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The Sound of Empty Space

Feedback is a phenomenon which is not uncommon in sound art. Steve Reich’s Pendulum Music used swinging microphones over speakers to create different tones in a certain rhythm, already back in 1968. There is something primeval about feedback, the way it can run out of control and become chaotic. Because of that, it’s no wonder there are still a lot of artists working with it.

(all photos by Emily Gan)

With his new series of works called The Sound of Empty Space, composer & media artist Adam Basanta explores relationships between microphones, speakers, and surrounding acoustic environments through controlled, self-generating microphone feedback. Adam’s work investigates perception, and listening in particular, as an active, participatory, multi-modal activity.

In The loudest sound in the room experienced very quietly, an endless feedback loop between microphone, public address system amplifier, and speaker cone is enclosed within a soundproof aquarium. A communication system disrupted and turned against itself, the sound level within the enclosure reaches an ear-damaging 120dB, approximately the loudness of a car horn at close distance.

The notion of amplification systems as self-generating sound producers is further developed in the piece Pirouette. Like a life-sized ballerina atop a music box, a microphone rotates slowly, bringing it in proximity to seven mounted speaker cones. As the microphone hovers over each speaker in sequence, a tuned feedback melody emerges. Throughout nine full rotations, a skeletal version of the main theme from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ballet can be heard.

Finally, in Vessel, the naturally resonant acoustic properties of a large glass jar are amplified, creating a feedback monody by varying the distance between speaker and microphone. As the components continually move closer and further away from each other, we encounter a system that offers no resolution. Interesting to see how Basanta is able to use a chaotic element as feedback in such a controlled way.


Five Sound Questions to Jana Winderen

Jana Winderen is an artist researching the hidden depths with the latest technology; her work reveals the complexity and strangeness of the unseen world beneath. The audio topography of the oceans and the depth of ice crevasses are brought to the surface. She is concerned with finding and revealing sounds from hidden sources, both inaudible for the human senses and sounds from places and creatures difficult to access.

The ways Jana records are quite unique. One of the works which made a big impression on me is the Heated (Live in Japan) record. A live performance using source material gathered with various types of hydrophones and microphones in Greenland, Iceland, and Norway. The record is from 2009, but I only recently picked it up, and has been a great inspiration ever since. The depth and variety of sounds are unlike anything I’ve ever heard before on a “field recording”-type of record. A mysterious world of groans, squeaks, unearthly sounds…

1. What sound from your childhood made the most impression on you?

Wind around the corner of our mountain cabin. I knew we could not get out, you had to sit inside until it calmed down, and the sound faded out.

2. How do you listen to the world around you?

 With enthusiasm and curiosity.

3. Which place in the world do you favor for its sound?

I would not favour anywhere, each place has its sound character, and I keep getting amazed by the different underwater environments I listen too, for example the variations between different depths and different oceans and lakes.  A cold climate has its character, very different from a rain forest environment…

4. How could we make sound improve our lives?

To be more aware and to be able to control our sound environments. 

5. What sound would you like to wake up to?

I once woke up on deck of a boat in a hammock by a humpback whale breathing sound. That was a good start of the day…

Thanks Jana! See answers by other artists in the Five Sound Questions section.

Jana is playing the Sonic Acts festival tonight where she will be performing Pasvikdalen (2015), a commission by the Sonic Acts festival.


Long Wave Synthesis

The Sonic Acts festival which starts next week is a very unique festival in the Netherlands which focuses not only on music and art, but also on science & society. One can expect lectures by theorists, but also installation art and various performances by artists focusing on the same theme. This year, that theme is The Geological Imagination. “How much do we actually know about the ground beneath our feet?”. The constantly increasing influence of the human race on the world. Climate, nature, night… Everything.
(footage from the preparations of Long Wave Synthesis)
This year, one of the most promising works is Raviv Ganchrow’s Long Wave Synthesis. A huge land-art scale sound art installation that investigates infrasound, and probes the relations between how we perceive the landscape and long-wave vibrations. 
(footage from an earlier version)
Infrasound is the range of frequencies below the actual hearing threshold. Like all sound waves, infrasound is vibrating air, the only difference is that this sound is just very low frequency. Ganchrow’s work focuses on the experience that we might not be able to hear the actual slow vibrations of air, but the “pressure wave”, and objects in the field which might vibrate with that low frequency. Just below the threshold of hearing.

