Exploring the unheard: A phenomenological listening experience with ‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’ by Felix Hess

Author(s): 
Jack Richardson
Date of publication: 
2014-08
ISSN: 
2052-7888
DOI: 
10.3943/001.2014.08.0207

1.0 Abstract

By undertaking a listening exercise following the methodology of Lawrence Ferrara’s “Phenomenology as a Tool for Musical Analysis” (1974), this article seeks to explore a piece of sound art by scientist and artist Felix Hess. The work, ‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’ (2000), provides listeners with an audial insight into a largely unexploited phenomenon called ‘infrasound’, which has been sonified to bring it into the realm of human audibility. By exploring how Ferrara’s listening methodology can lead to an increase in knowledge and familiarity with the work, the author argues that the data found can be conveyed to listeners new to the sonic arts to help them better understand and appreciate this challenging work.

Key Words: Sound art; Perception; Access; Listening; Infrasound; Sound-based; Electroacoustic Music

2.0 Introduction

This article seeks to initiate critical discussion regarding a sound-based work consider to be ‘sound art’ by its artist. It does so by undergoing a directed 'listening experience', following a structure outlined by Lawrence Ferrara in his paper “Phenomenology as a Tool for Music Analysis”. Initially created as a listening process for examining atonal and electronic music, the author seeks to apply it to a unique piece that challenges distinctions between sound art and music. The work being explored is ‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’ (2000), by Dutch scientist and artist Felix Hess. Using infrasonic sound to explore a perceiving listener's ‘sensitivity’ to sound, Hess seeks to investigate via the creation of a sound work rather than the implementation of a scientific experiment - his works are (to be overly simplistic) science framed as art.

This infrasonic sound – referred to as “infrasound” by Hess (Schuluz 2001: 126) – exists in frequencies well below that of human perception. Hess shows the presence of infrasound in several works leading up to ‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’ by demonstrating its impact on the surrounding world - influencing light sources and interfering with electronic devices - to make them “feelable” (Ibid: 61). Arguing that such frequencies can still be regarded as sound, for Hess "Air Pressure Fluctuations" is the culmination of his infrasonic endeavours. It goes beyond demonstrating infrasound's tangibility, instead sonifying it to allow listener's to perceive it as a sound source rich with detail.

Whilst not his first work to involve infrasound, ‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’ is the first to ‘capture’ it directly. These early efforts demonstrated how the effects of infrasonic sound waves could be harnessed to influence other materials and mediums. Firstly, Hess began with devices that presented air pressure fluctuations as light – ‘Kazebotaru’ (‘Wind Fireflies’) (1991) – followed then as representations in sound – ‘Kraker’ (‘Crackler’) (1994) (2001: 59–61). Several more works with light followed, including air-pressure-controlled lamps in Icelamp (1997) and Air (1998) (Ibid: 61–2).

‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’ is a window into a wealth of hidden phenomena presented in a way that demonstrates one’s sensitivity of the world around us. This is a vital consideration for both enjoying and understanding the piece. In an interview with Bernd Schulz, author of ‘Light as Air’ a book on Hess’ work, the composer describes his focus on sensitivity thus:

I try to make the work itself sensitive, not in any deep sense, but just literally make it very sensitive, so you become aware not of the way the work looks or the way it sounds, but you become aware of listening. That’s what I’m investigating now, so I am not investigating in the objective world (sic.), I am investigating sensitivity. (Schulz 2001: 35)

As a work of art, ‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’ contains many of the characteristics common to both field recording and sound art. It captures a locale within a finite timeframe, as does a field recording; yet the underlying source of infrasound – which can be thought of as infinite – continues to exist as time with neither beginning nor end, placing it within a realm of sound art. It is also a work of both scientific and artistic exploration, driven by the composer’s desire to ‘hear’ first-hand the sound of the infrasonic waves that he had sensed visually in so many of his other works. 

