Update: December 15, 2017

With about 3.5/4 months left in the project, another update is in order. Its been a busy few months (and busier times to come!) so I’ll do my best to re-cap:

Anthropocene Curriculum | Drexel University

I had the pleasure to attend a continuation of Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s Anthropocene Curriculum at Drexel University. It was a great gathering of researchers and practitioners – primarily from the fields of History and Science & Technology Studies with some artists and geographers as well. For me, it was a particularly interesting exercise thinking from the perspectives of History, specifically with regard to writing histories and narratives of anthropogenic climate change. While a lot of my work rests of the particular navigation of bodies with relation to climate and environment, it was fascinating to hear and participate in discussions about historical framings of environmental knowledge(s).

Mobile Utopias Conference | Lancaster University

Next, I traveled from the US to Lancaster, UK to present my paper “Deep Time, Slow Dance: Sixteen (and counting) Propositions for Atmospheric Sensuality – or – Future-Tense Vibrations” alongside Sasha Engelmann (Royal Holloway University of London), Bronislaw Szerszynski (Lancaster University), and Rob LaFrenais (as discussant) in a session entitled Atmospheric Adventures in the Aerocene: Heterotopias of Aerial Mobility. Taking its initiative impulse from the work of visual artist Tomas Saraceno’s Aerocene project (in which Sasha, Bron, and myself have all been a part of), all of our papers reflected on utopian ideas of atmospheric movement, exchange, energetics, and transferences. My paper specifically reflected on theoretical and practical production of infrasound at the site of the ‘urban canopy’ – at high-rise level – as a way of understanding notions of sounding urban atmospheres. What are ways that are cities produce and augment sound, and what are some specific ‘signature’ infrasonics that might result from the interactions between large-scale human engineering and Earth-magnitude forces.


Author David Woodward’s fictional, occult machine, the Feraliminal Lycanthropizer

(described in the 1990 pamphlet by the same name) exists somewhere between a

mind-control device, a sonic weapon, and a party trick. Through the generation of

infrasonic tones and garbled recorded text loops, it gives humans access to both

repressed and animal energetics, causing hypnosis, trance induction, expansive

sexual stimulation, and a general loss of inhibitions. In Woodward’s account, when

switched on at parties, cocktail hour quickly gives way to an orgiastic gathering, free

of time. The Lycanthropizer occupies as well the same role as mesmerism and

phantasms did in the Victorian Imaginary – an idea split between the worlds of

science and parlour game. These Victorian party experiments arise simultaneously

to the industrial boom that forever changed vertical and horizontal urban sonic

ecologies. We might think of the Feraliminal Lycanthropizer as the ‘background

music’ at our party midway between the atmosphere and the ground – our little

gathering at the urban canopy. If Woodward speaks about the Lycanthropizer as

emitting an “aurotics,” might we be able to imagine an ‘aerotics’ as movement and

co-creation with atmospheric sound? A slow dance with the atmosphere; a mobile

sounding. The urban canopy is the midpoint of our travel upwards: the center of

reflections between atmospheric/planetary infrasonics and ground-based, urban

infrasound. At this party, we hear our upstairs neighbors’ dancing footsteps and the

knocking of the downstairs neighbor’s broomstick against the ceiling. Using the

Feraliminal Lycanthropizer as an initializing sound to open up the human body for

vertical, energetic crossings, and based on the author’s research in psychoacoustics,

infrasound, and histories of hearing, this paper explores practical and speculative

modes of incorporating urban infrasonic sound as propositions for creating and

moving within spaces of sonic atmospheric attunement. How should we have this

last slow dance with the atmosphere before the music turns off?


Deep Time, Slow Dance: Propositions” Lecture | University of Leeds

A Shadow Feeling at the National Science + Media Museum | Bradford, UK

After a short break in Berlin, I returned to Leeds/Bradford in order to realize a project I had been developing with Annie Jamieson at the National Science + Media Museum (Bradford) and give a lecture at the University of Leeds.

