[NetBehaviour] Viola, Stockhausen, Infinite Space

Johannes Birringer Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk
Sun Oct 5 17:45:30 CEST 2014

Thanks for the reply, Alan, 
on your performance, on your instrumental technique, the cave environment (and 3D graphics projections),
the sound, the context for it or for what you were exploring, and also your comments on the sound or space vibration.

I wonder whether we could have a longer discussion, here, and whether that might interest others as well?  I am particularly
curious about three aspects, and just mention them here.

- the sonic:  

you speak of "the world" as being resonant, reverberant, and draw particular attention to the viola recording and the vibration (low hz) reccording, thus also on what is audible and how, and what 
affect the lower (drone) resonances might have.  I then became interested as well in the associations you made (Stockhausen), and went back to what you refered me to ("Gesang der Jünglinge", an early piece
and we have a 1956 recording of it [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3XfeWp2y1Lk] --   speech sounds, edited and combined with electronic sounds, at one point we find out that the percolating sounds are layered in such a way that: "each speech sound is regarded as one permutational manifestation of the elements contained in it"   ---  which now makes very interesting listening after I heard your viola); then again my interest is in why vibration is such a hot topic at the moment, it seems; why has the tactile/kinesthetic, and haptic and the vibrational  (bodyradio, sensortized sound, physological signal transmission, etc) feedback aroused the interest of sound artists, theatre artists, performers and designers, and why such a recent increase in studes of affect (and affect design)? 

 I just received a copy of a book, "Reading/Feeling", published in Holland by "If I Can't Dance I Don't Want to Be Part of Your Revolution,"   issued after a two year research study of theories of affect and their implications for contemporary cultural practice; and also remember hearing quite a few people at a recent theatre conference in the UK speak about affordance of the affective...

- the 3D visual cave environment:  
you speak of an immersive world, and spaces opening up under you (you are seated "on" visual graphics), and also wonder how this could be conveyed to anyone else.
yes. it probably can't, as we knew with powerful VR worlds such a Osmose (by Char Davies) that were for single wearer (goggles, strap around chest with sensor). And in my memory, being inside a cave, the projected
"virtual" worlds seeemed too close for me to recognize/perceive anything in particular, except, say, color and motion, vertigo.  Now how do relate that to the music, is it perhaps consonant with the sonic the way you
sense transcendence of place and time?  do you even believe in transcendence or the cosmic? what evokes in you those resonances?

- the metaphysics 
so I go back to the reference to infinity and worry that the ref to Stockhausen is peligroso.  I am not taken by the "Licht" cycle and its bombastic transendentalism, though earlier work is fabulous and inspiring, and I do enjoy
listening to Oktophonie, which I think went into part of "Dienstag aus Licht." Why Stockhausen's heptalogy, the seven days of the week composition, is titled "Light" is of course strange too. For the 19th century painters of the sublime, light probably was crucial; for 20th century german composers, at the time of Kraftwerk and Einstürzende Neubauten,  I wonder where Stockhausen thought he was lifting off to, Romanticism having been thorough discredited, and terror and the sublime (now that you refer to ISIS) a dangerous ground. 

The "Octophony" is available on line as an audio-video, appearing around the time a concert of this dense piece was done at the vast and enormous Park Ave Armory in New York, March 2013  - a concert spatially designed in white concentric seating (audience given white ponchos to wear) arrangement by Rirkrit Tiravanija, lighting design by Brian Scott.  Pic attached.  Listen here:

what I found very intriguing, of course, in both instances, yours and Oktophonie's, was the emphasis on spatialized 'total' sound experience (and, given the lighting and projection designs), perhaps also something one could call synaesthetic experience or transformational kinetic/tactile experience of sound (I became aware of Brasilian musician and sound researcher Sergío Basbaum's interest in synaesthesia effects of his "chromossonium" a few years ago when Sergío wanted to do a project with me -  but we have not yet worked together for me to find out how the chromossonium works)(see his Pantharei performances (2014): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUwskBoO6H4)

do you think the "cosmic" sensation is multiple effects of light, abstract motion graphics, vibration, hum, drone, and high freqency squirms (as an acoustic range of phenomena, with the visual a necessary vertigo arouser)?

Johannes Birringer

Sent: Friday, October 03, 2014 11:54 PM

Hi Johannes, and thanks for your comments. The visuals were built by
Kathleen Ottinger, and designed so that the bow movement would 'slosh' the
three-dimensional architecture at a fair wide and fast rate. I always play
both violin and viola like this; there's a movement afoot in fact for
classical viola to be played vertically, since players get carpal tunnl
otherwise. It's also played vertically in some Arabic countries, as is the
violin; for me, it's comfortable. The strings are tuned as 5th-4th-5th,
which gives me a number of drone positions that are really useful.

In this piece, I'm using the bow very near the bridge, played lightly on
two strings and heavily on the third (second highest) so that harmonics
are sounded everywhere - the strings played lightly are played like the
qin, without pressing them down to the finger board.

It's a different sort of coupling for me, and I saw the bow/viola as part
of a larger resonant whole, not the traditional relationship. The same is
true of the graphics; space were opening up under me. The real problem of
the Cave is trying to convey all of this to someone elsewhere.

The two channels are different. The left channel is from the vibration
unit which reads from around .1 to 400 hz, very low - it records room
creaks, everything like that, as well as the lowest tones of the music. So
I tend to raise this into hearing range. Here instead of that, I
compressed the sound so that the tones would come through at natural
frequency; some 60-cycle hum also comes through, but not much.

Stockhausing - Gesang der Junglinge (bad German spelling!) has stayed with
me, and some how this connected. Noh and Kabuki, absolutely.

When I play in this environment, it's as if I'm surrounded by the world
(well, obviously), but the world is resonant, reverberant, and within
reach - it's amazing. Would love to do this live, at least this part of
it, sometime. And there's a darkness to it, still thinking about ISIS etc.
- it's an expulsion/emergence (reading again the Navajo creation story in
another version now).

Thank you so much - Alan

On Fri, 3 Oct 2014, Johannes Birringer wrote:

> Hi Alan, am listening to it a second time, thanks for sharing, unusual
> performance/concert in a Cave (what were the visuals?), and you played
> the viola like a cello? when you say you imagine bow-coupled-to-the
> viola, what would that be? is the playing of bow on strings not already
> coupling? the sound on my headphone seems to differ (right clean, left
> channel compounded by a room hum or would that be the vibration meter? -
> what does that do for you during the playing? and lastly (great photo,
> you would be so good as a musician with Noh and Kabuki, I already see
> you there, seated on the left side of the stage; now, what has all this
> to do with channeling Stockhausen? which day? Samstag aus Licht?
> Freitag?). warm regards Johannes

> ++
> Viola, Stockhausen, Infinite Space
> http://www.alansondheim.org/caveviola44.jpg
> http://www.alansondheim.org/violastarcave.mp3
> The viola was coupled to the floor, fed through a standard
> instrument mic and vibration meter; the latter's track was
> amplified; my movements were coupled to the three-dimensional
> tunneling surrounding me in the Cave. Thanks to Kathleen
> Ottinger for stunning visuals, Azure Carter for videography,
> and the Brown University Cave. I channeled Stockhausen, I
> channeled cries and whispers, everything through the viola in
> this one take. The sound, the music, is something I haven't
> heard before; I've taken the right track, which was stunning
> and I dreamed of the bow coupled to the viola, replete with
> cries and whispers. We worked for hours, produced new video,
> audio, and stills; we used radio, Alpine zither, and viola;
> we recorded everything, even the secret transmissions of the
> equipment itself.

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