Ferrara’s phenomenological framework offers an approach of structured listening, allowing a listener to move systematically through levels of analytical depth. It presumes that “what one hears is affected by how one hears”, thus necessitating the careful consideration of the analyst's orientation. The choice of method decides what musical information is collected, and how it is treated (Ferrara, 1974: 356). Ferrara's framework is separated into four distinct ‘types’ of listening, which lead through five stages. The analyst begins with 'open' listening, where they “respond to any level of meaning in the work”. A series of focused listening modes then follow, which explore syntactical, semantic and ontological aspects of the work. Upon completion, the analyst again returns to the 'open' listening mode to experience the piece fully once again with their experience in mind.

By undertaking a phenomenological journey into the work in question, the author, in the role of analyst, seeks to understand the work further as a piece of sound art that challenges musical and artistic constructs of sound works. Taking the knowledge garnered from this experience, the author aims to introduce listeners to the piece as a way of introducing them to a broader concept of what can be accepted as music. Although this effort considers ‘listeners’ in general to be of any age, the author’s research explores teaching with school children in Key Stages 2 and 3. By helping them to learn them about the piece’s context and creation using the information gathered as part of the listening process, the author seeks to measure how such knowledge impacts on their appreciation of it. The article thus forms part of the author’s doctoral research, and is orientated towards a broader goal of increasing the accessibility levels of listeners unfamiliar with sound-based music, electroacoustic music and the sonic arts.

2.0 Background & Context

In creating ‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’, Felix Hess has recorded a nearly inaudible real-world sound source and manipulated it with both artistic and scientific intent. The single recording that is the piece’s source material captured infrasonic fluctuations in air pressure that were originally in the range of 0.03 Hz to 56 Hz (Schulz 2001: 126). Hess notes “[almost] everything to be heard on the CD was inaudible, literally unheard of, in real time, because it was too low for our ears” (Ibid) – although the ‘real-time’ aspect of this must be stressed. One would not be able to single out the infrasonic sounds that Hess has captured, as they would be masked by the sound of the world around us and, in any case, within a frequency range beyond our perception. However, when identified, as in Hess’ source recording, the human ear could register the partition of the frequency content existing within the audible range.

The fluctuations of air pressure are a natural phenomenon that caught Hess’ attention after a “surprise discovery” in August of 1991, where he found that small electret microphones he had used as “sound sensors” in previous works “seemed to be sensitive to wind as well, sensitive not only to the air flow around the microphone itself, but even to the wind outside my house pushing at the windows, which meant: sensitive to air pressure fluctuations” (Schulz 2001: 59–60).

Hess' works serve a dual purpose for both scientific and artistic enquiry. His works explore scientifically the presence of the air pressure phenomenon, yet they are framed artistically. Interestingly, this framing at first may have been unintentional. Hess stated in a keynote presentation at AV Festival 2010 (2010, 13'18"–14'14"), that it was with the insistence of musicians that he began to concede that his works were both science and art. “What you are doing is art and you are an artist”, he paraphrases, although he stresses that “I got used to that, [...] but for me it was research”. This could be seen as an interesting change in intent – ‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’ must be seen by Hess to be a work of ‘art’, given that it is disseminated on CDs. Similarly, the titling of this and other works already mentioned present them as works, rather than scientific studies.

To create ‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’ Hess recorded for five days in September of 2000 [1]using two purpose-built microphones sensitive enough to capture pressure changes. The sonification process was undertaken by accelerating the playback speed of the recording three hundred and sixty times, thus making one second of the final work equate to six minutes of the initial recording. Equally, a 4-minute segment contains a whole 24-hours of infrasound (Schulz 2001: 126).

