deep listening of the synthesizer field, meditating on the gradual changes in sound througho ut the day. I was free to move around, and I did. I took an active role in listen ing. I want to provide the audience with a similar experience, only without stealing 20 hours of their time. The degree of engagement with the sound, the degree to which the sounds become musical, will vary from person to person. I want the experience to in spire something in the audience related to their views on sound, whether a change or simply a reinforcement of the way that they listen. There is music in sound, in air conditioni ng, in synthesizers or in nature. It is all up to the listener. The work and ideas of the arti sts discussed in this paper have contributed to my discovery of this. From enriching music with sounds from life to enri ching life with the music of sound, the progression of sounds place in the arts has proved to be a fascinating and revealing topic for my thesis. I am a musician in a band. We buy equipment, develop
37 37 what we are going to play, and try to let the world know about it by playing concerts locally and going on national tours. I love this l ife. I love that I am a being conscious of music, able to exert my control over sounds, able m anipulate the listener through melody, through rhythm, and through noise. But my experien ce in studying experimental music and sound art over the last few years have taught m e that it is wonderful, essential even, to sometimes let go of that control. Sometimes mus ic can turn into a stupid beast, when frustration arises from the infinite choice of equi pment to make my set-up cooler or the infinite choice of word combinations to get across what I want to just perfectly in writing lyrics. I am appreciative of experimental music an d sound art for keeping that beast in check, for reminding me that musical pleasure, if I want, is right outside of my window and free of charge. When I presented The Sun Rises on the Bush Outside my Bedroom Window as a final project for the Experimental Music class I to ok in 2008, a student commented that she did not understand why the traditionally serene and beautiful nature imagery on the screen (among plenty of non-traditional weird ones, mind you) had to be accompanied by such harsh electronic sounds. I was pleased with t his comment for its indication of an associative breakdown. Perhaps sometime after that class session she heard something in nature that caused her to listen and think Hmm..th at does sort of sound like electronic music Maybe it is yet to happen. I can only hop e.
38 38 Works Cited Cage, John. Silence Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1973 Elger, Dietmar, ed. Donald Judd: Colorist Hannover: Hatje Cantz Publishers, 2000. Finer, Jem. "Score for a Hole in the Ground." Autum n Leaves Ed. Angus Carlyle. Paris, France: Double-Entendre, 2007. 41-45. Kahn, Douglas. Noise Water Meat Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1999. Monahan, Gordon. "Gordon Monahan -Long Aeolian Pi ano sound installation." Gordon Monahan 1984.