Monthly Archives: April 2013

Here are three versions of a piece called Pendulum Music by experimental composer Steve Reich:

I’ve been thinking about what the differences between experimental music and sound art are, specifically how the final products are different and what their conceptions of the possibility of sound are. Looking at the presentations of Pendulum Music when performed by the Dartmouth Contemporary Music Lab, the Liminal art group, and the Ciclo de Musica Contemporanea, just reminded me how important the visual presentation of a piece is (which is something that is taught from the beginning of sculpture classes here at Guilford). In this sense, I think that the advantage of a sound art approach over experimental musical composition is a more holistic vision of a work that takes into account both sonic and visual considerations; in the end, I believe, producing a more effective and dynamic piece.

I also think that one of the limitations of an experimental musical composition approach is the very idea of “music” and seeing anything that falls outside of the bounds of Western musical tradition as “experimental.” To me, this sets up a binary of tradition vs experimentation that poses experimental music as an aberration from as opposed to a development in music.



Janet Cardiff makes audio walks that confuse notions of reality and space. She records audio tracks for specific walking paths and includes instructions for movement in the audio. The sound of the tracks is a mix of her voice and the environmental noise of the walked-through space. When participants (?) listen to the recordings over headphones, it becomes unclear what noises are coming from the real, inhabited space and which are coming from the recording.

This is a fascinating concept to me, especially in light of my research on recording technology and rituals of listening. Headphones and portable, personal, audio are usually used in a manner which removes a person from their actual inhabited space. Cardiff’s pieces play on this notion by merging real space and audial space. Her pieces make me think about virtuality and how technology allows us to blend the real and the recorded. I am fascinated by the liminal space which her audio walks occupy, somewhere between reality and virtuality.

here’s a link to her walks:


Wednesday we headed out to visit a real live anechoic chamber in Raleigh.  The anechoic chamber at Harvard University played an important role in American composer John Cage’s work and lead to the creation of one of his better known pieces, 4’33”.  Cage had been excited to experience a total absence of sound but found instead a racket created by nerves and blood flow normally masked by ambient noise.  So we had to try this.  It was as much of a pilgrimage as anything.  As for the sound of silence… VERY odd.  We heard the high pitched sizzle of the nervous system.  We seemed to hear the lower pitched rush of blood, but only when we plugged our ears.  Does that make any sense at all?  For me it was even more interesting to hear our voices with absolutely no room sound.  Leaving the chamber after 1/2 hour unveiled an incredible din of ambient sound I had easily ignored on the way to the chamber.  Here’s a few photos:

Triple solid core steel doors!

Three solid core steel doors to enter!  The last one about two feet thick!  Dr. Yun Jing, our kind tour guide, called the chamber the quietest place in NC.

these wedges are nearly 2 feet deep.  They seem to be fiberglass covered with cloth and steel mesh.

These wedges are nearly 2 feet deep. They seem to be fiberglass covered with cloth and steel mesh.

plugging ears to hear blood and joint noise

plugging ears to hear blood and joint noise

visualizing running out of gas on the way home

visualizing running out of gas on the way home