It is worth noting that works influenced by infrasonic sound are not entirely new: Alvin Lucier’s ‘Music for Solo Performer’ (1965) amplifies alpha waves from its performer’s scalp; John Luther Adam’s ‘The Place Where You Go To Listen’ (2008)[2] takes seismological, meteorological, and geomagnetic data, thus infrasonic sound converted into numbers, to control in real time the sounds generated in a listening room via ‘sonification’ (Adams 2009: 113). Yet, as R. Murray Schafer (Schafer 1989) notes of Lucier’s piece, what you hear is the influence of these infrasonic waves on another medium, and “not the alpha waves themselves”, because “they’re too low”. In ‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’, as with these two other instances, what is heard is the sonification process, which brings low frequency recorded signals into the audible domain. It is not the sound of the source itself that is heard.

However, whilst what we hear in ‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’ is, in some way, the direct source – rather than its effect on other mediums – Hess’ process of sonification is by no means a perfect way of introducing infrasonic phenomena into the auditory domain. By accelerating his source recording, thus bringing the lowest frequencies into perceptive regions, other higher frequencies in the source recording that where perhaps audible have subsequently risen higher, eventually exceeding our hearing. As such, one might consider ‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’ to frame only the lowest of infrasonic frequencies, down to 0.03 Hz as previously noted in Background & Context. Those frequencies up to 56Hz likely became inaudible as part of the process. As such, by making some sounds audible, others were rendered inaudible.

3.0 Listening “Openly”

The first time...

As Ferrara’s phenomenological listening strategy denotes, one is to begin by listening openly to the work, commenting on any level of meaning within it. Immediately, as the recording is played, one notices the work’s textural density. It sounds like white noise, with rogue high frequencies darting around the stereo space erratically. These movements push against a more drawn-out drone in the lower ranges. The drone is rich with a slightly dissonant tonal cluster. It is reminiscent of the fading sound of a train throttling away after passing; it progresses downwards as if affected by a Doppler shift, drawing itself out over several minutes. It fades in and out of the texture as the piece continues.

There is a blustering sound throughout, a turbulence that interacts with the far left and right of the stereo field – less consistent than the rich drone, it varies in pace and intensity. There is a distinct speed to all of the ‘events’ within the texture, and as they shoot across the stereo field they become homogeneous. Although there are shared timbral qualities, there is something unique about the present sound content. It is reminiscent of the string instruments in Iannis Xenakis’ Pithoprakta (1956). In this work, the strings function individually, following a unique trajectory. Yet, together they form a mass as it becomes difficult to identify specific instruments. Applying this to ‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’, each sound event is, in some respects, individual. However, given the volume, pace and wide range of frequencies, these individual events homogenise.

A second time...

Listening again, the high-pitched tonal inflections that move amid the volume of events impose a sense of constant motion characterised by the temporal compression of the source recording. The more one listens, the more one becomes aware of the subtle detail in the sonic texture. The lateral movement of the tonal inflections distinguishes them against the more stable low-frequency content that forms a ‘background’.

In ‘Light As Air’, Hess notes that the microbaromic movement of the Atlantic Ocean has an impact on the piece (Schulz 2001: 127). This manifests itself as a rich, low drone – which Schulz dubs the “«song» or «dance» of the ocean”. An awareness of this amplifies the expanse of space captured by the recording, and serves to ‘open up’ the once suppressive layers of white noise. With both concepts considered during the third listening, they explain and draw attention to the piece’s structure, texture and sense of space.

The third and final time...

The final “open” listening now allows the analyst to begin exploring the piece from a high-level perspective with knowledge of low-level structures considered. Ferrara notes that it is with syntactical listening that “musical sounds come together at a higher level of syntax as we note and attend to formal structures” (Ferrara 1974: 360), so such high-level discussions are at this stage preliminary. Yet, a connection to the work’s compositional context results in a helpful increase in understanding.

As noted, Hess informs us that four minutes of the piece equates to twenty-four hours of the original recording. This is important because it highlights the impact that temporal compression has in framing the infrasound as a hidden phenomenon inaudible in real-time to the human ear. It becomes possible, or perhaps plausible, to approximately follow one’s ‘position’ in relation to the time of day of the recording based on the dynamic volume of the piece at any given time. A ‘wider’ texture suggests ‘day time’, whilst a ‘thinner’ texture suggests ‘night time’.

