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.