The eyes trump the ear for most human beings. Visuals grab a large chunk of our attention. Perhaps this is why live music, audio CDs and movie soundtracks are so loud now. Sound is trying hard to be noticed, to be heard.
The sounding world uses up its juicyness in this bid for conscious attention. Sounds have a subliminal power. The constant soundtrack that accompanies our days and nights shapes our lived experience in subtle ways. To my ear, it all sounds like music. So the dishwasher in the background as I write is pulsing a rhythm and growling/toning to my consciousness while the wall clock keeps a semblance of time. This “noise” can literally or in essence make its way into a future soundscape or song painting.
A deeper listening taps into the body sounds-rush of blood, beat of heart, the hiss of air through the nose, throat, into the lungs and out again. Body sounds drone and pulse along with the external environmental soundtrack. All of these sounds have something in common-they are all transmitted through a physical medium like air or water. An unsettling pressure on the medium causes vibration, excitation of molecules in oscillating waves, which is sound. These oscillations travel through the medium till they encounter a reciever that knows/recognize and transduces the vibrations into a signifying event which we know as sound.
Sound vibrations and their meanings render our reality. I think that is why we wrestled with that “tree falling in the woods” question for so long. The righteous still debate it, but the answer hinges on how we define “sound.” When a tree falls in the woods it will vibrate air molecules, which fits with this definition of sound : “vibrations that travel through the air or another medium and can be heard when they reach a person’s or animal’s ear.” In which case, vibrating air molecules are sound. When the vibrations land on a reciever and are transduced into distinguishable perceptions, then we move into this definition of sound: “the sensation produced by stimulation of the organs of hearing by vibrations transmitted through the air or other medium.” Both of these definitions are ensconced in the dictionaries. So we each can choose and articulate which definition we are using in any given situation. In my case, sound serves a meaning making function, an orientation to the world function, and a creative interaction between my psyche and the Universe. There are more than just trees falling here!
All of this sound vibration happens in sonic space(s). This space can be big or small depending on where we perceive the sound to be, our proximity to the sound source, the amplitude, frequency, repetition of the vibration, attack and decay of the sound as it moves through space. Making sound art is the process of sculpting these spaces. We work with audio samples, midi instruments, audio effects, acoustic noise, various transducers and sound diffusion systems, and place these in some kind of relational space with listeners.
So far I am thinking about sound art that exists in the physical world. This would be the sounding world we all live in. An even bigger world exists between our ears. The internal soundtrack of our minds is a vivid place where pitches, song snatches, ear worms, the quiet hum of the meditative state all coexist. The internal and external soundtracks co- create in beautiful and unusual ways.
My creative interests lie in the ethereal sonic space that exists in the mind or the “brain ear.” This space is personal, individual, where sound engages with mind. The community built here is with the self, the soul, This is where sound inhabits the body and moves around a perceived sonic space. This space is most obvious to the binaural audience. This space has been explored and defined through music CDs and mp3s listened to through headphones. The stereo field feels enlarged and contained in the “brain” part of the head. Sound can bounce off the walls of the mind and settle in a corner and scuttle off later. I enjoy creating and listening to soundscapes in the room of my mind. I am very conscious of placement and movement of sound into and around this room. The soundscape or tune is sculpted within this room. As you can tell, this is my favorite room to play.
So my work is mixed for headphone listening primarily, and I want to orchestrate a similar experience diffusing sound into a space. My most recent experiences performing soundscapes at art openings have raised many interesting questions for me.
How can a sound art piece exhibit itself in a roomful of talking people? Can the sound swell like the wind and grab snatches of attention then settle back into a presence? Is there a way to sculpt a piece of sound that could tap into the resonant frequency of a room full of talking people? Does a roomful of talking people have a resonant frequency? Is there a way to give sound presence more through frequency than amplitude?
This is the ground I will experiment with in the coming year as I work with “In C” in various acoustic spaces. What I learn from this will shape the soundscapes I compose for years to come.