Microtonal Wall
February 9, 2015 9:31 AM   Subscribe

1,500 speakers, each playing a single microtonal frequency, collectively spanning 4 octaves.

Tristan Perich (previously, previouslier) is a New York based artist and composer who is "inspired by the aesthetic simplicity of math, physics and code."
posted by OverlappingElvis (56 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
Makes me smile like a baby.
posted by King Sky Prawn at 9:33 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Awesome! The camera man does a great job of giving you a 'tour.'
posted by TheRedArmy at 9:35 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Somehow, I don't think that this was what Phil Spector had in mind....
posted by schmod at 9:36 AM on February 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


Very cool! I would love to experience this in person.
posted by capricorn at 9:37 AM on February 9, 2015


Interesting to hear the frequencies "beat" against each other at different speeds.
posted by tommyD at 9:43 AM on February 9, 2015


AKA The World's Most Expensive White Noise Generator.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:46 AM on February 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


One-Two-Three-Fourier!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:46 AM on February 9, 2015 [16 favorites]


YOU MUST LISTEN TO THIS (by the same artist) Only because it's just so fun.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:48 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Interesting! You could probably get some really interesting pieces out of a setup like this by breaking a sound into partials using a Fourier analysis tool, then using traveling along the wall as your way to scrub through the sound, I think.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:50 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Somehow, I don't think that this was what Phil Spector had in mind....

Add Hal Blaine and Darlene Love, and it will be.
posted by jonp72 at 10:05 AM on February 9, 2015


Lovely!
posted by Foosnark at 10:08 AM on February 9, 2015


Here's a neat post about how Microtonal Wall went from sketches to the final piece.
posted by moonmilk at 10:12 AM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I'd really like to see this in person, yes! Many art installations sound kind of pointless or underwhelming if you describe them, but the experience of encountering them can be very powerful. Here, the video gives some idea of what it's like but I'm sure it's incomparably more interesting to be in the room.
posted by thelonius at 10:15 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is very close to an sound installation design that I would like to create someday.

I want to make a "super leslie" tower/stack of speakers that rotate. Not just one rotating speaker, but many stacked rings of speakers that rotate and counter-rotate with adjustable speed control. Individual rings and individual speakers would be addressable in groups or single drivers. The supporting circuit path for audio signal and/or power would either be slip-rings or wireless, likely digital wireless for best sound quality with the least fussiness due to wiping/rotating contacts.

The small version would likely be about 8-10 foot tall and 6-ish wide.

The full sized, ideal world version would involve supervillain grades of cash and sponsorship grants, and it would involve the creation of a giant, hollow concrete torus several hundred feet in diameter with a super-leslie stack at the center of the torus about 50-100 feet tall that is shaped to follow the center hyperbolic curved surface of the torus. There would be circular observation/listening deck that runs in a ring around the acoustical center of the torus for maximum reverb/delay effect. There could be a ring of seating facing both inwards and outwards here.

The end use would be to hold site-specific concerts designed for the space and performed or installed by noise, ambient and experimental composers. Everything from harsh feedback to very subtle microtones and minimal neoclassical could be designed to use the device. The entire inside surface of the torus could be used as an immersive video projection surface, so you'd be effectively floating in space and sound.

For bonus disorientation, the observation platform could be designed to also rotate, albeit more slowly.
posted by loquacious at 10:24 AM on February 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


WANT!
posted by a complicated history at 10:25 AM on February 9, 2015


To me "microtone" is meaningful within systems of pitch and harmonics, and brings in a huge messy load of musically oriented baggage that this structure has no need for, and isn't improved by.

A sine wave is a pitch, combined with other sine waves it creates various textures.

Tonality and it's more general branchoff microtonality are a deep and focused exploration of a miniscule subset of these combinations of frequencies (specifically the combinations that are based on combinations of frequencies having a harmonic series as produced by a tube or string, and having meaningful relations between elements of one series and the other), and isn't really relevant to this structure which isolates frequencies into individual transducers (such that no source has an evident overtone series) and does not tune those frequencies to imitate the overtone producing behavior of a combination of tubes or string.
posted by idiopath at 10:46 AM on February 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


I like the idea that you could write songs on this, which use dance steps as notation.
You could only ever hear each song by learning a very specific dance. It completely inverts the notion of dance. You aren't exactly dancing to the song, you create the song as you dance inside it.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 10:48 AM on February 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


All that said, what I actually like about this is that it is a great example of sonic art that doesn't need to rely on that musical stuff. It's an excellent acoustic project, and I wish I could experience it first hand. Thanks for sharing it.
posted by idiopath at 10:48 AM on February 9, 2015


Just this guy, y'know: the issue would be that pretty much every recognizable musical sound will rely on specific combinations of frequencies across a broad range that are not physically adjacent on this device. For example I would make a guess that any combination recognizable as a harmony is impossible to achieve just by spacial position, and any combination of harmony with melody would be even less likely.