According to Ganchrow, infrasound is what connects the skies, oceans and earth. “Micro-movements in the earth crust can translate and arrive at mountain ranges. These move a nanometer backwards and forwards. That movement translates to a movement of air, that air produces a tone.” It’s a tone below the threshold of hearing, but still there’s a sensation of it, as it can shape the clouds coming over that mountain range, for example. You can view an interview with Raviv explaining infrasound here:

Sonic Acts starts next Thursday evening the 26th of February, and ends on Sunday evening the 1st of March. The field trip to Long Wave Synthesis is on Sunday at 15.00 (more info).

Listening is Making Sense

Listening is Making Sense lets you listen in on vibrations carried through thick wooden beams. The only way to experience the installation is by getting into physical contact with the resonant matter, by placing your ear directly on the wood.

Michele Spanghero is a sound- and visual artist whose work focuses on the acoustic art and the visual arts, trying to find a natural synthesis between these two forms. In this work that idea is clearly visible and audible, by using the material as a resonator.

In one version the viewer has to bend down to the ground and put his ear on some wooden beams to listen to the sound propagating inside them, while in another the spectator is invited to an upward movement to place his ear directly on the beam supporting the roof of the building to hear a sound that flows into it. The synergy between the physical and audible is something that’s quite unique about Spanghero’s works.


Microtonal Wall

1500 speakers, each playing it’s own microtonal frequency, collectively spanning four octaves. That’s what Tristan Perich’s Microtonal Wall is. For some reason I thought I’d posted it before, but I hadn’t. The work of Tristan Perich has been quite a fascination for me, ever since he made his “1-bit music”;  an electronic circuit assembled inside a CD case with a headphone jack on the side, playing back 40 minutes of lo-fi 1-bit electronic music, the lowest possible digital representation of audio. Microtonal Wall expands on this very clean idea by confronting you with 1500 individual 1-bit noisemakers, playing all at once.

The beauty of Microtonal Wall is that when viewed from a distance it seems like noise, but when inspecting the installation by taking a closer look reveals that the noise is actually made up of individual frequencies.

It’s a very simple idea, but a very strong one. Noise is something which exists in our minds only- we just can’t keep track of all the different things happening at once, so it becomes “noise”. By being able to physically focus on one aspect, you’re able to experience that in this installation.



Always wanted to play with virtual physics-based objects in a playful way? Andrew Stewart Allen is a programmer, researcher and composer based in San Diego. His recent work is mainly focused on researching and programming physically-informed real-time interactive audio systems. His system Ruratae, which he also wrote his dissertation on, is exactly this. Ruratae is a collaboration of him with visual artist Susanna Var, who created the unique visual style and UI.

For some reason, procedural audio is still not widely used. In software and games, the same sample is often loaded and played, making for quite static behaviour. Procedural audio can make a simple interaction seem like a living, breathing thing, even if it’s just another tidbit of code. George Lucas, Danny Boyle, etcetera, they’ve all been known to say that sound is a very important part of a film. In interactive media, interactive audio has been scarce, which is a shame. The effect is very clear in Ruratae, where the smallest change makes for a totally different sonic beast!

People like Drew are pushing the boundaries and opening up lots of new possibilities with something like Ruratae. Being able to create your own instrument from scratch in a virtual world, according to physical rules, with no DSP knowledge whatsoever is a very interesting new take on audio in games and other software. If you’re a Windows user, you can try out Ruratae yourself!

As Drew is not only a technical guy but also a composer, we’ve invited him for the Five Sound Questions next week!



Most composers have composed their music based on the assumption that the audience will experience the works facing a stage with musicians. Most classical works aren’t made to be listened to from behind the stage. On the other hand, composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis have been working with the location of their audiences in mind, spatializing the music.

Young composer Chatori Shimizu (1990) wants to do this differently with -shikaku-, which is derived from the Japanese homophones “四角 (square)”, “視覚 (visual)”, and “死角 (blind spot)”, all pronounced “Shikaku”.

The setting of this work is designed so that the music is delivered to audience members surrounding the chamber orchestra, with deliberate blind spots.

 All audience members have a different “blind spot”, none of them will experience the work in the same way. This reflects the story of “Blind Men and An Elephant”, where a group of blind men touch an elephant, each feeling a different part of the animal, and discussing it. Argument breaks down when the men starts to claim that an elephant was a thin, floppy, fan-like creature, as another states that it was a smooth, solid being. Not one man’s statement is untrue, as those are the precise features of an elephant.