4.0 Listening with focus

In short, Ferrara defines the following focused listening approaches as follows. Syntactical listenings “start at a more fundamental level than the level of musical form”, assuming that “before one hears music intellectually as sound in form, one can hear sound as such” (Ferrara 1974: 359). Listening for semantics involves exploring sound source and meaning. Lastly, ontological listening glimpses the historical ‘world’ of the composer (Ibid). Continuing the listening methodology now with a focus on syntax, the analyst must set aside an ‘open’ approach.

Syntactic listening...

Listening for a piece’s syntax necessitates a bracketing out of thoughts on its semantics or ontology. We must interpreting sounds as “symbols or codes”, with meaning and the “ontological world” of the composer removed (Ferrara 1974: 361). In essence Ferrara is alluding to the process of epoché, or phenomenological reduction, which allows listening to “become a sphere of investigation containing its own immanent logic, structure and objectivity” (Kane 2007: 17). Kane notes that for Pierre Schaeffer this meant “bracketing out the physical subsisting fact-world”, thus not allowing judgements related to it to be made (Schaeffer 1966 in Kane 2007: 17). Thus, “by leaving us only with perceptual experience in itself, hearing can no longer be characterised as a subjective deformation in relation to external things” (Ibid).

Given that no initial structure could be garnered from listening alone, the first syntactical listening is initially difficult. It has been noted earlier that at a syntactical level, musical sounds come together and structure is explained (Ferrara 1974: 360), and whilst progress has already been made in understanding the temporal structure of the piece, such prior knowledge must be omitted if sounds are to be heard, as Ferrara defines it, ‘as such’.

Listening to the whole piece leaves one without a discernible grasp on the tonal change of the piece, yet there is a large amount of tonal change that takes place. Skipping through the timescale of the track on the CD in Schulz, 2001 gives an impression of the changes in pitch that take place. Like the change from cold white noise to a warm wealth of activity, the monotony of the indiscernible pitch can give way to a tonally rich stream of sonic actions within the confines of time when interpreted as sound within a structure removed of meaning.

Sonogram analysis of the piece shows uniformity in long portions of time, with narrow frequency bands that are almost straight when seen from an overview perspective of the entire sonogram (See Fig. 1). Showing the droning frequencies that shift throughout the length of the piece, it can be seen that large areas of time in the sonogram are uniform, and that parallel lines of frequencies often change around the same time. Although removed from the core listening procedure, the results of such a test prove useful in visualising the motions of the day-to-day represented in time by the piece. There is a link to be drawn between the ‘time of day’ in the piece, and the width of the texture. The high and low frequencies fall in and out, ebbing and flowing in intensity without rest. It has been noted already that, due to Hess’ sonification process, a 4-minute segment of the piece equates to a 24-hour berth of the source recording. What can then be seen from Fig. 1 is the shaping of each day – increasing in frequency and sonic content as the amount of natural and human activity that contributed to the source recording increases. The six equally sized white outlines at the top of the sonogram image represent the ‘width’ of a day in relation to the timescale of the piece to demonstrate roughly where one day ends and another begins.

One can see from the sonogram in Fig. 1 that from the start there are 6 segments, positioned to define one day – taken as being from the centre of a one darker region of the image, to a similar location of the next darker region. The whiter regions of the image (constructed by vertical white lines that cross the entire frequency range of the recording) demonstrate more energy in the higher frequency range characteristically caused by a greater amount of ‘activity’ creating infrasonic sound waves. Correspondingly, what one hears is the ‘ebb’ and ‘flow’ of this periodic intensity, as one day fades out before another begins. Combining Hess’ writings with the sonogram analysis of the piece below, it is possible to see that, beginning at 16:00 GMT (+2 h) on the 23rd of September 2000, the high-frequency intensity of the early evening peters away from 0’45” until the ‘middle of the night’ is reached at 1’30” – shown here by very little high-frequency energy, thus leaving the sonogram darker.

