I started doing these short videos on music theory, composition, history, etc. Better quality coming soon, so for now these are just tests, but hopefully someone might find these useful.
In summary, this video is about how important ear training is in general, that ear training will allow you to reach new heights in your performance, through the ability to read sheet music without an instrument and therefore reach a more clear interpretation of a piece of music.
I also talk a bit about why musical training takes so long in the Russian system of music education. Basically, this is because the ear takes many years to a high level, and that a good musician is unthinkable without a well-trained ear.
At the end, I talk a little about how to train your ear, and that the main vehicle for that is solfege – singing all sorts of melodies, increasing their complexity over the course of your training. Although there are lots of different ways to train your ear, like identifying chords, writing down melodies by ear, training your ear to distinguish between different intervals, etc., solfege is the most important because it gives you the opportunity to train all of these things in an actual examples of music. So along with training your ear in a harmonic context (melodies usually assume harmonies, especially those taken from examples of real music), all sorts of rhythms, you get acquainted with the history of music because you get to sing melodies by Verdi, Bach, Mahler, and all sorts of other great composers.
Music for a video or a film, that hasn’t been filmed yet. It’s becoming a genre for me to write music of this sort. I think this gives me just enough imagery to work with, without being confined to an actual moving image. Not sure what this would work for, but clearly something melancholic, mysterious, or both?
What sort of music do you write? This is probably the first question that a composer of contemporary classical or in fact any composer hears today. The difference between a composer of x and a musician that performs any genre of popular music is that the latter’s niche is often clearly defined. Because that’s how they get an audience. Composers, probably because of their solipsism, have not thought about this for centuries, so today we have this dilemma. So what sort of music do you write?
If you say you’re a classical composer, one suddenly thinks of Mozart, Beethoven, and assumes you must write sonatas, menuets, and symphonies. If you say you’re a contemporary classical composer, one questions how you can be both classical and contemporary – isn’t that an oxymoron? Once you say you write contemporary music, you suddenly end up in this strange world of ‘adult contemporary’ which sounds like a genre of erotic novels, with formats like ‘hot adult contemporary’ and ‘soft adult contemporary’. Do we, as composers, really want to share the word with that? If you say you’re an academic composer, it kind of rings closer to the truth, but the word academic tells nothing beyond the fact that it must be written in universities. But what type of music is written in universities? If you say you’re a composer of New Music, one would – don’t all composers write new music? Unless of course one knows the difference between New Music and new music.
Maybe it was Einstein who said that one should be able to explain what he does to a child, well, composers seem to have a problem with that. Unless we say – we make music. But this fails to distinguish us from all those ‘other’, earthly composers, with their unbearable melodies, sweet harmonies, and a seeming lack of consciousness and critique of what exactly they’re writing. Right?
In the end, this is a question of selling music. Clearly, it is a question most composers, academics, etc., prefer not to think about, because, as we all know – capitalism is evil, and artists should never try to make their art appealing to those pesky consumers. I find this dialectic to be quite comical – composers despise the listener and at the same time depend on him for their livelihood. But perhaps here hides the lack of success of x in general. Although, we do have examples of commercial success by composers like Phillip Glass, Michael Nyman, and a few others, but I can tell you the reason for this, the name ‘minimalism’ was attributed to this music, thus making it a consumable product.
At this point no one but composers, others who work in the industry, and the surrounding clique understands what is this x that we’re writing. No one wants x, x isn’t cool, x isn’t smart. X is boring, and it especially does not generate attention, which is pretty much the only thing that matters nowadays.
We might go with contemporary classical academic new music, but that seems entirely too long, or with x, which is too short, so I’ll just stick with saying that I put notes on paper, which in the end is also a lie.
In light of a seeming end of publicly funded art, it is important for artists and curators to think more seriously about legitimate alternatives to public funding. Public funding of the arts in the UK came into existence in 1948 with John Maynard Keynes’ establishment of the Arts Council, there was no policy driven or comprehensive public funding of the arts (or anything else, pretty much) before that. Now we can ask a question, were there no arts before? I am quite sure any person can answer this with a definite ‘no’, and in fact we can still say that the greatest art in history probably came before 1948.
Looking at the history of music, you can see that most if not all the great composers and musicians we know of had some sort of support from an individual or from an institution – a wealthy aristocrat, the Church, or even a monarch with a liking for art. Palestrina, Monteverdi, Beethoven, Mozart, all created work for specific people and organisations.
