Sonic Research is a recurring project series that couples emerging sonic art practices with contemporary acoustic research. For our inaugural event Psychoacoustics Session I, Avant.org presented diverse perspectives on research into the maturing field of psychoacoustics by taking sonic cognition as a framework for delineating common aesthetic and epistemic modes of creation and interpretation of aural experience. The program, which was held on May 30, 2015 at the ALLGOLD MoMA PS1 Print Shop, featured an evening of curated installations, artist talks, and performances that, together, characterize aural cognition as a domain of consonant artistic and scientific investigation. The program was conceived as an experimental symposium on contemporary sound and its apprehension, and offered contributions by sound artists, musicians, and researchers.
Psychoacoustics Session I is foregrounded by a rich history of sonic experimentation as an instrument of somatic research. The connection between sound and body has long been the fascination of sound artists, who have explored sound as a discursive medium for over six decades. However, the primary concern of such engagements has been with spatialization, where terms like sound sculpture and sound installation are used to isolate sound in material space. In contrast, this program employed psychoacoustics as a paradigm for creating and understanding sonic art, situating sound within both body and mind. Contributors considered sound beyond its spatiality, expanding upon sonic art, and its comprehension, as physiologic, psychologic, and physio-lingual material.
Psychoacoustics Session I came about through a discussion on contrasting experiences with the term psychoacoustics, and the phenomenology of listening more broadly. While familiar descriptions intimate a connection between external sonic phenomena and various internal processes at work in their apprehension, the phrase eagerly evades precise definition. Instead, a variety of fragmented institutional understandings comprise an assortment of theoretical and embodied knowledge in present use. On the one hand, psychoacoustics is a term whose origin is most readily traced through scientific history, emerging after the field of psychology took shape at the turn of the century as it began incorporating quantitative methodologies in the ensuing decades. Its current status is further embedded in the succeeding histories of computation and modern biophysical science, inheriting much from booming advances in signal processing, information theory, cognitive linguistics, computational neuroscience, bioacoustics, and medicine. Among artists and musicians, however, psychoacoustics has been used in reference to a variety of psychoactive and psychologically derived forms of composition, improvisation, and performance.
The term psychoacoustics emerges sporadically within the histories of experimental music and sound art, often accompanied by an interest in conceptualism. While artists such as Alvin Lucier and David Rosenboom made use of neural oscillations and cognitive feedback processes to generate new musical forms accentuating the extrinsic listening environment, Maryanne Amacher, Max Neuhaus and others observed the physiologic comprehension of sound, highlighting its precarious position as an embodied portrait of time and space. The apparent polysemy among contemporary practical usage thus prompted the organization of this event, so as to draw these differing perspectives into a dialogue that extends beyond disciplinary predilection and ideology. Though the expansiveness of psychoacoustic research and its corresponding aesthetic practices prevents any singular analysis from being comprehensive, this event was folded within Avant.org’s greater Sonic Research program, an incipient series of projects, performances, and programs intended to expand our understanding of sonic experience through experimentation, dialogue, and critical listening.
Lectures, Performances & Installations
Seth Cluett performed a new composition directed around psychoacoustic methods to create individualized listening spaces for audience members using field-recordings and masking/occlusion. The work considers social politics using psychoacoustics as a cypher: what people hear is different and individualized from seat to seat. Cluett also spoke extensively about his broader artistic practice, which you can be heard below:
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Ron Kuivila performed a new composition, TED/Menck (for Bob Ashley), an electronic composition for voice and computer, using the SuperCollider sonic programming language. Kuivila’s composition is dedicated to the late avant-garde composer Robert Ashley, with whom Kuivila studied, and was supplemented by visual display of the text read aloud (not shown here). In his piece, Kuivila uses a custom granular signal processing system which varyingly distorts the playback speed of the prose, intentionally disrupting the recitation process as the artist attempts to simultaneously read and process the sound of his own reading. Interleaved within Kuivila’s performance is a conversation with Sam Hart on use of computational techniques and aural comprehension.