My lecture was a great opportunity as it was maybe the largest amount of (speaking) time I was able to devote to consolidating my research up to this point. Though the lecture’s target audience were those from the Music Department, the lecture focused broadly on the ability for sound (specifically infrasound) to help us understand Earth-magnitude events and processes – that is, event structures and patterns that are non-synchronous with human time scalings. Topics discussed were:

  • Natural/Artificial Infrasound

  • Effects of Infrasound on the Human Body

  • Spatio-temporal scales of infrasound

  • The work of Maryanne Amacher in connection with her approach to Interval as environmental feedback

  • ‘Environmental Affect’ and Jean-Luc Nancy’s ideas of flows of affect

  • Compositional techniques I use (or am developing) as a way of working with all of the above ideas

Immediately after the lecture, I rushed over to the NSMM to give a performance of A Shadow Feeling, developed through a cooperation with the Museum over the past few months. The performance itself is comprised of three separate sound installations (two stereo installations in a hallway and stairwell, and a quadraphonic installation in a gallery), and a 5.1 IMAX film projected in the museum’s IMAX theatre. Audience members were led around in groups through the installations, ending up in the basement quadraphonic gallery for a summary live performance of material. The recorded installations and IMAX film were looped material of different lengths, so that multiple tours could be taken by the same group and ensure that groups would encounter different combinations of content.

The basis of the piece was of low-frequency resonance measurements taken of the NSMM in September, where we identified the frequencies that best resonated from the walls of the IMAX theatre while playing pink noise. After this measurement, installation points were chosen at locations where there was the most bleed, and the sound was composed using the resonant and bleeding frequencies as a basis. At the listening installations therefore, audience can hear the bass frequencies of the IMAX theatre through the walls and doors, and the separate installation material (generally of higher-pitched material) on top.

Upcoming Residencies:

January 2018: Composer-in-Residence, Visby International Centre for Composers (Visby, SE)

February 2018: Artist-in-Residence, The Tetley (Leeds, UK)

Quarterly Update: Interviews, Research, and more

It’s been about three months into the project, and I’m excited to share some of my research materials and process! Below are just some of the research angles I’m exploring (and a bit about my involvement in each of them) as this project progresses. 

First up, I’ve had two amazing interviews recently, one with infrasonic specialist and paranormal researcher Steve Parsons, and one with amplification specialist (one of the co-engineers of the Grateful Dead’s “Wall of Sound”), and luthier Rick Turner.

Steve Parsons:

I was fortunate to be able to speak with Steve regarding a number of different topics: everything from his involvement with the production of specialty infrasonic generating and measurement devices, to histories of early experiments with infrasound, effects (and myths surrounding) of infrasound’s relation to the human body, and his experiences working with parapsychology, ghost hunting, and paranormal experiences.

We spoke at length about some of myths, media hypes, and tropes surrounding conversations about infrasound – ways in which its own reputation as a dangerous and destructive force propagate as widely as the soundwaves themselves. Important to this conversation was the emphasis on context in regards to perception (or perceived perception) of infrasound. As Parsons’ work with relations between infrasound and paranormal experiences are based in questioning why people have experiences that they interpret as ‘paranormal experiences?’ we looked at associations between commonly reported physiological effects of ‘being haunted’ and effects of exposure to infrasonic sound.  Interestingly, the reported effects are quite similar, but Parsons notes that infrasound by itself (in an abstract sense) is not really enough to engender the idea of ‘being haunted’ as related to a core-cause of these physiological expressions. Instead, the notion of ‘hauntedness’ is implied by contextual relation to other stimuli – for instance, infrasonic generation within a physical space that might be popularly perceived to be a haunted location, or else fulfilling aspects of popular ideas of what a ‘haunted location’ might look like. Therefore, exposure to infrasound certainly has the ability to create specific psychological and physiological effects, but designing context around situations is a primary determinant for how the brain is able to process this sound field.

