DeCordova followup

Yesterday I mentioned the afternoon’s happy coincidental encounter with composer Spencer Topel at the DeCordova sculpture park and museum in Lincoln, MA. He was there filming Capturing Resonance, his new collaborative installation with Soo Sunny Park. We connected again today and I invited Spencer to share some insight on the piece, specifically about his role in creating its audio:

“My personal inspiration for ‘Capturing Resonance’ was the tangible, physical material of the early models for the project. It amazes me how my collaborator, Soo Sunny Park, transforms rough hewn materials: chain-link fence, wire, into flowing, rounded forms. I want the sounds to echo or evoke a similar synesthetic experience for the visitor–to create a multi-modal experience—where sound and light amplify one another. This intuition led to the addition of low-frequency “bass-exciters.” These devices, normally used for rumbles in a small commercial or home movie theater, were perfect for turing the sculptural sections into a kinetic sculpture by transmitting vibrations through interconnected sections of the structure.

 Having the sound control the physical behavior of the installation solved an additional problem I have with many kinetic works, where there is a motor running in the background, or a compressor, and it make a connection between the sounds of the work and the visual forms.

Another motivation for the sound-design came from the thousands of small Radiant plexi that “fill-in” the spaces of the fencing. This physically-intensive process yielded an altogether transcendental effect, whereby the viewer’s experience changes constantly with respect to their physical presence within the space. The sound elements too reflect this phenomenon in two ways: Use of an advanced speaker technology called “Audio Spotlight”, and the integration of sensors into the environment, allowing the installation to “react” to the physical presence of moving forms within the space.

 In the case of the former, employment of exotic speakers was required to make the sound seem as though it emanates from the sculptures itself, since the Audio Spotlights “project” sound onto surfaces in focused “beam-like” patterns. What people end up hearing then are the reflections, scattered in different directions from the source. While, I think this is a subtle effect, it is useful in de-emphasizing the physical location of the speakers. In the latter case, the sensors use motion activation to alter the musical space. At first this was too subtle because the sensors altered large-scale musical structure, and depending on how long someone would visit, the effect either work or not. Instead, we employed the sensors to incrementally activate the bass-exciters, creating a much more tangible and satisfying response.

 On a more particular-to-composition level, I wanted the musical structure to be continually adapting, evolving, and “infinite”. So many sound installations use a “loop” process, where after so many minutes or hours, everything starts over again. This bothers in a few ways, but most importantly because it means that the piece has an “end”, even with re-occurrences of the material. In contrast, my favorite exhibitions evoke a deep sense of timelessness. To accomplish this, I used a statistical-feedback approach preventing the five sonic “states” from repeating in exactly the same pattern. The sensors contribute to this process by weighting the lower states in low-activity conditions, (i.e. few visitors), or high states in high-activity situations. Between these two processes, I can confidently say that the material evokes a sense of re-occurrence without direct repetition, and while there are admittedly easier ways to do this, the result seems satisfying.

On a more philosophical-subversive level, I think too much of the “fantastic” or “magical” is relegated to fixed-media, where any image or sound in the right hands can be manipulated to appear as though it happened in reality. I love these kinds of experiences, but they are limiting because of the barrier between the experience and the production of that experience. With ‘Capturing Resonance ‘ I hope viewers may experience a sense etherial wonder emancipated from the lens of a camera or computer rendering.”

Spencer Topel with 'Capturing Resonance'

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