In June 2013 N.B.Aldrich and I were resident artists at the Wave Farm in upstate NY, an organization dedicated to transmission arts, sound and media. Here are some highlights:
Trio for Rain, Pots & Contact Mics
Three days of constant rain put a damper on our plans for exploring the property and listening for sounds. We hung the pots and pans from the porch beams and let the rain play some stochastic music for us, capturing the tiny details with contact mics.
We taught a sensor-building workshop where participants made inexpensive hydrophones, contact mics, and light-listeners to plug into their portable recorders or smartphones. We kept it simple since it was the first time many of the participants tried their hand at soldering:
- The contact mics were made with simple piezo discs with a felt furniture pad on top.
- The hydrophones (underwater microphones) were piezos glued to a plastic cap to create a sealed air chamber. (This makes a quick high-output hydrophone but it “honks” pretty badly at the resonant frequency of the air cavity.)
- Light listeners convert the fluctuations of light into sound. Ours were made from tiny solar cells (actually photodiodes) held in the air or attached to binoculars.
WGXC’s Tom Roe interviewed us about our work. We prepared a special playlist focusing on sounds beyond the limits of perception including: David Dunn’s insect recordings, the micro improvisations of Jeph Jerman and Greg Davis, the raw contact-mic verite of Toshiya Tsunoda, and electromagnetic recordings from Alvin Lucier & Christina Kubisch.
You can listen to it here: http://www.wgxc.org/events/8410
During our residency, the “Brood II” 13 year cicadas were emerging from their underground lairs to sing, mate, and die. There were none at the Wave Farm but we found an amazing chorus in nearby Leeds NY.
We stumbled across a bottle lying near the road. I was inspired by Toshiya Tsunoda to record the micro sound world of its interior. I previously made a pair of “probe mics” (tiny capsules mounted on stiff wire) so I stuck them in and moved them around to find the resonant peaks that interacted with the dense spectrum of the cicada’s song.
I’ve used light-listeners to sonify the flickering world of man-made lights, but I’ve never found much in the natural world that sounds very interesting. Wind in trees or flowing water tend to make a white-noise sound, but it really just sounds like mic hiss. At the Wave Farm I was surprised to find that insect wings reflect enough sunlight to be picked-up by a light-listener and binoculars. Once converted to sound, the flicker of their wingbeats resembles the familiar “buzzzz” that we hear in the air! (Or a badly tuned shortwave radio? Or the chattering of ghosts?)
One of the goals of the residency was to install an FM transmitter in the pond, broadcasting the underwater world to nearby listeners. Here is one of our tests: We dunked a hydrophone in the pond during a rain shower and listened to the impact of the water drops on the surface. The result reminds me of the burning charcoal of Xenakis’s Concret PH. Interesting how natural sounds tend to stick together.
Pond FM Transmitter
Pond FM is a solar-powered transmitter that we installed in one of the ponds at the Wave Farm. A pair of sensitive hydrophones is suspended in the water nearby, providing a live stereo feed which is broadcast to nearby listeners. Whenever the sun is shining, Pond FM is transmitting! This effort eventually led to my long-term installation Pond Station.
An excerpt from the transmission:
Sferics 2: Bell cloud
Throughout the residency we were also working on a new project for the Portland Biennial at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine.
Sferics 2: Bell Cloud is an installation where VLF natural radio transmissions trigger a room full of electro-acoustic bells. When lightning strikes within a few hundred miles, a bell will ring.
At the end of our stay we had a dinner with friends of the Wave Farm and gave an informal artist talk. It was a great way to wrap up our visit. Thanks Wave Farm!