Parsons knowledge about infrasound extends as well to histories of experiments with, and uses of infrasound. Early understandings of infrasound, of course, were planetary and geological in nature. Parsons notes that some early experiments with infrasound were responses to reported ‘premonitions’ of seismic and planetary events. Early uses of infrasound in music, for example, by religious composers can be traced back to the development of the lowest tones of the church organ (64 – 16Hz), which were noted as inspiring awe and presence through subsonic spatial vibrations. We should understand this as well as another example of the contextual power of infrasonic processing – replacing the haunted castle with the sky-piercing cathedral, we might also swap the contextual associations of anxiety, shallow breathing, and feeling of being ill-at-ease, with re-assuring senses of the religious sublime, the planetary, the sweeping divine sensibility.

Rick Turner:

Rick Turner is the founder of Rick Turner Guitars and Alembic Inc., and whose work can be seen in the hands of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplance, Crosby, Still, Nash & Young, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, and Led Zeppelin, to name a few. Additionally, Turner was one of the co-engineers who worked with Owsley "Bear" Stanley to bring the Grateful Dead’s “Wall of Sound” design to life -- a speaker system totaling over 600 speakers and more than 26,000 watts of power.

Rick is a specialist in low-end design (and audio circuit design particularly), and so our conversation tended to involve more of the specific problems and puzzles related to developing infrasonic hardware systems. As most of the conversation might be better suited for a technical paper, I won’t describe it at length here, but suffice it to say for now that I’m hard at work looking into more creative ways for circuit engineering to augment both subwoofer and tactile bass response systems.

We talked at length as well about some interesting ideas related to conceptualizing this project as a sort of ‘human crossover system” dealing between tactile and audible sub-bass frequencies.  Turner thinks that the idea of sound as touch is constantly under-appreciated, and that he sees a need for more sensitive technologies involving infrasound to be developed which can bridge these gaps. At what point (or what amplitude, or in what spaces) are touch and hearing distinct? When do they blend? And what might be some experimental or novel ways to combine them in performance situations? Rick has given me a lot of technical food for thought, so I look forward to being in further communication with him!

Faculty Research

Dr. Luke Windsor, Dr. Freya Bailes and I are coming up with schemes and research methodologies for testing human responses to infrasound in both laboratory and performance situations. We’re weighing different angles of approach at the moment, looking into both memory-based recall situations, as well as physiological measurements. Additionally, we’re exploring possibilities for incorporating measurement data into live performance situations. More on this to come (as well as other projects) as they develop!

Reading List (Abridged.)

In addition to interviews and faculty research, here’s a quick look at some of the research I’ve been looking into independently:

·      Shelley Trower’s Senses of Vibration: A History of the Pleasure and Pain of Sound is an amazing and thorough look into vibration as a category of sensation from the eighteenth- to the early twentieth-century. Trower tracks appearances and invocations of vibration through Victorian times as it appears in narratives such as spiritualism, gothic and romantic poetry, modern geology, development of electricity, train travel, and sexuality.

·      Hillel Schwartz’s Making Noise: From Babel to the Big Bang & Beyond – a sensitive poetic, and extraordinarily non-linear approach to tracing relationships between noise and the human body. There is no real way to sum up the topics covered in this massive tome, but suffice it to say it is a must-read.

·      Research papers on determining levels of audibility and pain thresholds from infrasonic and near-infrasonic sound (Feldman and Pitten 2004; Shust 2004)

·      Infrasound produced by glacial calving events (Richardson, Waite, FitzGerald et. al. 2010)

·      Relationships of infrasound to paranormal occurrences (Parsons, 2012)

·      Atmospheric propagation of low-frequency sound (Kulichkov 2004)

·      Low-Frequency perception (Meller and Pedersen 2004)

·      Unexpected information from the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (Stone 2002)

·      And much, much more…

Stay Tuned!

Stay tuned to this page for upcoming information, reports, and details from my new collaborative research project in association with The University of Leeds/Opera North