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Entries in noise (6)


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.


Traveling Wave

Current exhibition in the EYE, the futuristic-looking national museum for film in Amsterdam, is on Anthony McCall. This British artist’s most important work consists mostly of large-scale light-projection installations, which he calls “solid light films”. However, looking at his sketches and drawings, all his work seems to be about space and spatiality.

No wonder that one of his works is also sound-based. Looking at the sketch above, it seems to be about experience of space, just as his other works. For Traveling Wave (1972/2013), McCall wanted the audience to experience a rolling wave, but in only sound. By using multiple speakers, filtered white noise, and a huge crescendo, the rolling of the wave almost becomes visible.



Over the years, we’ve seen quite some artists working with old media such as tape recorders and records. Jimmy Eadie is also exploring the imperfections of old media. In his work Wow&Flutter he explores the phenomena of mechanical instabilities of turntables that can cause subtle pitch variations and beating effects on playback.

The first recorded music I experienced was on vinyl and I always seem to remember the hiss, static
and random jumps of the needle as much as the music itself. I would play with the turntable speeds, changing records from 45 RPM to 33 RPM and was intrigued at this new slowed down sound world.
This piece could be considered a listening sculpture celebrating and evoking that memory.
To Eadie, the imperfections are as important as the music itself. To enhance this effect, he chose to put the music on acetate disc instead of vinyl, as those disintegrate more rapidly and thus the composition will “age” with each successive play until the surface noise becomes intertwined with the music itself. Furthermore, he used the properties of the turntables to make his composition. As he wanted the visitor to be able to make their own composition by changing the position of the needles on the eight turntables as well as the playback speeds (33, 45 and 78 RPM), he chose his sounds wisely and composed his music by calculating what the pitches of the sounds would be at other playback speeds.


Audiograph is like a seismograph for sound. It measures the sound level in a space and creates a visual timeline of this level. It’s like a real-time score of the everyday noise and the sounds we make. The installation was created by Christopher Ruggio.


Sound and levels of annoyance

Last week I experienced two completely different soundscapes. First it was Queensday in Amsterdam, which means a whole day of loud music, masses on the streets, shouting children, overdriven speakers and boat horns. A day on which my head had to stand a lot of sonic pressure.

I spent the weekend in a forest in Belgium, with no one around except for a casual walker, enjoying the oxygen-filled forest air in spring. A complete opposite of the screaming city soundscape I experienced two days before.

I need silence at times. After a long day of teaching, traveling or working on a sound design project I don’t switch on my stereo when I get home to listen to some new music. It’s like I can only handle a certain amount of sound a day, next to the fact that I don’t like to just play some music without being able to really pay attention to it.

Sitting on a grass field in the forest I was surprised though by what I heard. It wasn’t that quiet at all.

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International Noise Awareness Day

Today is International Noise Awareness Day. I didn't even know this existed, until a woman on the street handed me a flyer advertising a soundwalk - a walk through the city passing the most interesting sounding spots, while listening carefully to the soundscape. A nice idea. I do it all the time.

The flyer also mentioned International Noise Awareness Day. A day to become aware of the impact of noise on hearing, health and the quality of life. Noise is everywhere around us, it's a by-product of our industrial society, but we are not very aware about how it can cause negative physical and psychological changes in humans.

What can we do about it? Everybody makes noise, it's not just there. So we can start by paying attention to the noise we make ourselves. The Center for Hearing and Communication in New York has a recipe for a quiet diet on their website. A good place to start.

Photo by: BarelyFitz