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The Polyrhythms of the Ear Canal I: Installation

Investigating the Human Body as an Instrument and Listening Device Inspired by Attention, Hearing, and Alvin Lucier.
A Senior Thesis Sound Installation submitted to The Division of Arts at Bard College by Pippa Kelmenson.
November 2016, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

Sound Installation. Tea-dyed Sheets/Rugs, Wood, Speakers, Tarp. Interleaved multichannel recording. 8-speaker array, routed in Max/MSP.

The ear is an active amplifier of its own sounds. From otoacoustic emissions to tinnitus frequencies, our ears act as instruments responding to sound information. To distinguish acoustic elements generated outside of the ear from those taking shape in the inner ear, we are required to internally perceive all acoustic information. But is concentration enough to determine the origin of each sonic element? This sonic distraction accentuates the focus of my work: the dichotomy between the theory of hearing as passive reception and listening as active concentration.

Interleaved multichannel recording. 8-speaker array, routed in Max/MSP. For my undergraduate thesis at Bard College, I produced a large-scale installation to accentuate the corporeal impact of sonic vibration. Entirely self-designed and constructed, the 24-foot long ear canal featured a six-channel speaker array that emitted an aural architecture of head-borne tones. By featuring sound localization techniques and the surrounding architecture, my audience was able to form their own unique and dynamic music, contingent upon their placement within the installation.

The parallel division of the Old Gym allowed each architectural space to become a speaker that produced overlapping sounds that swept between the two, intricately joining them to be heard and felt in a rhythmic resonance throughout the body. On one side, tinnitus tones of varied frequency coalesced to form their own, highly pitched and dynamic music. On the other, the acoustic impression of low frequency binaural beats was used to invoke our particularization of rhythm. Sound waves coincided to make beats that occurred at speeds enhanced by the passing waves of sympathetically resonating snare drums. My audience was invited to wander from room to room, the room as a trope of attention and hearing, both lost and retrieved—as if the listener must reassemble a strayed train of thought.

Filmed by Emmet Dotan. Edited by Peter Haffenreffer. All photographs by Izzy Leung.

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Special Thanks
       
     
Special Thanks

Mindy Abovitz, Matt Aiken, Bob Bielecki, Kate Brashear, Emmet Dotan, Macey Downs, Annie Garret Larsen, Kyle Gann, Brynn Gilchrist, Clark Hamel, Nikita Kasay, Gayle Kelmenson, Izzy Leung, Tom Mark, Dave McKenzie, James Mongan, Sondai NaNaBuluku, Peter O’Brien, Brigid Pfeifer, Daniel Risdon, Matt Rulison, Matt Sargent, Olivia Troiano, Carlos Valdés, Miranda West, The Old Gym.