Sound of Light

Sound of Light, by Marco Barotti and Marco Canevacci is a synesthetic sculpture which interprets and dynamically transforms sunlight into audio frequencies. It is a site specific installation designed for the former music pavilion in Hamm, Germany, which was built in 1912.

Cameras film the sky and sunlight, dividing it into six colours - RGB and CMY. The six hanging, coloured columns of the pneumatic structure – which stand for the primary RGB (red/green/blue) and secondary CMY (cyan/magenta/yellow) colour models – are designed to receive different frequencies and convert them from visible to audible sensory input. A series of woofers is fixed directly on the bottom of each column and convert the whole architecture into a giant vibrating loudspeaker.

By mixing sound and architecture, the audience experience a unique oneiric reality through the superimposition of colours, shapes, sounds and vibrations. Visitors can also discover their own concert by changing their point of view – an individual spectrum. Sadly, it’s hard to experience vibration through a documented piece, but I can imagine what it would be like to touch the column with a cheek. The structure reminds me of Space Odyssey. A space-ship like structure to experience sunlight using different senses.


Five Sound Questions to Jeff Mills

Jeff Mills is largely regarded as an innovative techno DJ or producer. More recently, he’s been adopting his ideas, concepts, stories and esthetics from the outset. Since 2000, he’s been pushing further than his DJ fame. Started with creating a soundtrack for Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”, his interest in the future and science-fiction grew, and over the years he has made various sf-inspired works.

For example, a more recent work is “Man of Tomorrow”. Featuring Mills’ poetic sounds and Caux’s invasive cinematic imagery, it is a portrait of Mills portraying his immense perception of the future. Other examples include him imagining a series of strange avant-garde objects questioning our relationship with the world, space and time.

Jeff Mills, Tomorrow + X, 2013 (c) Axis Records / 10 unique white records produced by Jeff Mills, iron spots and hands.
Beginning 2015, Mills exhibits his new work The Visitor, a “UFO inspired machine”, whose language system would be a complete reinterpretation and restructuration of the TR-909 drum machine. Something we might feature later here on Everyday Listening. For now, we’ve asked him to answer the Five Sound Questions, and we’re honored to have him on the site!

1. What sound from your childhood made the most impression on you?

The sound of the ice cream truck that used to come through all Detroit neighborhoods. One sound of the iconic music the driver would play out of his loudspeaker would send any kid into a frenzy. The trick would be to run home, asked your parents for money, then catch up and stop the truck. It was almost like capturing a White Unicorn Horse. Every kid was conditioned to react immediately to the sound of the truck music.

2. How do you listen to the world around you?

In various ways. Because I only speak English, I’ve leaned to read body, hand and eye movements very well, so I may not know exactly what is being said, but I can detect the sentiment. As a career DJ, it’s taught me to listen to multiple things at the same time. Consuming more reality than the average person. It’s made me much more attentive to everything around me. A drawback is that sometimes, my focused attention can be taken away too easily because I’m quite sensitive.

3. Which place in the world do you favor for its sound?

New York City. The city never sleeps. It’s like an alarm clock they never shuts off. Crazy, but I love it. 

4. How could we make sound improve our lives?

I think we can improve our lives with sound by trying to achieve true  silence first. Then by strategically applying sound would make us more appreciative for the sounds that are more relevant. Like a baby crying or laughing, people having a conversation, nature, the sounds of life in general.

5. What sound would you like to wake up to?

The sound of the ocean. 


Thanks Jeff! See answers by other artists in the Five Sound Questions section.


Peter Vogel - The Sound of Shadows Documentary

We’ve seen some work by Peter Vogel on the site before, but for some reason I forgot about it, until I came across this documentary on the sound sculptures of Peter Vogel. His interactive installations are quite magical, and what I like about the documentary is that every part of it is demystified.

“Fascinated by the work of English neurophysiologist William Grey Walter (1910-77), who invented small robots (called Machine Speculatrix) that simulated basic neurophysiological behaviour, Vogel was intrigued to discover that, with the help of sound and light sensors, such machines could react to the world. Thus, at a time when many artists were pursuing the idea of the viewer as active participant, Vogel began to embrace interactivity as a major theme in his work. And all of this prompted him to move away from painting and start to create picture-like interactive objects.”

– Jean Martin. Full essay:

From very simple components, Vogel creates complex interactive works with a lot of character and depth. Very inspirational to see.