My piece is titled ‘listen carefully,’ and is essentially an exploration of sensory limitations. Specifically, I wanted to explore the thresholds of human hearing. The first threshold I wanted to isolate was the difference between silence and perceived sound; there is an exact moment at which a signal becomes loud enough for a human to perceive it as noise, and I wanted to control exactly when that occurs. Once a signal is definitively being heard by the subject, there is a second auditory threshold that determines when the sound starts to be “felt,” generally manifesting itself as a vibration felt in the chest. The recording studio in particular offered an ideal environment for exploring these sensory limits because it contained two key elements; a default state of absolute silence and an exceptionally powerful subwoofer.
The first section of my piece aimed to make the listener extremely aware of the thresholds described above. The guided meditation encouraged the subject to recognize the exact moments that a sound became inaudible or started to become a physical sensation, and the audio samples playing were carefully designed to make these sensations as dramatic as possible. To achieve this dramatic effect I automated a variety of audio parameters. In addition to modulating frequency and pitch, I pushed the subject around the room in a rolling chair. In a room the size of the studio, it is inevitable that after sound waves exit the subwoofer they will bounce off the walls and ceiling, creating pockets of constructive interference (which are perceived as twice as loud as the original signal) and destructive interference (which are perceived as silent). By pushing the listener in and out of these pockets, the resulting sensation is being pushed in and out of walls of sound. This added another element of control to the system.
The second section of my piece guided the listener to stop listening to the room and start listening to his or her own body. As the samples and background frequencies faded out of existence, the guided meditation implored the listener to listen to his or her own body, recognizing how loud it is in comparison to the silence of the room. The ‘conclusion’ of the exercise, if it could be said to have one, is that the human body is simply to loud and busy an organism for us to ever experience true silence, regardless what the parameters of our sense of hearing might suggest.
Documenting this piece was very challenging, because I quickly learned that simply making a video of the experience was not anything even close to representative of the experience itself. After experimenting and failing with a variety of attempts at simulating a first person walk-through of the entire experience, I tried videotaping the reactions of people experiencing the piece. While perhaps slightly more effective, this method also was generally underwhelming as it failed to portray an appropriate idea of the meditative state I think the piece successfully communicates when seen in person. The method of documentation that I settled upon was threefold, acting as a sort of compromise to these issues.
The first element was a recording made with a binaural microphone. While still quite different from actually being in the room, this recording allows people to simulate the spacial elements of the experience by simply using headphones and closing their eyes.
The second element was the raw audio of the piece itself, exactly as I used it in the studio. I included this so that if anyone ever does have access to the studio and is able to arrange it in the way I did, the exact audio that I used could be played to recreate the piece verbatim. To this end, I also included the cue sheet indicating exactly when I whispered and moved the subject throughout the room, as well as the title sheet for the piece meant to be placed on the door of the studio.
Finally, a I created a new variation of the audio and guided meditation that has been mastered for a normal stereo system or pair of headphones, eliminating the need for such a dramatic subwoofer, and simulating the effect of the constructive/destructive interference without the need to walk around the studio. This new variation is meant to allow anyone to experience a meditative state like the one induced by the act of seeing the piece in person.