Music to Wander the World By…

Okay, so I’m working on my dissertation. And I have this way of wandering across a topic that will in the end maybe get two sentences in the finished paper but in the moment I get all worked up and start following it way farther than I need to.

Today I rediscovered the coolness that is “sound installations,” aural artworks in public places where the location and placement of the sound is integral to the piece itself…

My favorite, which I’ve known about for a while, is John Luther Adams’ “The Place Where You Go To Listen.” It’s in a room at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, where computers translate the seismic, meteorological, and geomagnetic data from various stations all over Alaska and present them as sound, in real time. That room is on my bucket list in spades. (Here’s an interesting article from the New Yorker about the Place…check it out!)

Then there’s Janet Cardiff’s “Forty Voice Motet,” wherein as far as I can tell you have 40 voices each recorded individually, played through 40 speakers placed all around the room (perhaps most famously in Fuentadeña Chapel in the Cloisters), each singing one on a part Thomas Tallis’s monumental Spem in Allium. The youtube clip is for reference; I’m sure the reality of the experience is nothing at all like this, especially since the camera doesn’t seem to move about the room.

Susan Philipsz. “Surround Me.” A series of sound installations all over London, with her own unaccompanied voice singing at different times from different speakers.

I spent a good bit of time with Susan’s stuff on Youtube; it’s lovely and peaceful and plaintive, and it’s just the kind of thing I enjoy; but listening to it like this is like looking at a thumbnail picture of the Sistine Chapel ceiling on my iphone, you know? I need to go to some of these places…

(There are tons more–Brian Eno, Maryanne Amacher, Max Neuhaus, so many…)

And one more:


  • Trev

    If you ever need to write the phrase “Music of the spheres” you might want to then throw in a reference to the artist Brian Duffy. Perhaps not your cup of tea (it’s not mine), but this put me in mind of his Optophonic Lunaphone.

    Brian attached sensors which turn photons into electrons to six telescopes. The resulting current could then be used to cause fluctuations in a speaker. His performances took place at night and he would use the instruments to literally ‘listen’ to the stars.

    The music is predictably messy, like a drill solo by an angry dentist, but the concept of sitting an audience under the dome of infinity while you eavesdrop on a few million (potentially already dead!) celestial bodies is pretty appealing!

  • chickwithastick

    Trev, thanks, this is cool! Yeah, I tend to prefer the more organic and live-sounding sounds, voices and birds and woodwinds and stuff, which is why I think I like Susan Philipsz so much–but any of these music-generated-by-natural-process things I really like! Thanks for the tip–

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