[NetBehaviour] Viola, Stockhausen, Infinite Space

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Mon Oct 6 00:54:09 CEST 2014

Hi Johannes,

I'll intersperse comments re: below, but I'm not sure anyone else is 
interested (I'd hope so, but I send so much to the list)

On Sun, 5 Oct 2014, Johannes Birringer wrote:

> 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 J?nglinge", 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'm not sure re: above, but musicians I know have been interested for 
years in vibration, which also connects to video feedbacks - not just 
audio. People have performed in silos, etc. and there are a great number 
of people working with natural phenomena in natural circumstances. Anyone 
by the way playing a qin or performing noh - two examples - works with 
resonant surfaces - the qin table or noh stage for examples; there are 
also people claiming that paleolithic sites exhibit sonic characteristics 
that were deliberately cultivated. Guitar feedback is another example. My 
own work with the synthesizer we built in 1968 explored reonant harmonics 
produced by overdriving oscillators. The current work is based on an 
awareness of the resonance / vibrations in the Cave, and I've worked with 
recording building vibrations for years. Even VLF lightning signals are 
based on resonance within 'tubes' in the ionosphere connected antipodean 
points on the earth. So it's not new to me at least, nor to a number of 
people I admire, for example the environmental artist Geoff Dugan.


> - 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?

If I knew what the transcendent was, I might believe in it; we were 
talking with a friend about the numinous yesterday. I'd say I was seated 
within the graphics, and you're right of course, that can't be transmitted 
which is a huge problem with the cave. I do think that Oculus Rift or some 
such will clear that up - I know people who are using the developer's Rift 
in Second Life - objects in fact are clearly recognizable and you can 
walk about your own creations. But I haven't pursued this - partly because 
of lack of money, and partly because of the privacy of the experience - 
others would have to purchase the same equipment to see the same things. 
In fact if people went 'around' my structures, now, in MacGrid or on 
Second Life's Odyssey Sim, they _would_ be in the immersive 3d objects; 
all the information is there!

Of course music is easier, and one can use binaural headphones - I've 
worked with binaural recording / playback at times and it's amazing.

I believe btw in the cosmos - how could one not - but again, I'm not sure 
what the 'cosmic' is - I've certainly had mystical experiences, but I 
don't ascribe any ontological or epistemological status to them. I feel 
I'm lucky enough to see the amazing variety and beauty of our own planet, 
even while it disappears -

> - 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 Einst?rzende 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.

I'm not sure what you mean by 'peligroso' - I'm unfamiliar with the word, 
although I did look it up. The Stockhausen I was referring to was the 
Gesang; I'm not that familiar with any of his more recent work, so I'm out 
of my depth here. Are you referencing the helicopter piece? I would have 
loved to have heard that, and I can see relationships of course. And I 
would have liked to have heard Octophony.

> 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:
> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcvTUNWYtW8
> 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 Serg?o Basbaum's interest in synaesthesia 
> effects of his "chromossonium" a few years ago when Serg?o 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)
I also want to mention Jackson Moore, whom I've worked with, who did a 
sonic cube with twelve channels - he was creating 'sonic objects' within 
it, in a pitch-black environment; they were amazing, and a kind of 
parallel to the cave. (we also did some performances in the cube, but 
that's another story). And even back in the 70s I think, at UCSD, there 
were similar things going on with 12-channel compositions fully occupying 
a space.

> 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)?

It all adds up to a totality of course, of one sort or another; nothing 
really 'happens' in these pieces, but they're surrounding, and I try to 
convey that on the small video screen that can be transported within the 
Internet, on personal laptops. The visual 'swaying' does create, even on 
the flat screen, an illusion of depth, and of course listening with 
headphones contributes as well. Everything goes together. I think of the 

But the cosmic is only a sensation -

Thank you!, Alan

> regards
> 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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