Surface Resonance…

Context and contribution to the field

This section describes the relationship of my work to others in the field. I separately describe the aspects of the vibration sensation experience, making sound from vibrating materials, and the combined vibro-acoustic experience.

The key elements that situate my work and mark its contribution within the field are provided first. Following this is an outline of other cited artists and works within the broader domains of tactile work and vibration sound.


Context and contribution

Contextualising the work

Vibration sensation experience

The central body of my work concerned understanding and composing for the tactile experience. This was for both vibration-only and vibro-acoustic works. I used the vibration table as a means of communicating vibration and also as an instrument itself, focusing on its particular attributes as a sounding device.

My compositions for a deep, very low frequency bodily experience have commonalities with a number of sound artists [for example, Randy Yau and Scott Arford’s Infrasound performances, Zbigniew Karkowski, Francisco Lopez], as well as connections to deep bass sensation in riddim music (dub, drum and bass, dubstep etc.) and other deep sensory music and experimental performance artists such as Sunn O))) and Cat Hope / Lux Mammoth.

The fundamental difference between my work and the rest of this domain is the different experience and compositional language I offered through explicit tactile sensation, compared with sensation as a product of low frequency sound.

While there is a broad crossover in the experiences, there is a very different textural scope in tactile sensation, with many gestures and experiences not being translatable from one sense to the other. My research is underpinned by my interest in this relationship, including understanding the crossover between sensation and sound perception.

My decision to use the table as a standalone, portable sounding sculpture aided this concentrated exploration of sensation experience. It offered a way of developing and expressing ideas that were not reliant on stimulating whole rooms through massive audio systems. The participant experience was more internalised and personal than architectural.

I composed a broad range of vibration gestures, developed targeted approaches to making source material with sensation as the primary aim, and worked with the specific vibration and audible characteristics of my constructed table, as an instrument.

I am aware of, but have not been able to directly experience, the work of other artists using body tactile transducers [for example, Patrica Piccinini’s the breathing room, Recombinant Media Labs, Michael Luck Schneider and Bruce Odland’s work, including for the Good Vibrations Caravan].

Compared to these artists, I consider that by working with a dedicated vibration device, in a long-term experimental sense, rather than in an installation or for a performance, I have been able to offer new experiences for audiences.

This is particularly the case where I have focused on discrete components, including rhythmic elements, stutters and plosive effects, rather than longer arcs, such as modulated sine tones, which, from my readings and discussions in this area, I understand are more typically employed in installation works.

Also, I have focused on vibration as a standalone experience, rather than using vibration devices to deepen an existing audio or audio-visual experience, as appears to be the case with some cited installations. It is in such areas, and the research around separating the vibration and acoustic elements from their normal bound relationship (see below), that I have contributed to the field.

Perhaps the most relevant artist in this area would be Mark Bain, who uses transducers and complex vibration tones to activate performance spaces into vibration. In these installations, the connection between architectural vibration and tactile vibration would be most explicit.

Making of sound from vibrating materials

When approaching sensation I focused on an internalised tactile experience delivered through the table. This focus extended to the way I approached the excitation, manipulation, recording and presentation of vibrating materials. I used the table to generate vibration, and shaped sound in a close and personal, bodily interactive sense, rather than a spatial / architectural sense.

I have developed my own compostional practice of articulating materials through bodily engagement with vibration. For example, to shape vibration sounds I applied my body weight and pressure across large vibrating surfaces such as window panes and sheet metal.

(Conceptually, James Tenney’s Koan: Having Never Written A Note For Percussion guided my focused exploration of the changed state of surfaces as they are subjected to different intensities of vibration stimulus.)

This process was about expressing the potential for surfaces to be excited into vibration. This vibration can be a harsh, discordant and inharmonic type of sound, that is by its acoustic behaviour inherently and harmonically tied to the deep sound or vibration that has caused it, and underpins it.

My approach of hand dampening to ‘contain’ the vibration sound has enabled me to skirt around the edges of discordant vibration, and express a potential-vibration state.

This control, combined with the use of varying and complex vibration tones, provided a different character and depth to the sounds than what is achieved through single-frequency vibrators or offset motors, such as in David Bryne’s playing the building installations.

The sounds created are also largely different to the object-vibration works I have cited, which have tended to use smaller scale materials (see ‘artists and works’ below).

The aesthetic also contrasts with sound-making using percussion (striking) to generate sound, such as in the glass percussive works of Eugene Ughetti.

The vibro-acoustic experience

The preceding information outlines the primary components of my investigation. However, my composition-led research may be best understood through the combined vibroacoustic experience I offered to an audience.

To make sound and vibration I developed content that referenced the ‘bound’ experience that occurs when deep vibration travels through a structure and into the body, and what this evokes in a listener.

The music environment, as a starting reference point, is an example of where high intensity, low frequency sound stimulates buildings and bodies into vibration. In this situation, the ‘bound’ experience of sensation and audible building vibration of large materials is most explicit.

Drawing from this experience offered a perspective into the spectrum of situations where low frequency waves stimulate the body and architectural structures into resonance and vibration (whether a musical, vehicular, environmental or mechanical source), sometimes in ways that are barely perceived, or noticed only in passing.

