Surface Resonance…

Phase 2: First experiments with the table as an instrument. May 07 – July 07

This phase opened up a new approach to composition, using the vibration table as an acoustic compositional tool.

I experimented with ‘playing’ the table by vibrating and dampening its surface. A subsequent presentation to the Sound and Media Arts postgraduate students in the Sound Studio at RMIT helped solidify my directions, installation and performance aims.


Phase 2: Overview

I found that the layers of processing used in the Phase 1 composition had reduced the dynamics and immediacy I sought from vibration sound. To resolve this issue, I sent bass information from the composition through a bass amplifier and the vibration table, to excite small objects into vibration. Recordings of the rattling objects were added to the composition.

This marked a shift from using vibrations in recordings to generating and controlling vibrations ‘in studio’, and opened up the type of sounds I could use, with greater control and isolation from other noise.

I progressed to using the table itself as a sounding device, with a range of tests around using the table surface to generate audio, and the way audio signals would behave when applied through the table.

I started using drones and modulated bass through the table, as a departure from bassline riddim.

Overview of research outcomes

I explored all of my principal research aims:

This phase concluded with a presentation and discussion with the Sound and Media Arts postgraduate students in the Sound Studio at RMIT. It helped me think about the framework in which I wanted to compose. I solidified my interest in installation, with sensation, as a key focus over performance. The main findings follow.

Using the loose MDF top of the table as a large vibrating source offered a unique sense of control and ‘playability’ for vibration sound. I could use my body to change the pressures across the surface to manipulate the vibration.

The large surface also offered a range of approaches to miking, with the sound character varying significantly depending on microphone distance and placement across the surface.

I found that vibrating surfaces were also unpredictable in terms of the sound generated. I was challenged by the way sound would quickly transition from neutral to noisy and discordant, and recognised I needed a framework for generating sound that offered a greater degree of control.

I began to understand the unique attributes of sound as reproduced through the vibration table – how upper harmonics would dramatically reveal themselves with incremental increases in volume, how distortion of the electronic signal could artificially emulate the way that vibrating materials ‘distort’, and the frequency range best suited the table.

I started using drones from my bass guitar as a signal for the vibrating table. It diverted from the riddim approach, and the organic source, with rich harmonic content, had an interesting combination of a deep drone, and high frequency content that engaged the body. I found very low frequency modulation (a shaky sort of feedback) offered significant sensation effects.

At the end of this phase I was motivated to explore a greater range of vibrating materials, as while the MDF was interesting in its playability, it was not very interesting timbrally.

The sensory/feedback experience of playing the table also refocused my aim to bring sensation to an audience. Hence I decided on an installation approach over performance.

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Research detail subpage:   2.1 - Low frequency sound activating spaces - the articulation of building materials through vibration

Reference Material