Now a textural rhythm via odd electronic-sounding percussion? probably pretty doable by dancing in front of it, yeah.
posted by idiopath at 10:52 AM on February 9, 2015


too late for the edit window: above where I say "a sine wave is a pitch" - it's not, it's a frequency, and a pitch is made of frequencies with a specific series of ratios.
posted by idiopath at 10:58 AM on February 9, 2015


too late for the edit window: above where I say "a sine wave is a pitch" - it's not, it's a frequency

Tell that to A440!
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:04 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think that's where "pitch class" comes in, as in A440 is a pitch, A is a pitch class?
posted by moonmilk at 11:07 AM on February 9, 2015


A 440 is pitch that has a fundamental frequency of 440, but a single frequency by itself does not contain the properties that make up a pitch. It can definitely be compatible with pitched content, but for example it will only be dissonant with very close nearby frequencies, and will cause no actual physical dissonance phenomenon for frequencies outside its critical band. And yeah, a 440 hz sine wave really doesn't have a "pitch class" in a real meaningful way.

The body of knowledge about pitches is all specialized for sounds that are composed of a harmonic series, and applying that terminology or analysis makes as little sense for a single sine wave as it does for a symbol crash.
posted by idiopath at 11:11 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Or a metaphor catastrophe!
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:23 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Can we hook it up to a laptop running CSound and do some awesome subtractive synthesis type stuff?
posted by TwoWordReview at 11:35 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Loosely related concept by Cardiff/Miller.
posted by ovvl at 11:46 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


symbol crash

new sockpuppet name!
posted by en forme de poire at 11:56 AM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I want to make a "super leslie" tower/stack of speakers that rotate

Your comment reminded me of this (not nearly as cool or ambitious, but there you go).
posted by naju at 11:57 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sounds like a datacenter, all white noise until you get close to the actual noise sources.
posted by Blackanvil at 12:04 PM on February 9, 2015


Hey, I know Tristan! He's a nice guy. He let my friends borrow his video projector for an installation we were doing.

Also: this is pretty neat!
posted by GameDesignerBen at 12:09 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Can we hook it up to a laptop running CSound and do some awesome subtractive synthesis type stuff?

it would be an awfully big program, but you could have 4000 sine waves at different frequencies and then filter them with whatever filters you want to program

if you have cecilia 5, you can go to the additive synth, crank it up to 640 partials with a small distance between the partials and get something very similar, if your computer can handle it - mine kind of skips a bit

---

too late for the edit window: above where I say "a sine wave is a pitch" - it's not, it's a frequency, and a pitch is made of frequencies with a specific series of ratios.

except that a piano, a flute and a guitar can have the same pitch, but have different frequencies (partials) involved in the sound - a single sine wave at 440 isn't a pitch, but not because it's purely one frequency - it's because no sound identifiable as a certain frequency is a pitch until you put it in a scale that relates it to other pitches

so if you take a sine wave and then have take other sine waves at other frequencies that relate to a scale and then play them sequentially, you have a melody that will be a series of pitches - it won't be very interesting, but it will recognizably be "twinkle, twinkle little star" or whatever

i could actually do this on my kawai k1r, and play the pitches on my keyboard, but it would be really boring
posted by pyramid termite at 12:51 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


loquacious: Please, you GOTTA build it at Burning Man.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:07 PM on February 9, 2015


I nominate loquacious for King Of The World.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:49 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


pyramid termite: isolated frequencies can do things that pitches can't though. For example the concept of a scale is very much tied to the relationships between overtones of harmonic series. You can construct "scales" from an isolated frequency, but it will not have consonance (because none of the overtones will be there to line up) or any sort of dissonance outside the critical band (the really nasty kind of dissonance where two notes are not the same, but close enough to mess with our hearing discernment). And yes, with pitched sounds as a referrent, you can fake pitchedness with frequencies, just as you can load a cymbal crash as a sample in your keyboard and fake a melody with that. But the sound itself lacks the qualities that really make tonality make sense.
posted by idiopath at 2:09 PM on February 9, 2015


