Musica Speculativa and sculpture

Joan Brassil

This article first appeared in NMA8 magazine. In it the author provides some insights into her work with sound sculpture.

I am a sculptor interested in phenomenology of landscape, that is to say, that which is already there in existence. Within this context, sculptural forms of `found objects' and ephemeral processes are frequently used where `found sounds', as forms in space, may make the sculptural context. The instrumentation of Musica Speculativa has supplemented form, indeed in some cases supplied the form of the sculptural content, within the space of the installation.

Dick Higgins described the Greek Musica Speculativa (from the Latin speculum - mirror) which reflected reality,

"it might or might not be performable but even if it was, its point was in the condition of existence".

In concluding the essay, discussion is engaged from an ecological and environmental perspective.

"Like most beginnings they may be frail. But we are not just modern or post modern today, we are `premillennarian' and it is up to us to determine what that means." [1]

In this transmedia era, with the advantage of electronics, extant inaudible sounds may be transduced and recorded to present or augment `found' sounds. The varied forms of the phenomenological sounds used in my installations over the past five years have all resolved certain spatial connections with ephemeral visual structures.

In Perspecta 1985, the reflected video installation Through a Magnetic Field Lightly had space augmented by use of Charles Dodge's sound recording Earth's Magnetic Field , where Bartel's indices of solar winds playing on Earth's magnetic field were used for the resultant synthesised effects of the glissando sweeps, making another space effect of music outside the sphere of the Earth.

Again in the Sydney Biennale 1986, an installation based in ecology Consider the Fungi at the Interface used sound in two horizontal layers, joined by vertical chords, in order to integrate with the environment of the location.

The location was a large wharf on Sydney Harbour almost underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the sound scape being the constant lapping of the waters under the wharf, and the trains above intermittently crossing the bridge - an extended double forte sound - with envelopes of sound contained by the movement of the trains, varying from whether the crossing was made from the Northern or Southern approach to the bridge.

The lapping of the waters - a horizontal sound - was augmented and fed into a sound track of a reflected video of water, whilst in an elevated horizontal, the bridge trains proceeded in their own time frame of `artistically' random condition.

To link `microscopic fungi threads' into such a soundscape by a `vertical' chord is a challenging task. With the aid of a synthesiser, Warren Burt composed chords from Fibonacci numbers for `natural growth': taking the numbers between 1 and 21 he made chords which penetrated the space with slowly changing verticals between the two environmental components. The non melodic series of chords of slow inner rhythms and slightly varied throbbing, for the `sound of life', made the connection between two existing sound elements. Again the expansion of space by the use of sound was made in installations of Australian landscape of Western Australia and the Central Desert. The sound was made from the action of wind through telegraph wires. These sounds were recorded by the placement of piezo-electric transducers on to the wires themselves for the recording. The results of these sounds of the natural phenomena are collaged into a continuous composition, giving the form of landscape where the sounds could have originated, undulating dunes or the savannah.

The entirely random rhythms as they occur and the separation of tracks by stereophonic tapes, construct a form and atmosphere as a trans media experience in the visual arts. The works Journeys on the Winds of Time and Spaces Between were collated by Alan Lamb of Western Australia. The installation was exhibited at Ars Electronica , Linz Austria 1989. A work currently in process is Randomly - Now and Then to be exhibited at the 4th Australian Sculpture Triennial, at ACCA in Melbourne September 1990.

Here taking the phenomenology of rocks from various subterranean depths, transducers are affixed to them and power transmitted to the rock's resonant frequency. The resultant sounds are uniquely resonant according to various crystalline structures. The timing is regulated by a programme for `randomness', taking the `on' and`off' times as random numbers of seconds between 2 and 200, with unpredictable sounds and silences.

In keeping with the current theory of Chaos with nature of unpredictability, this random sound work operates in an arrangement of minimal structures, as an instrumental installation relating the connecting of lines of sight and sound, between the sounding object and the viewer, the constantly changing implied web of linear connections.


1. Dick Higgins Music from Outside , Catalogue for the 8th Biennale of Sydney 1990 p130. back

Installation from the Sculpture Triennial 1990
Installation from the Sculpture Triennial 1990 Installation from the Sculpture Triennial 1990
© 2005 NMA Publications and Joan Brassil estate.
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