In a way, this makes life harder for artists – as hard as it is to write a good Arts Council application, it is even harder to find individuals with money that are interested in funding a project, but in the end it is individuals who appreciate art, not the Arts Council, and it is the individuals that appreciate art who should pay for art.
Another unintended consequence of public funding is public perception of paying artists for their work. The more the idea that public funding is normal is ingrained in the minds of people, the more people think they don’t need to pay anything to experience art and assume that art is always paid by someone else.
We do not need more public funding in the arts, we need more talented fundraisers in the arts that will work with artists and organisations and help them not only get funding for their projects, but to shape a culture of voluntary giving to the arts, and an understanding that just like everything else in this world, art costs time, and time costs money.
This one reminds me of upbeat walking in urban landscapes, but also of Italian 80’s pop and Renaissance harmonies… not that that matters too much. But what I’m hoping for now, is that you’ll have this song playing in your headphones when you go to work, because through the wonders of the internets it’s available for download.
I also feel like this track is upbeat and something that I’d listen to on a good day, walking somewhere purposefully. Maybe it’s because of the organs. Or not.
Since moving to back to Jurmala (Latvia), I have started a small project that explores different districts of Jurmala through field recordings and images. Below is the first one in the series that looks at Dubulti, one of the more urban districts in the city. The recording was made at dawn, capturing the sounds of early birds and commuters.
DO YOU WANT TO LEARN HOW TO WRITE MUSIC – SONGS, ELECTRONIC MUSIC, OR ORCHESTRAL PIECES?
DO YOU WANT TO LEARN TO PLAY THE GUITAR – GIULIANI ON CLASSICAL? LED ZEPPELIN ON ELECTRIC? IRON & WINE ON ACOUSTIC?
DID YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW WHY STRAVINSKY’S MUSIC CAUSED RIOTS? HOW MONTEVERDI REVOLUTIONISED MODERN MUSIC? HOW PALESTRINA SINGLE-HANDEDLY SAVED MULTI-VOICE CHORAL MUSIC FROM EXTINCTION?
Maybe YOU Just WANT TO PLAY PIANO BUT NEVER END UP STARTING TO LEARN?
Work, life, smaller things and distractions keep getting in your way, and you never seem to have the time to finally start learning the musical skill you’ve always wanted to have, whether it’s learning to play piano, guitar, learning to write music or to understand it better.
You can probably start later, but there is not going to be less of work or distractions, and in the end you might never realise your dream of learning your first piece of music, playing the first chord of your favourite guitar piece, or hitting the final notes of that piano piece you always loved.
So why not put an end to this and finally check off that item on your bucket list, and make that first step towards what you want?
There is no pressure to commit – give it a go, invite me to teach you what you have always wanted to learn. I am a graduate of the St Petersburg Conservatory, with more than 10 years of music teaching experience, and what I am offering you is unorthodox – you pay a small monthly fee, and I offer you a course and unlimited time in your lessons from anywhere in the world by any means of communication you find most convenient.
SO FILL OUT THE FORM – LET YOURSELF START LEARNING MUSIC.
‘I’m Fine’ is a track vaguely inspired by David Lynch’s ‘Eraserhead’. There’s some experimenting with retro-ish organs and keyboards, and juxtapositions between those retro-ish, melodic parts, and more modern aggressive ones. Anyway, enjoy – it’s been fun to make this.
The summer holidays are here! You have planned your vacation, planned your kids’ activities so that they get a mix of fun and learning, so that they don’t go back to school with their brain shrinked to the size of a peanut. But what if you didn’t? Then it is a good idea to start thinking about summer learning now, because as research shows, ‘summer learning loss’ is a real problem, that if accumulated over school years can have long lasting consequences.
“The initial concept of the show comes from the experience of hearing while feeling fear. Do you remember lying in bed as a child, listening to every crack in the house? Or listening to every noise while walking through an underpass at night? Hearing seems much sharper and even the smallest sound makes an impact on the entire body and mind when we experience fear. But of course, fear manifests itself through sound in a range of ways, as you will see in this show.
