Out To The Stars, Into The Heart: Spatial Movement in Recent and Earlier Music

In the early 1960s, the control of the spatial parameter was often turned over to the audience as they walked through sound installations, happenings, street events, and otherwise actively participated in the moment of the performance. Since then, interactivity with the audience has increased through technological and aesthetic invention (especially because of the pioneering work of David Behrman and John Cage).

David Tudor‘s Sliding Pitches in the Rainforest in the Field: Rainforest (Version IV, Electro-Acoustical Environment) (1968 – 1982) was first installed in 1968 at Chocorua, New Hampshire. Inside a large barn, many unique, vibrating resonant objects (bells, resonant beams held between the teeth while the ears are stopped with your fingers, dual metal transducers, parabolic reflectors attached to circular hat-like cages, etc.) were suspended from the ceiling and the audience moved throughout the space interacting with the ear-level objects and appreciating the gentle sounds emitted by them, like the calls of un-nameable creatures. Over the years, this piece was developed by Tudor in collaboration with many other composers and artists.

Max Neuhaus‘s Listen (1966) was one of the composer’s “sound-oriented pieces for situations other than that of the concert hall.” Listen was in the form of a field trip for an audience. They were put on a bus, their palms stamped with the one word “listen”, and then they were taken to “an existing sound environment”. Some of these environments were the Consolidated Edison Power Station, 14th Street and Avenue D, New York City; the Hudson Tubes (PATH subway), 9th Street Station to Pavonia; and the New Jersey Power and Light Power Plant in South Amboy, New Jersey. For Drive-In Music (1967), “an environment for people in automobiles”, people drove along a specified path and passed through an array of low-power radio transmitters (7 – 20 units) each with an electronic sound generator mounted on poles or trees. The passengers heard combinations of sounds on the car radios. The sound generators were weather-sensitive and responded to minute changes in temperature, light, and humidity.

In the 1970s, California artist Doug Hollis created an installation for differing highway surfaces that produce alternate pitches through placement of ribbed materials. Various pitch chains (melodies) were created, their tempo determined by the car’s speed.

Since 1968, Leif Brush has created many sound installations as well as performances in galleries, public, and outdoor spaces which use his Terrain Instruments. These are electronic and mechanical devices (microprocessors, solar-powered sensor amplifiers, digital synthesis devices, and sound control via telephone, transducers, etc.) for amplifying and converting into sound the actions of natural flora and fauna: the movement of leaves, the wind, snow, rain, grasses (striked or stroked by a participant), pine cones, the movement of rubber-coated rocks over the suspended, epoxy-coated magnesium surface of the Signal Disc. Brush’s The Minnesota Permanent Forest Terrain Instrument (1990) was a large installation consisting of many sound devices in 400

square feet of space connected through “tunable” brass and steel wires suspended between tree clusters: The Signal Disc, Whistler, Wind Ribbons, Rainpattern Tree Filters, Treeharps Networking, and Modified Treeways. The composer’s primary interest has been to establish “an unprecedented access to nature … in sound.”

Francis White’s Resonant Landscape (1990) was an interactive sound installation for computer and electronics where a listener would walk through a virtual landscape, guided by a map displayed on a computer screen, and experience changing sound perspectives. The pre-recorded sounds consisted of different levels of reality: birds, mysterious filtered white noise, masses of small bells, low-moaning animals, electronic hummings, water, delicate pure wave sounds in the distance, wind, barely describable electronic sounds like masses of cowbells in deep reverberation, etc.

Maryanne Amacher is known for her pioneering work employing psychoacoustic illusions. Her Synaptic Island (1992) is part of the series Music for Sound-Joined Rooms intended as, according to Amacher, “immersive aural architectures, in which the main audience space is sonically linked with adjoining rooms through specially designed multiple loudspeaker configurations creating the effect that sounds originate from specific locations and heights rather than from the loudspeakers … a form of ‘sonic theater’ in which architecture magnifies the expressive dimensions of the work. The audience enters the set and walks into the ‘world’ of the story.” This piece was produced spatially in four adjoining areas of the 21st Century Cultural Information Center Cyber Sound Week Festival in Tokushima, Japan. The building affected the timbres when, for example, metallic tones became mere whispers, or when the mid-frequency information all but disappeared and the low tones became an oceanic presence while high waves seemed to draw a rainbow of tones sequencing across the ceilings. Another aspect of Amacher’s work is revealed in her Third Ear Music, a revelatory experience for her audiences which makes use of the fact that “our ears act as instruments and emit sounds as well as receive them … [these pieces are] composed to stimulate our ears to sound their own tones and melodic shapes.”

Chris Brown and Guillermo Galindo recently collaborated on two audience participation performances entitled Transmission Naranja and Transmission Temescal where they broadcast their live electronic audio on 4 low-wattage radio transmitters set to different frequencies. The audience members were asked to bring portable radios, tune to the frequencies, and walk around the performance area as a way of spatializing, mixing, and experiencing the music.

From Out To The Stars, Into The Heart: Spatial Movement in Recent and Earlier Music
By “Blue” Gene Tyranny
© 2003 NewMusicBox