Notes on TED/Mencken (a glossetalia for Robert Ashley) (2015)
TED/Mencken (a glossetalia for Robert Ashley) is based on an odd prose/poem attributed to John Barton Wolgamot and entitled IN SARA, MENCKEN, CHRIST AND BEETHOVEN THERE WERE MEN AND WOMEN. It was self-published in 1944. The text consists of 128 stanzas identical in basic lexical form but with changing word content based on a collection of 1023 mostly famous names culled from biographical dictionaries of the day. It was the basis of a recording by Robert Ashley and Paul DeMarinis of the same title in 1974. The recording consists of each stanza being read by Ashley in a single breath spliced together to make a seamless textual barrage. This is accompanied by electronics designed by De Marinis that trigger from diff erent attributes of the voice. That piece and others by Ashley had a large impact on me starting out. (In a Cunningham Studio event of the time, he and Mimi Johnson remained at home and literally phoned in the performance to David Behrman. I can still hear Bob saying “David, disregard the score, increase the probabilities”.) And I have long been intrigued by the performance problem of reading the text live without taking an audible breath, the issue that kept In Sara Mencken a tape piece. So, I resolved to make an homage to Bob Ashley by revisiting the text of this piece that was never performed.
The performance is based on the relatively simple-minded device of reading into a computer that plays back what it receives slightly slowed down. Once far enough ahead of myself, I can take a breath, wait for the slowed down recitation to complete, resynchronize the recording process and begin again. This creates a complex balance between my live voice, my amplifi ed voice, and my slightly delayed voice that also engenders delay induced speech impediments in my reading. This configuration of voices makes the present a turbulence in which both the future and the past are caught and tumbled together. That seems apt for making a piece that is a reconsideration of a 1944 text as a 1974 piece of music. It also resonates with my experience of networked media, archival and social. Ubu and Facebook are not so diff erent, both invite us to engage in an encyclopedic enumeration that, through enormous if sublimated effort, flattens into a ceaseless present. TED/ Mencken attempts to engage that recognition by enacting that effort.
– Ron Kuivila
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Accompanying audiovisual artworks on view
A.K. Burns, The Orchid Show, 2013. 13:33 min. Color video & sound.
A.K. Burns and Katherine Hubbard, untitled (shaving performance 2010), 2014. 16:21 min. Color video & sound.
Jules Gimbrone and A.K. Burns, Spool or Nest, 2012. 2:37 min. Color video & sound.
Jules Gimbrone, Taking Up Space, 2014. 10:41 min. Color video & sound. Performed by Mariana Valencia, Lydia Okrent and Jules Gimbrone. Video by Jules Gimbrone.
Jules Gimbrone, Rooms, Junk, and Other Forces, 2015. 37:20 min. Color video & sound. Performed by Mariana Valencia, Lydia Okrent and Jules Gimbrone. Video by Aurélie Doutre, Justine Giliberto and Jules Gimbrone.2
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Josh Millrod performed Dreaming Together a longterm solo project incorporating musical improvisation, guided meditation and internal imagery. Listeners are guided into a meditative state where they can more deeply experience the music being improvised. While in this state, listeners experience internal imagery ranging from shifting colors fields to dreamlike sensations, others simply experience a deep relaxation. Dreaming Together has been in development for a several years in small group and individual settings with healthy individuals, but will eventually be brought to psychotherapeutic contexts to help explore and integrate unconscious and conscious states, fostering psychosomatic healing and growth.
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C. Lavender performed a piece centered around the chronobiological phenomenon of entrainment, utilizing isochronic tones, binaural beats, and ambient sounds which encompass specific frequencies that trigger states of brain function, from deep relaxation to alterness. This performance will incorporate a range of subsonic and ultrasonic tones.
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Suzanne Dikker spoke about a predictive accounting of mental states via linguistic signaling and her current research on the role of neural synchrony in language comprehension.
Avant.org expresses its utmost gratitude to the members of ALLGOLD (Kevin Beasley, Stephen Decker, Inva Cota, and Golnaz Esmaili) for their considerable support in the production of this program. In addition, we would like to thank the MoMA PS1 staff, without whom this event would not be possible: Sam Silver, Sascha Pohflepp, Alexis Convento, and Paulette Lewis. Special thanks also to Liz Arps, Daniel Neumann, and Jocelyn Miller for their guidance and support throughout, as well as our inspiring contributors.
Touch Parade (2011) is typically presented as a looping 5 channel video installation. For this program, the artist allowed Avant.org to screen videos in succession on a single reel with other works.↥
Taking Up Space (2014) and Rooms, Junk, and Other Forces (2015) were displayed as a dual video projection and sound installation. The two works run on asynchronous loops, creating a realtime aleatoric sound composition.↥