Western art, our galleries, and our entire culture has taught us to rely on our intellectual properties as we live our lives, and experiencing the arts: dissect, analyse, rationalise, and you will understand the content of any work. Sound has become an under-looked aspect of our lives—we watch everything, we need to see everything with our eyes—sound played a significantly more important role in our lives before screens, printing presses, and writing arrived. Sound represents something primal, something deeply connected with the animal part of ourselves, rather than the intellectual. Eventually, our hearing has developed from a sense we depended on for survival into a purely communicative and aesthetic sense. But what if we would let go, and let our under-utilised senses fully appreciate what sound does to us instead of experiencing it in a manner we are so used to?
In this show I would like to take you through an array of emotions and feelings caused by sound in its dark, sometimes unpleasant and disturbing qualities by immersing you into a primal experience of sound through a curated collection of sound and video art made by 9 artists from 6 countries. The artists were invited to submit work based on the connection between fear and sound, and the resulting in a diverse show that plays with a range of themes explored within fear and sound, from mystery and darkness, to depression and conflict.”
It may seem tangential to compare such different cultures as Albanian and Lithuanian from most perspectives—including a musical one—but perhaps it is a needed step towards finding further connections between Balkan and Baltic regions, or to show that they have formed independently of each other. The catalyst for this study is the fact that dissonant folk polyphony exists in both Albanian and Lithuanian folk music, and the Indo-European unity of the two cultures.
So there was this thing going around (yes, a thing) where people wrote up their 10 favourite post-war contemporary classical music pieces (just like it says in the title). This is where I hop (a month later) on the bandwagon and do the same thing. Here it is, in chronological order:
Pierre Henry & Pierre Schaeffer – ‘Orphee 53’ | 1953
Igor Stravisnky – ‘Epitaphium’ | 1959
Morton Feldman – ‘Crippled Symmetry’ | 1983
Horatio Radulescu – ‘Clepsydra’ | 1983
Iannis Xenakis – ‘Thallein’ | 1984
Beat Furrer – ‘Voicelessness. The Snow Has No Voice’ | 1986
Bernard Parmegiani – ‘Rouge-Mort: Thanatos’ | 1987
Johannes Maria-Staud – ‘Violent Incidents’ (Hommage à Bruce Nauman) | 2005/2006
John Luther Adams – ‘Dark Waves’ | 2007
Bernhard Gander – dirty angel | 2010
It’s funny that I entirely missed out the ‘main’ period of contemporary music – the 60’s, 70’s, (well and the 90’s, but there was nothing but Nirvana in the 90’s). Pierre Henry and Igor Stravinsky are the only composers who’s piece are featured here that wrote in the 50’s, all the other ones starting from Morton Feldman and ending with Bernhard Gander have pieces featured starting from the 80’s ending in 2010.
The playlist is based entirely on personal preferences and
Here are two playlist (one on Spotify and one on Youtube) that have most of the pieces in them, some pieces are excluded because they just were not on Spotify, Youtube, or both:
The topics and questions that will be explored in this text are derived from my artistic practice that is based around sound art and sound installations in particular, which focuses on two issues that are also central to sound art: time and space.
The reason for this review is to establish and explore the context of my practice.
The primary interest of this review is focused on extended sound (lasting for extended time periods).
The secondary concerns the specific spaces these sounds are situated in.
A quote from LaBelle (2006, p. 162) accurately summarises the aim of this text: “Overlapping and at times drawing from musical culture, the practice of sound art pursues more active relations to spatial presentations, durational structures beyond the concert experience, and within more general public environments that often engage other media, inciting the auditory imagination.”
Time in sound installations: calendars instead of clocks
This section explores how longer time units have been used in music and sound art. The duration of musical works can be counted in time units that clocks operate with – seconds, minutes, and hours at most. It is rare for musical works to extend this into time periods even larger than a few hours, although during the XX century there have been a growing number of examples, like the music of Morton Feldman, some of whose works last over 4 hours; during the World Expo in Osaka, Stockhausen’s compositions were played for 183 days, for five and a half hours each day, and before the 2nd World War. Piet Mondrian could be said to have foreseen this: “people could come and go freely without missing anything because the compositions would be repeated just like in movie theatres” (quoted in Kahn, 1999, p. 43). With the emergence of sound art we can clearly observe this change – with sound installations operating without interruption for days, weeks, and years. However, what can be said about most of these works is that they are usually based on repetition, if only they are not interactive. For the purposes of this text—and my practice—these types of works are of secondary interest, the primary being works that are unique at any given moment.