Whilst this information helps one to understand the temporal structure of the piece, it still remains difficult to syntactically evaluate the piece as a whole. This is due both to the length of the piece and the level of homogeneity that continues throughout. One finds that the piece is ‘formless’ because of this, even if it inherits a macrosturcture from the temporal nature of the recording. However, much like a drone rich in frequency content, to classify it as ‘formless’ is not to consider it static or uninteresting. In fact, one begins to find more interest in the piece’s intricacies, becoming immersed in the atmosphere of the work as a whole.

Figure 1. Sonogram analysis of 'Air Pressure Fluctuations'. White marker denote roughly the length of a day in relation to the amount of activity happening in piece.

Semantic listening...

Upon listening for semantic content it is apparent that there is a wealth of activity that is distinctly unique, yet confined ‘within’ a texture. Homogeneity is being created from a vast amount of heterogeneous sound events, as noticed when first listening openly. Here prior knowledge plays its part again. In ‘Light As Air’, Hess lists possible mechanical causes of the fluctuations being listened to: from “the rumblings of factories, trains, and trucks and other motor cars, or even nearby washing machines” (Schulz 2001: 126). Even the opening and closing of doors has an effect, Hess notes. With this knowledge in mind it becomes easy to imagine the events causing fluctuations as having a direct influence on the piece.

Behind everything is the central idea of ‘time’ as a constant. This is a piece of compressed time, creating a window into a hidden sonic landscape displaying a homogeneous, densely inter-relational texture of natural and man-made interactions with the fluctuations of a transparent force. One realises now that this is both the meaning and the art of the piece. Scientific interests have led to this discovery of a hitherto unknown force, by framing it, not as a simple recording but conceptually as a portion of extended time, ‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’ is regarded by the author as both sound art and music. Time here is not conceptual; it is contained within the recording used to make the piece, and has been temporally manipulated through sonification as has already been observed. However, whilst its speed has been changed, it still accurately represents a portion of this hidden phenomenon sonically, demonstrating its consistent nature.

Ontological listening...

Listening after the exercises so far, it is possible to fit what one hears within Ferrara’s ontological mode of enquiry utilising prior knowledge and the experience so far as guides. One’s ability to focus the listening process on the detail of the textural ‘cloth’ of the composition has improved if not through knowing that Hess’ aim is to incite listening but through knowing that what is presented is worth listening to. There is a also a certain richness evoked from the temporal and spacial elements of the piece, retaining the analyst’s attention after considering syntactic and semantic knowledge. Ferrara’s listening process has increased familiarity with the piece, also. Much like he found in his analysis of Varèse’s Poème Électronique, one is able to follow the composition and ‘know’ what to expect.

In reaching this point, however, one requires knowledge that can not be gathered from listening alone. Defining the ontological aspect of his methodology, Ferrara states that by “experiencing the ontological world of Bach we do not step out of our own world but become more knowingly present. The work of art calls into question our own mode of existence. A current musical analysis takes place in the unity and continuity of late twentieth-century life experience” (Ferrara 1974). Christensen (2012: 19) characterises the orientation of Ferrara’s listening process here as “uncovering indications of the composer’s “lived time” and its values, outlooks, potentials and realities”. This poses difficulties to all listeners, and forms a large area of discussion that can only be touched on here. One cannot experience Bach ‘as intended’, listening now in retrospect, without some knowledge of the composer, in what century it was composed and, to some extent, how this shaped the composer’s work.

All this occurs even without stepping out of ‘our own world’. We hear from our own perspective in the present, which ultimately impacts upon our own experiences of music; yet, how are we to become more knowingly present from listening alone? It is also needless to say that whilst the analyst’s awareness of any historical information might be of benefit to their own analysis, such knowledge can not be assumed for all listeners. As such, one must consider external information in order to fully understand the composer’s ontology.