My approach involved making sound from large building materials, such as window panes and sheet metal. This focus helped me to maintain a clear reference to the vibration sounds caused by music within a performance space, and to explore the other low frequency resonance and vibration sound contexts.

By focusing my audio compositions on expressing the range of sounds that can occur from ‘activated’ building materials, and making these an integral part of a bodily experience, I was able to tap into an existing frame of reference and ground the audience experience.

In the sections above I describe linkages from my work to artists using intense low frequency sound to activate spaces and bodies [Infrasound etc.]. These areas have much in common with my approach. However, previously described, I have explored a more internalised, personal experience by targeted stimulation of materials, their recording and their reproduction in an installation context.

This enabled me to contribute new works with a finer control over the sound / sensation dialogue, including controlled expression through the table and the materials it stimulates.

Importantly, my work involved separating and challenging the traditional or expected sound-sensation relationships (i.e. those made where sound creates the sensation and the vibration-sound, as parallel aspects of the same experience).

Using the table alongside pre-recorded vibration sound enabled me to play with a range of vibro-acoustic relationships, including synched, ‘contrapuntal,’ and more subtly separated approaches. This offers new experiences for an audience that draw focus to our ordinarily subconscious perceptual processes.

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The broader field

Artists and works - vibration sound

In considering this area, it is important to make a broad distinction about the areas of vibration and resonance that I have focused on.

As previously described, I have drawn from and referenced works and situations where deep low frequency sound activates spaces and bodies into vibration. This use of intense low frequency sound in a space also crosses into the area of expressing room resonance, as emblematised by Alvin Lucier’s I am sitting in a room, and works referencing this approach such as Jacob Kirkegaard’s 4 Rooms.

However, I have chosen to concentrate on object vibration and resonance of surfaces (as parts of a space), rather than this architectural resonance (such as standing waves) aspect. The following describes inspirations, works and artists in the field of object vibration and resonance.

All of these are areas of interest, some of which I intend to explore further in my future practice. My particular approach has acknowledged the strength of work in this area and focused on less explored approaches and materials. In doing so, the sounds and aesthetic I developed do, in part, offer new experiences within what is a well-explored domain.

The chosen approach and materials have also been integral to addressing my research objectives around the combined vibro-acoustic experience and how this can draw from realworld experiences of body and object vibration.

An initial source of inspiration was the way that basslines in music could create vibration in spaces and loudspeakers. I drew from the work of producers that embrace a ‘distorted’, vibration-like aesthetic in their bass compositions [for example, Jah Warrior, The Bug, Scorn]. I was also interested in producers working with abstraction of the rhythm of drums and bass [for example, Hrvatski, The Artbreaker].

This connection extends to other bass driven rhythmic compositions outside of a direct musical sphere [for example, Carl Michael Von Hausswolff ’s Strom], including works of Koji Asano exploring the properties of loudspeakers as a prepared, distorted or torn expresser of sub-frequency energy.

From this reference point, I was interested in a range of work in the area of smaller prepared objects activated into vibration through loudspeakers or vibration transducers, such as Untitled Sound Objects’ work with metal plates, beads on a surface, and vibrating paper; Jeff Jerman’s Instability Studies with ‘shaketables’ and exploration of vibration and harmonics in instruments and materials by Tim Catlin and Jon Mueller. Vibration and resonance in objects is also richly explored field recordings, in particular by Toshiya Tsunoda.

I have also cited a work Clicks and Cars, by Foton, using vibrators to excite car frames into resonance, although I understand that this did not involve body or hand articulation.

My approach to building sound/sensation compositions gravitated around an underpinning deep low frequency sound/ vibration, and building upon this, upper harmonic (and inharmonic) audible material made from the excitation of objects. An initial inspiration for this 'fundamental frequency'/ 'harmonic' thread within my work were works and interviews with Alan Lamb, on the resonance of fencing/telephone wires.

Other fields of research and application

From a research perspective, whilst my work contributes to current knowledge in scientific research for music applications focused on the sound/sensation dialogue (see background below), my personal approach was to use knowledge in this area to facilitate creative expression, rather than to add to current academic texts.

The use of tactile transducers has obvious relationships to a range of other applications for vibration devices. These include gaming, theatre and nightclub applications. However, my compositional research was much more acute that the typical ‘commercial’ applications where sensation is an augmentation or supplement to the overall experience of sound and/or vision, or a basic shaking or explosive effect for the authentication of activity.

Being designed for the whole body, my area of work also differs from use of tactile transducers for communication by more localised touch (such as the hand held dual shock controllers in computer game systems). Early research enabled me to distinguish my work from this area from an academic viewpoint (also see background) , as the modes of communication and experience are very different from each other. For example, engineering texts make a categorical distinction between hand and whole body vibration, as one is more to do with touch, and the other body effects.

Finally, my vibration work has commonalities with vibro-acoustic therapy, an area where deep relaxing sensation is used to treat patients with sensory impairment or other physiological difficulties. While not within the realm of my research question, I would eventually like to explore this area further.

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