One of the first people to explicitly work with extended durations was La Monte Young, who specifically created works that were meant to be played for long periods of time—The Theatre of Eternal Music—an ensemble under the direction of Young that played from 1962 to 1965, and was the vehicle used by Young to perform many of his compositions.
The world of music composition, especially in the USA in the 1960’s has deep connections with spirituality, many composers were influenced and inspired by music and spirituality of the East (primarily India, China, Japan). The use of drones and extended durations is perhaps the most obvious result of this interaction – “The Theatre of Eternal Music delved fully into the acoustical universe of single sustained tones, compounding their deeply droning sound with extended duration, bringing each performer into a unified state” (LaBelle, 2006, p.71), also, about Young – “His music, in a sense, strives for the actualisation of the very perceptual tones, loud volumes, extended durations, harmonic frequencies, all encompass and overarching sonic commitment that seeks to make sound an experiential event beyond the human limits of time and space, exploiting the ear as a physiological device and the mind in its moment of perception of sound stimuli.”, and “Duration for Young is not a question of minutes and hours, but days and years. As Philip Glass proposes – “This music is not characterised by argument and development. It has disposed of traditional concepts that were closely linked to real time, clock-time…” (p. 73)
An interesting specificity of sound is noted by Kahn, (1999, p. 232) talking about Young’s Composition 1960 #7 and X for Henry Flynt, he says – “By subjecting the sounds completely to time, both pieces attempt to pull sounds out of time, to hold them still within time, so that the acoustical intricacies might be perceived”. Composition 1960 #7 is the last out of his text scores, after which he focused on playing microtones in the Theatre of Eternal Music project. This has in turn resulted into the Dream House – an ongoing installation in lower Manhattan. “The Dream House’s exceedingly long, ideally never-ending drones continue regardless of the presence or absence of listeners… Dispensing with the need for listeners, it posits sound as an organism with its own reason for being.” (Kim-Cohen, 2009, p. 137), “Dream Houses will allow music which, after a year, ten years, a hundred years or more of constant sound, would not only be a real living organism with a life and tradition all its own but one with a capacity to propel itself by its own momentum.” (Young, 1971).
There are a number of compositions that are meant to be performed over extended periods of time. One example is the Sound Box that was a project presented in the Swiss Pavilion at the Expo 2000. Its music was composed by Daniel Ott, he writes about this work in Ott, 2003 – “Music is a non-stop feature of the Sound Box, involving some three hundred fifty musicians from all around the world. All cultural regions of Switzerland are represented. Twelve musicians work in three-hour shifts from 9:30am to 9:30pm… Through the use of infinitely variable elements, the basic sound responds to the principle of variation that underlies the architecture of the Sound Box”. Also – “Daniel Ott wanted to find a method that would allow him to prolong the actual composing of the music over a long period of time – permitting frequent interruptions in order to manage the sounds and contact musicians to discuss this amazing project… The resulting Sound Box music consists of heterogeneous building blocks that can be reconfigured daily during the 153-day performance.” Daniel Ott’s composition consists of 153 sounds and 23 “eruptions” which appear alternately in a shifting pattern, based on a different schedule every day, all other parts are improvised by the visiting musicians. The Sound Box is an example of a work that is meant to be performed over a long period of time by people, and this involvement of people (performers) for playing such long works (with interruptions) puts this project alongside with the performances of the Theater of the Eternal Music in the Dream House.
The other type of forms that are used to create sounds of extended duration are sound installations. There are a range of sources used for the sounds in the installations, from natural and computer generated, mixed, etc. An example of the use of natural phenomena to structure the installation and generate sounds for it is Rodney Verry’s I heard YOUR FOOTSTEPS (1994), he explains his installation in Bandt (2001): “I view it as a kind of ‘qualitative clock’, relating to the ways we perceive the qualities of the world from moment to moment. The sun’s energy is translated into vibrating columns of air in slow dialogue with the shifting of light and shadows of the space.” This is also an example of sound installations working with calendar time – in this case, day cycles. Tide (or wave) organs are also a good example of calendar based installations (or sound sculptures). The tide organ in Morecambe does not explicitly work with time, but the time it sounds depends on the coming and going of the tide, which depends on moon cycles. The same can be said about the identical Wave Organ in San Francisco, or in fact any other tidal organ.