There is no historical information that one might adequately comprehend from just the sounds of the piece alone, given that they are so abstracted from their source by the sonification process. We must return to the compositional context, but this time focusing on the background of the composer and not the piece itself. We have seen already that Hess’ works with infrasound goes back nine years before ‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’ was conceived, but what we find from his book ‘Light As Air’ are the reasons behind it. In an interview with the book’s editor Bernd Schulz, Hess recounts the thoughts that led him towards becoming an artist. He answers, “I wanted to know how the universe is put together. I wanted to understand the totality of reality when I was a child. I wanted to understand how things are, not what other people tell me” (Schulz 2001: 31). Schulz continues, “[the] interest of tying space to your own perception seems to be essential to you”. Hess agrees. Whilst working on his doctoral thesis photographing the flight paths of boomerangs at night, Hess states “science was an excuse to do the whole thing ... that’s not so different from how I work now. [It] is the same kind of feeling, maybe, but now I call it art” (Ibid: 34).

The theme from this answer points towards a desire for people to ‘listen’ to the work they encounter, and examine the manner in which they listen to it. This is a theme that extends further. A short essay within Light As Air, ‘Three Ways of Listening’, describes Hess’ tripartite approach to listening, namely in meaning, time and space. The search for ‘meaning’, he notes, works quickly to find interest within the presented sounds, and “acts almost automatically” to remove irrelevant sounds “as having no meaning, turning them into mere noise”. ‘Time’, which Hess suggests is the most often used and most effortless of these listening structures, is led by the “succession of sounds”. Lastly, Hess defines listening to ‘space’ is “being sensitive to where the sounds come from” (Schulz 2001: 41–2). Unfortunately, Hess’ concepts of listening to space are brief, and focus more on source than the space heard within a recording. The sense of space we as the listener encounter directly – from the speaker or headphone – is not considered here; however, Hess’ concept of listening to space does resonate with his focus on sensitivity.

To take from the above that ‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’ is a study in listening, meaning, time and space can be inferred from how it allows us to “experience hidden energy fields with our senses” (Schulz 2001). In fact, the importance of time and space inflect the meaning itself, especially if one takes ‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’ as a recording of actions in time as found in the semantic listening portion of the process [3]. To give it context, ‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’ is a recording that clearly represents the sensitivity he so desires. It invites listening and also requires directed attention, a conscious effort to focus the senses, to experience a portion of time in which a seemingly infinite number of actions homogenise to create the piece’s rich texture.

5.0 Listening “Openly” once more

The final listening of the methodology sees a return to the ‘open’ format, with the knowledge of all previous listenings considered. Interestingly, as the CD came to an end on the ontological listen, there was a sudden feeling in the ear of being lost. With the texture of the work having become so familiar, to have it disappear so suddenly left a sense of emptiness. Pondering this before moving on to the last listen, it is astounding just how enveloping the piece can be; it takes one’s concentration and full attention without perhaps being aware of it.

As the piece continues for the last time, one can’t help but think again of the original goal that kindled Hess’ scientific enquiry: “I wanted to know how the universe is put together. I wanted to understand the totality of reality” (Schulz 2001: 31). ‘Air Pressure Fluctuations’ is not a representation of the totality of reality, nor does it capture how the universe really works, but it certainly highlights just how foundational and fundamental sound is to us all – a statement the author believes Hess would support. It places a sphere of energy on a level that we can actively sense and access, simultaneously demonstrating the far- reaching and ubiquitous presence of sound around us, and just how much detail there is within it that we are not receptive to. Above all, it prizes sound as an artistic medium worth listening to, whilst prizing listening as an action worth doing.

The listening exercise has also increased tolerance. It is easier to remain attentive fully throughout the twenty-minute span of the piece without wavering or feeling lost. What was once unknown is now a landscape teeming with familiar activity. It feels possible to ‘place’ oneself quite clearly in the time and even the day of the recording after becoming familiar with the way that the intensity of the piece fluctuates periodically. Given the piece’s temporal source, being able to do this affords a deeper understanding of the structure behind what, at first listen, was uniform and overpowering.

