Photo: Alex Woodward

Jean-Luc Guionnet & Taku Unami

A Signature of the Room

Simple maths and a super stringent instructions in the score move precise frequencies and clicks around 6 speaker stacks to create a dense, constantly fluctuating environment of standing waves and physical sound.

It's a musical exploration of sound as a relational phenomenon. Because sound, after all, bounces off walls, shakes things: different frequencies vibrate different spaces – your eyeballs (30-80Hz), your head (~25Hz), the Arches.

Jean-Luc has written this piece specifically for Taku.  It takes very simple mathematical calculations, made in real time, to find the specific frequencies that resonate with the room it is performed in: i.e. the speed of sound/ length, breadth or height of the room.  The lowest frequencies and harmonics for Arch 2 here will be 8Hz, 37Hz, 57Hz.  That’s really low, we’re bringing in extra sub-bass to try and accommodate.


The score then calls for a very detailed, complex and every changing rotation and manipulation of these frequencies and their harmonics around 6 stacks of speakers, placed around the room.  When I say complex, I mean it: it’s really detailed in terms of frequencies and when/ where they move, a constant process of calculation and re-calculation, finding new harmonics and moving them to different speakers positioned around the space.


Why it is interesting?


Regardless of the detailed preparation, this piece is totally dependant on qualities way beyond the control of the musicians: the room size, how full of people it is of people, even to a tiny degree the relative room temperature, the responsiveness of the speakers, the fact that the room is an odd shape (arched, vaulted and with openings into other arches). It’s a thorough investigation of the resonant qualities of the room, but more importantly it’s a beautifully artistic, densely physical experience of controlled chance via sound. 


What does it feel like, or indeed sound like? I have no idea/ can’t predict, as it’s never been done in this room before.  But while it’s happening, and as the harmonics of the exact resonant frequencies are moved, combined, subtracted and comingled about the space, I’m going to be thinking about Maryanne Amacher (Maryanne performed at INSTAL 06, and is one of the most incredible musicians we have ever worked with and a master of spatial acoustics.  During performances, amongst other things, she creates aural architectures within listeners’ heads.), as anybody should when presented with some kind of spatial sound: what would she ask?


“Can certain sounds be locatable, seem miles away, feel close, pulsate vertically above our head, vibrate an elbow, suddenly appear in the space, dramatically disappear as though without a sound? Do we perceive the sound in the room, in our head, a great distance away: do we experience all three dimensions clearly at the same time? In the room, does the sound drift, float, fall like rain? Does it make such a clear shape in the air we seem to ‘see it’ in front of our eyes? Is there no sound in the room at all, but we continue to hear ‘after sound’ as our mind is processing aural events perceived minutes ago? Do we experience sonic imaging very near, moving beside (outside and around) one ear only: "feel" patterns as they in fact, do originate and develop quite specifically inside, within our ears?”

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