A recent example of a permanent installation working with purely natural phenomena is Jem Finer’s Score for a Hole in the Ground, described in Dewar (2011, p. 77) as “an indeterminate musical composition of unknown duration set in a permanent installation” and, “In the heart of a forest in Kent, water dripping into a deep underground chamber strikes both tuned percussion and a pool at its bottom, the sounds rising up through a giant horn, standing 7 m above the ground.” The fact that Dewar considers this work a composition that is set in a permanent installation questions what is a composition. In this case, the composer’s input is limited to providing and placing a set of tuned instruments for water drops to play on. There have been a number of indeterminate musical compositions before, but they have mostly used people as performers, leaving the composer as someone who commands other people. But this is a different topic on its own, which is beyond the limits of this text. Dewar compares the Score for a Hole in the Ground to Finer’s earlier work, (or composition, as he says) – the Longplayer, and does note that their differences are so, that while they both ‘engage with time over long durations’, the Longplayer relies on a computer program for its existence, contrary to the Score for a Hole in the Ground. Dewar attractively describes the work: “In the forest, among the trees, the horn’s shape resembles the trumpet of an old gramophone or a giant lily, oxidised autumnal orange brown. The upright pipe is indistinguishable, from a distance, from the trunks of the surrounding beech trees. The sounds too blend with the forest, until the ear discerns something out of place and the eye resolves the horn as the sonic source. Weather changes the music. In a torrential downpour it reaches a crescendo, while drought renders it silent, save for the effects of the breeze gently brushing the instruments as it eddies around the chamber. It becomes one with the climatic forces of the forest. The chaotic nature of dripping water gives rise to complex variations in the composition, ranging from near silence to intricate shifting patterns running in and out of phase.”. Mentioning the Longplayer bring us to the previously talked about category of works where computers are used for the organisation and production of sound in installations. “Jem Finer’s Longplayer project aimed to be a ‘global entity’. Started in January 2000, Longplayer is essentially a musical composition to run for 1,000 years without repetition, echoing Brian Eno’s ‘generative music’ concepts by “simultaneously playing 6 sections [of the composition] each at a slightly different position and each at a different pitch…” (LaBelle, 2006, p.296).
Les Gilbert’s Half Measured Hallelujahs, 1981, was performed at the Sculpture Triennial 1981 at LaTrobe University, Melbourne. It created a virtual environment, through the use of 24-hidden speakers and several audience triggered sensors. What is relevant to this review is that “the event was designed to last the average time it took a person to walk from the first sensor-eye on the walkway to the inside of the building through the automatic doors. Within its planned duration cycle, the units changed relationships. Six audio cassette tapes, six of which were used at any one time, created a field of intermittent sound.”
Arne Nordheim’s permanent installation, Gilde at NTNU Gløshaugen “creates and alteration of the public environment while fully operating within its given functionality. The work is essentially a 24-channel audio system mounted throughout the open hallways and atriums of the building, amplifying a database of composed sounds according to different live parameters, such as the amount of people in the building, or weather and light conditions outside. Through digital sensing and computerised systems, the installation generates a continual sonic atmosphere, blending with the existing soundscape and environment.” (LaBelle, 2010, p. 198).
LaBelle (2010, p. 198) coins the main attractiveness of ‘long music’ in the context of what he is writing about – generative and algorithmic music. Writing about Eno’s Music for the Airports and Nordheim’s Gilde, he says that these works “push the listener… away from listening to something and toward reverie, fantasy, and distraction, as a listening that remains open and prone to wandering.” and offers “momentary distraction while functioning within the found structures and parameters of the educational institute… this poetics of distraction seems to suggest alternative itineraries for inhabiting space in which feedbacking of self and surrounding becomes concrete.”
Space in sound installations: influence of architecture and space on creation and Perception
This section will explore how space and architecture influence the perception of a sound installation, and how they shape the experience of a sound installation. It is first important to define what is a sound installation in relation to space. I feel that LaBelle’s perhaps lengthy definition gives us at least a partial answer to this question: “To encounter sound installation, one spends time within space, immersed in a listening that brings one to space through an acoustical unfolding wedded to movement and duration… The activation of perception through sound may draw attention to space, its material presence, and any perceptual phenomena, and it does so by activating our memory of spatial experience, of the event-space happening there, for sound installation is distinct by offering up information that is simultaneous and yet durational, present and passing: I glimpse the given installation as a set of information that is there all at once and yet that only comes to the fore through my movements, through my listening to, my attending to its evolution, as embedded within and conversant with space.” (2006, p. 163-164).
