Domestic Appliances Project #1
Domestic Appliances Project #1
28–29 June 2009
York, UK: Arthur Sykes Rymer Auditorium, University of York
The domestic appliances projects comprises of a series of installations dedicated to the exploration of the musical and architectural potential of everyday domestic appliances. Hitherto, only one installation has been realized — at the Arthur Sykes Rymer Auditorium, (University of York, Heslington, UK) the 28th and 29th of June 2009. Here I examine the technical and æsthetic aspects of this first installation.
The original program notes that accompanied the work are quoted here:
This is the first of a series of installations dedicated to the exploration of the musical and architectural potential of everyday domestic appliances — realised at the Arthur Sykes Rymer Auditorium at the university of York, Heslington, UK, within the context of the artist’s research MA.
A domestic freezer has been selected as the only sound source. Using a variety of carefully selected and placed contact microphones, coils and other transducers (mainly custom-made), sounds from the machine are amplified and projected into the auditorium — achieving both an exploration and an expansion of the machine — to develop a composed sonic environment.
Sound here operates on an architectural level in competition with the Freezer’s corporeal presence and by enacting areas of different sonority within the auditorium. This provides visitors a ready-made sonic environment for them to experience, an opportunity to wander inside it, to explore it and define their own individual pathways through the work — their unique encounters with it.
Issues of site- and time-specificity arise due to the highly-referential nature of both the found-object and its accommodating space, this might introduce a conceptual aspect to the work. But the physical presence of the Freezer, the carefully composed soundscape and the individual character of the auditorium, are evidence that it’s not about A freezer into A space, but about this very Freezer into this space and the artist’s own interpretation of how they can interact together and merge.
Working with a finite set of sounds is tricky, despite its apparent simplicity. My first concern was to isolate spots of interesting sonority in the body and the interior of the machine. I thoroughly explored the freezer using contact and open air microphones, as well as various transducers and receivers — most of which I had constructed myself.
Soon I realised that it is not only about the sounds, but also about the processes that govern them. So, I had to spend some time with the machine to familiarise myself with the cycle of its operation.
The exploration of the machine took part inside the auditorium, so I was constantly aware of how things sounded like inside it — but this meant that I had to move throughout the space, as things sound different on different locations. At this point it is evident that — sonically speaking, what I dealt with is a freezer-hall combination, rather with a single object, as the freezer’s sound qualities were shaped by the site itself before arriving one’s ears.
The final placement was the following: A pickup coil was placed on the top and back of the freezer, just above the metal tubes. Another one was placed on one of its sides, near the bottom (where its motor is located). Next to the side pickup, I attached a large diaphragm contact piezo transducer, and two similar ones to the opposite side. Three small diaphragm piezo transducers were installed on the metal structure on the back of the freezer — to amplify the sounds of the fluid moving inside the tubes. A condenser lavalier microphone was attached deep in the motor cavity below the machine and finally, an induction transducer was attached on the motor itself.
Everything was connected on a Mackie mixer. Most signals were split into more than one channels. I carefully equalized as appropriate and routed all signals into the five Genelec speakers and the subwoofer. This was by no means a 5.1 surround set-up, though. Instead, based on intuition, I treated each speaker as an individual and independent sound source, as I wanted absolute control of the whole space, rather than of a particular locus.
Alternating current’s frequency is 50 Hz. This was the dominant frequency. The primary role of the induction coil I attached on the motor was to amplify this hum and diffuse it all over the room. By carefully distributing this sound amongst the speakers and combining it with other signals, I enacted an abrupt sonorous geography. Sounds would cancel each other out at certain spots, certain frequencies would reinforce or attenuate according to how one would move in the space, and standing waves would physically attack the bodies of those experiencing the work, resulting in a sonorous sculpture one could wander inside or around it, experiencing dramatically different timbres depending his positioning.
Doing so interferes with the architecture and the functionality of the location and re-defines it according this newly established sonic geography. Different areas in the room that previous were similar functional-wise, now might be given dramatically different qualities. Bass frequencies or standing waves divide the room into zones more or less comfortable.
The design of an auditorium implies the stage as the locus of action. I wanted to maintain this quality within my work, and to highlight the fact that the actual performer is an ordinary domestic machine. But at the same time, I did not want to overemphasize visual or theatrical elements, so I kept the lighting really low and discrete. The stage was further isolated using ropes, both as a safety precaution and to highlight the freezers corporeal presence as the cause of all sound.
Inevitably a work like this cannot be properly documented, as it heavily relies upon questioning the weaknesses of sound reproduction as a practice. Rather, it suggests that sound should be dealt with as a strict spatiotemporally depended experience.
There is no meaning in taking this project out of the A.S. Rymer auditorium, as that auditorium is an integrated part of it. Both video or audio capturing techniques would fail to recreate the experience of wandering within such an installation, just because the materiality of such a project would be undermined. Sound is no longer just what our ears perceive, but a tremendous physical presence experienced by the whole body and competing the architecture of the site.
Nevertheless the work needed to be somehow documented. So I made a short video in the location, while wandering inside the auditorium. I recorded the sound using a Soundfield ST-250 ambisonics microphone, to capture as much of the space as possible. Such a documentary, however good it may be, is philosophically inconsistent to the concept of installation art, hence it should be dealt with accordingly.