6.0 Concluding remarks

Before concluding the efficacy and merit of Ferrara’s analytical tool when used with a composition that is difficult to clearly categorise, some words on the author’s research intentions are required. Prior to this listening experience taking place, research explored the conceptual and contextual facets of the work from the composer’s writing. The data, predominantly from ‘Light As Air’, offered a passionate and enthralling insight into a body of work that has aimed to increase people’s sensitivity to a wealth of unnoticed energy. This information, perceptively orientated to the composer’s view of the piece, offered excellent insights into the genesis of the work and the sound sources within the resultant recording.

Whilst such information provides a useful resource for inexperienced listeners to orientate themselves to the piece, the author felt that lower-level research from a perceptive point of view was required to enhance one’s ability to access and appreciate the piece. There was a sense of more being offered here beyond the brief write-up by Hess at the back of ‘Light As Air’. By identifying first-hand – thus from a phenomenological perspective – the aspects of the piece that a listener could hold on to, it was hoped an increase in the appreciation of both the researcher and listener would result.

Having completed the process one is inclined to agree. What has been found, whilst individualistic on all accounts and by no means applicable to the many, has progressed from the content in ‘Light As Air’. The more perceptive qualities that have arisen from the process, such as the sensations of familiarity and comprehension throughout the length of the piece, have furthered the author’s understanding more than anticipated. Digging for deeper meaning has found layers of information that help break the piece down from one large uniform mass of sound into a structure that allows one to build a familiarity with the piece. Once achieved this can give way to listening again to the piece as a whole, as the experience moves from listening to a uniform mass to listening to a richly detailed work built from real-world sound events framed as to provide a ‘window’ into a phenomenon once hidden.

The value given to time, pitch and space in the piece has increased understanding of the concepts underlying it greatly. Initially, uncovering the temporal structure of the piece from Hess’ writings resulted in an increase in comprehension, but it is by understanding why the temporal structure is so important for both the spatial and meaningful aspects of the composition that the outcome has seen an increase in the author’s levels of appreciation, one that can hopefully be passed on to inexperienced listeners also.

It has been found that this understanding has a positive impact on one’s ability to listen attentively to the piece for long durations. It has also helped to increase interest and familiarity, even given the length of the piece. Towards the start of the listening exercise certain aspects of the piece shone out – notably the rich drone attributed to the Atlantic Ocean – but as the author’s level of understanding and appreciation increased it seemed unnecessary to ‘compartmentalise’ the piece further, and instead enjoy it as a whole.

As was a central desire in the undertaking of this listening exercise, the author believes that this information will help to increase a listener’s appreciation of a piece when conveyed in an approachable and appropriate manner. It is hoped that similar exercises like this with other works will generate a wider base of knowledge that can be conveyed in a similar way. By exploring from a perceptive, but analytical, perspective a personal understanding of the piece has resulted, which relates the factuality found within the composer’s own writings with the experiential considerations that the exercise has led to.

It would be interesting for others to undertake a similar listening experience to strengthen the knowledge base and introduce more diverse considerations. This is an area that the author sees worthy for further exploration. The deep-level listening exercise has been fruitful in that it has led to a greater level of knowledge being found, with the subsequent result being an increase in appreciation for the piece’s intricacies and concept. Going forward it is hoped that the information found through undertaking this listening exercise can lead to a similar increase in appreciation with new listeners, continue work towards increases the accessibility of sound-based music, electroacoustic music and the sonic arts further. 

[1] Exact recording dates: “23.09.2000, 16:00 – 28.09.2000, 19:49 (GMT + 2 h)” (Schulz 2001: 126)
[2] Situated within the University of Alaska’s Museum Of The North, ‘The Place Where You Go To Listen’ is an ongoing installation placed originally in 2008. For more information visit http://www.uaf.edu/museum/exhibits/galleries/the-place-where-you-go-to/
[3] Quote taken from the back cover of the referenced book. 

 

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