Sterken (2007, p. 40) says that the relation between architecture and music occurs on two levels: the intellectual and the phenomenological. To back up the latter he also cites Xenakis’ view on architecture’s conditioning capacity, i.e. that the buildings have an influence on the mental and corporeal behavior of the visitor, just as spaces have an impact on the events they host. Here it is important to offer the distinction between space and architecture. Architecture shapes space, but space embodies a broader set of elements including architecture. But the distinction that Xenakis is making, is that architecture is something that influences humans, and space is something that influences events. This comes in line with the previous notion – architecture is something focused and has a direct influence on the visitor, while space is something diffused and intangible and its influence can only be traced on through more general things, i.e. events occurring in that space. This is particularly important for sound installations, because space can be partially shaped by an installation, while architecture influences the visitor with or without the installation in its own significant way. It could also be said that not only architecture and space shape experiences, but that humans interact (live, work, etc.) with architecture and space and in turn shape them. Jean-Paul Thibaud (quoted in LaBelle, 2010, p. 199) says “Each ambience involves a specific mood expressed in the material presence of things and embodied in the way of being of city dwellers. Thus, ambience is both subjective and objective: it involves the lived experience of people as well as the built environment of the place.”
The spaces used for sound installations can also be categorised in a similar fashion to the previous section: from natural and found spaces, to environments built for specific or at least partial purposes of making sounds. The main difference between the two is the cultural obligations that built environments force onto the audience. There is a dichotomy between natural, found, and public places, mostly outdoor places, that leave the listener free to approach works “on their own terms”, and built environments that usually force a set of rules and conventions on to the audience, and on to the way the audience perceives the work. LaBelle, (2006, p. 154) through explaining Max Neuhaus’ transition from being a percussionist to a sound artist coins this difference – “Rather than situate the musical moment within a concert hall, determined by conventions of the proscenium stage and directed by the musical argument, Neuhaus sought to reach for a more public realm in which the experience of sound might surprise reception.”. In the same place he also cites Neuhaus himself – “The impetus for my first sound installation was an interest in working with the public at large. Inserting the works into their daily domain in such a way that people could find them in their own time and on their own terms. Disguising them within their environments in such a way that people discovered them for themselves and took possession of them, led by their curiosity into listening”.
Bringing the concert hall built during the World Expo in Osaka for Stockhausen as an example, (in this case also an example of a built environment) LaBelle (2003, p. 24) states that Stockhausen’s architectural requirements for that concert hall “reveal a sensitivity toward the concert hall as a determining space for musical experience: how sounds are performed and heard within space.” We can see here an example of a space built specifically for inhabiting sounds, and also a heightened perception of the idea that there is a certain way that sounds are “performed and heard” within a specific space. At the same time, along with the expanded view of the concert hall comes the ideas of making sound works and installations more accessible to the open public – “Following Neuhaus, sound installation is founded upon the idea of making a sound work more public, or rather, making the experimental strand of musical practice susceptible to a different set of conditions and questions.” (LaBelle, 2006, p. 155).
Since the topics of this review are mostly derived from my artistic practice, it will also be relevant to focus on built environments, sacred buildings, specifically churches. The reason for this is that the freedom of natural environments usually bring us closer to soundscapes which allow for the wide array of sounds to exist, while sound installations tend to focus on specific elements of sound. Religious architecture has perhaps been the only location sound had a special place in for a long time in Europe. It also could be argued that European architecture has been a shaping force behind the development of European music and changes in context of music brought changes in music. “The music of the cathedral is unseen; it rises vapor-like to fill a large resonant space, restricting harmonic and melodic mobility to produce a hazy wash of sound blending it the mystique of Christianity’s invisible God… Wherever one moves in the cathedral, he is alway in the middle of the sound” (Schafer, 2001, p.60-61). Mavash (2007) speaks of the medieval cathedrals as an example of a multisensory spatial experience which provides a very powerful sense of spirituality through harmonic manipulation of our sensory experiences. Religious and sacred architecture provide a space especially fit for sensory experiences.
From theory to practice
To further the aims of this text, I will use this last section to review a number of important pieces of sound art and sound installations that are relevant to the previous parts, and the broader topic of the text in general.
La Monte Young’s Dream House is an ongoing sound and light installation, permanently situated in Young’s loft. “Taking the chordal structure of The Well-Tuned Piano, Young installed tone generators in each of the rooms of the building. Each room presented one set of frequencies, or chordal environment, along with Zazeela’s light installation The Magenta Lights… By moving through the different rooms, a visitor would create the composition: spending time in one room, sleeping in another, avoiding others… Young emphasises the movements of the individual to generate spatiality.” (LaBelle, 2006, p. 73-74). The movements of people in space become a part of how the work sounds. This provides us with an absolutely different way of listening to music, primarily because of what experience the specific space provides and allows. Comparing the Dream House to Stockhausen’s World Expo concert hall, we can say that even though both spaces are meant to bring a heightened experience or awareness of sound, the primary difference is the unregulated nature of the Dream House, and the still codified logic of the concert hall. The Dream House is perhaps one of the most important works in sound installations considering its approach to space, time and the physicality of sound, that defined and shaped sound art for decades to come
Michael Brewster’s exhibition See Hear Now operates with “prepared audio works (consisting of synthesised sound) amplified in a specially constructed room, acoustically specified in material and dimension… His created room specifically prolonged sounds’ propagation and added to their reflection, thereby immersing a listener inside intensified zones of sound that created material presence through the phenomenon of standing waves.” (LaBelle, 2006, p. 169) This is an example of an installation that not only used a specifically constructed room for its existence, but also physically framed the room acting as not just as something being there, but as a part of a room, like walls, or a ceiling.
Maryanne Amacher created has created “expansive sound environments specifically drawing upon architectural space”. Her works revealed a “potential of working with architecture, not only as a spatial outline of air-space, but as structure”. In Amacher’s own words – “sound shapes interact with structural characteristics of the rooms before reaching the listener.” (LaBelle, 2006, p. 172) In her Music for Sound Joined Rooms she used “the architecture of the building — an entire house, or rooms and other features of its spaces — to create sound structures.”; “Defined by the architecture, set designs and the music, Locations/Scene for each Episode become the basis for staging the expressive DIMENSIONS of the music I compose BETWEEN places of thematic focus in the space. The intent is to create a range of MUSICAL INTERACTIONS between thematic places – a form of music matter, where ARCHITECTURE MAGNIFIES THE EXPRESSIVE DIMENSIONS OF MUSIC.”; “The extraordinary expressive effects which can result are produced NO OTHER WAY. They cannot be produced through music alone.” (Amacher, 1985). The “magnification of the expressive dimension of music” is perhaps the central point of this installation, this “magnification” is a focal point of most sound installations – music or sound without relation to space cannot have the powerful effect as it was designed to have. It is interesting to note that in Brewster’s See Hear Now it works the other way around – sound magnifies architecture.
Max Neuhaus’ Three to one was installed in 1992, and continues operating today as a permanent installation. It is located in a health insurance building and exists on three floors simultaneously. Listeners move around the floors and the space of each floor, partially creating the work. The first floor is described as “full-bodied, vibrant note”, the second as ““filled to the brim” with sound”, and on the third floor the first two converge “seeming to become a whole open landscape of a space. While lacking the narrative of Amacher’s Music for Sound Joined Rooms, it still offers the use of architecture, this time in the connection between the floors, and as the visitor climbs higher he is perhaps offered a Hegelian thesis-antithesis-synthesis in a form of a sound installation.
In a number of experiments in sound spatialisation in the 1970’s, “utilising multiple loudspeakers… Leitner was able to create geometric patterns of sonic movements: circular motions of one sound oscillating against a larger elliptical movement of sound; lines of sound that move from point to point, directing the ear across the room, crisscrossing against a second line of movement; sounds beating across the floor in X formations, or up a wall and back down again.” (LaBelle, 2006, p. 176). This can be compared to Amacher’s and Neuhaus’ work mentioned in the previous paragraphs, or Janet Cardiff’s walks, with a difference that Leitner’s work invites the ear for a journey like most sound spatialisation works, while the mentioned works of Amacher and Cardiff require the movement of the whole body.
The Silophone is a “hybrid between a virtual network and a physical object”. It can be accessed in four ways, none of which include physical presence – either through “The Sonic Observatory”, a telephone exchange, a website, and a number of artists were asked to perform and compose for the Silophone instrument. This is an exceptionally interesting work considering its use of architecture as its main feature on one hand, and the impossibility of physically being in this place on the other. This installation is solely accessible through communications, and while the sound the space makes is of primary importance, we cannot see the inside of this space and appreciate its spatial qualities in its natural habitation.
Bandt’s A Garden for Percy’s Delight, 1997, “was a multi-channel flexible sound installation environment which changed in relation to itself and the listener over the twelve-week exhibition”, what is relevant is that “the continuous shifting counterpoint was programmed on computer and going from one suspended parabolic speaker to another in a complex design. “The six overhead parabolic speakers dispersed the sound from overhead, while the four hidden ground speakers reflected the sound off the ground to the surrounding brick walls of the courtyard”. (Bandt, 2001, p. 273)
Francisco López’s Buildings performed in the Judson Church in New York. It is acousmatic, meaning that the only sounding object are loudspeakers. It does not play for any exceptionally long duration, but it is interesting to note Lopez’s disregard for the place he performs in. His performance also includes turning down the lights and giving out blindfolds to the audience. Lopez is known for focusing only on sound and trying to avoid anything that he perceives as distracting from sound: Cox in (Kim-Cohen, 2009, p. 125) says “López… is critical of what he calls the “dissipative agents” of music, which is anything that distracts attention from the pure matter of sound: language, text, image, referentiality, musical form and structure, technique and process, instrumental virtuosity, etc.”. In this case of Buildings, the choice of place seems arbitrary and without regard to the fact that any place, imposes its own, and in the case of a church, very specific ambience. Once López has realised this, he tried to disconnect his music from a loaded site, by putting blindfolds on the audience.
Bringing it Together
Using the work of Brian Eno, Markus Popp, and Achim Wollscheid as an example of generative music, LaBelle (2006, p. 287) suggests their works (he mentions only Eno’s Generative Music I, and Popp’s Ovalprocess) as evidence for the “ultimate completion of sound’s journey from point of origin (as in the work of John Cage) to its relational proximity (in Minimalism) onward to performative voices (with Alvin Lucier and Vito Acconci) to sound installation (Max Neuhaus) and body-related events with architecture (Bernhard Leitner and Maryanne Amacher) and toward environmental and geographic, locational work (Hildegard Westerkamp and Bill Fontana), to arrive at network, interpersonal space and generative streams that locate sound in its actual generation and distribution rather than objectness and immediate experience… Like society itself, sound no longer explodes through its propagation, its performance, or its radiophonic broadcast, but implodes being everywhere at once. Sound no longer needs to appear here, as a particular event with specific locatable details, but rather it disappears in its own system of production that may in the end complete its journey, from the here and now to a virtual projection of future manifestations in which it is always already everywhere”
We have gone from the traditional setting of a concert hall, through a number of built and found spaces, to a non-existence of space through the location of sound in its generation and distribution, and for an overall conclusion it can be said that both time and space have experienced a considerable evolution, primarily through the medium of the sound installation. The change in duration of works has only become possible once the location of works changed from concert halls to a variety of other spaces. Even though music and sound have been, and are still considered art forms that exist in time, the shift on the spatial in music over the course of the last decades, has been having steadily growing – where something sounds is now at least as important as what sounds. With the introduction of terms like timespace (Voegelin, 2010, p. 126), signifying the unity between the two categories, it is now impossible to ignore the spatial aspect of sound and music, even of previous decades and centuries.
In regard to my own work, an extension of this text is necessary, one that will explore the technical possibilities of manifesting time and space through music technology, specifically algorithmic and generative systems, and sound spatialisation.
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This piece has been specifically created for Seven Traces Contemporary Arts Festival in Caernarfon in 2014.
The video art has been created by Jo Marsh has created an abstract film, which maps various parts of the local landscape. This was made using a purpose built sculpture which contained the camera and was rolled across the different terrains, filming as it travelled. Colourful components within the sculpture further abstracted the work, becoming painterly marks within the finished film.
Dimitri Rastoropov has created the ‘soundtrack’ to the film, playing with notions of sound design, movie soundtracks, and our perception of the relation between of sound and image. The sound art piece consists of field recordings made in a range of locations in Caernarfon during the night and the day, and of synthesised sound; the piece in general heavily relies on contrast and likeness between synthesised and recorded sound. The sound goes in and out of sync with the video, sometimes having no resemblance, sometimes being strangely suitable, but always forming new patterns within itself and with the video.