Ugh, I got a split brain on that comment. I meant to say that something that frequencies can do that pitches cannot is for example making arbitrary combinations of ratios, that so long as no two frequencies are too close (that is, one is within a critical band of the other), cannot be consonant or dissonant. So, there is a sterile quality where no combo is ever good or bad sounding, they are just "there".
posted by idiopath at 2:31 PM on February 9, 2015


And yes, with pitched sounds as a referrent, you can fake pitchedness with frequencies

you're not faking it, you're actually achieving it - but due to the utter lack of timbre, the results are going to be boring

cymbals are a little too inharmonic to work well - but burping into a casio sk-1 and hitting the demo button is amusing - mozart would be appalled

So, there is a sterile quality where no combo is ever good or bad sounding, they are just "there".

yeah, i've actually tried stuff like that with the kawai K1, but it's a lot more interesting with fuller samples - (although playing chords wtih 4 oddly tuned partials as an instrument can be interesting)

(that string patch on the k1 is really great, though - pure detroit techno pad, there)
posted by pyramid termite at 2:38 PM on February 9, 2015


I'd like to see a joint exhibition of Microtonal Wall and this.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 3:01 PM on February 9, 2015


"Pitch is an auditory sensation in which a listener assigns musical tones to relative positions on a musical scale based primarily on the frequency of vibration.[6] Pitch is closely related to frequency, but the two are not equivalent. Frequency is an objective, scientific concept, whereas pitch is subjective. Sound waves themselves do not have pitch, and their oscillations can be measured to obtain a frequency. It takes a human mind to map the internal quality of pitch.
posted by idiopath at 3:03 PM on February 9, 2015


The best demonstration of the difference between pitch and frequency that I know of is the concept of the 'missing fundamental'. You can have a series of overtones that implies the presence of a fundamental frequency which is not physically present, but our brains still interpret that signal to be the same pitch as if we heard the (missing) fundamental frequency (with or without overtones).
posted by TwoWordReview at 3:20 PM on February 9, 2015


Damn, I wish I'd known about this when it was here!

This is very close to an sound installation design that I would like to create someday.

If I were a zillionnaire, I would underwrite the entire project.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:42 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


well, there's no reason why we have a 12 tone scale instead of a 17 tone scale - being subjective - so if i were to take my dull little sine wave rendition of "twinkle, twinkle, little star" and play it for any western 12 tone educated musician, would he recognize the tune? - it would be tough to do without a perception that it had pitch

but someone who had only heard 17 tone music might conclude it was just weird noise - subjective, again, but i think this shows us that people can be culturally trained to perceive frequencies as pitches - in fact, due to their conditioning, they really have no other choice but to perceive it

at least i wouldn't - and twowordreview, there are all sorts of tricks with harmonics to make one hear pitches or frequencies that aren't really there

good luck overriding your conditioning to stop "hearing" things that aren't "there" - considering that across many musical cultures, pentatonic scales are common, i even wonder if we're hard wired in certain respects to hear certain things

if you play me a 440hz sine wave and then play one that's 392hz, i'm going to hear them as A and G - it can't be helped

i think i need to play with my k1 now ...
posted by pyramid termite at 3:44 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that's part of the fun of psychoacoustics. We hear things that aren't there partly because we expect to hear them because of conditioning and our brains trying to assign meaning. See also the McGurk effect for our brains altering our perception of audio to better fit conflicting cues.

However, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that octaves at least are hard-wired due to physiology. I seem to remember an experiment with animals trained to respond to certain frequencies, who also responded to the frequencies one octave above. So the idea of pitches related by an octave being 'the same' is at least common to some of our fellow mammals. There's a lot less evidence to back up this idea for other intervals, even though the universality of pentatonic scales (which are based on simple ratios) does suggest a physiological basis. It's easy to get down a rabbit hole of just intonation vs 12-tone equal temperament from here though, so it's very hard to tell where physiology ends and cultural conditioning takes over.

Then of course there's the 432Herzers who want to bring back concert pitch to it's true base of A432!
posted by TwoWordReview at 5:19 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Starting at about 1m44s - I've heard something almost identical on Peter Hammill's album _pH7_. I always assumed it was some kind of tape effect. (At the end of "Mr. X (gets tense)" or maybe the beginning of the next song).

What kind of audio encoding was used for the video? This seems like the kind of thing where 128kbps MP3 just won't cut it.

I love microtones. Wendy Carlos turned me on to the notion of microtonal scales on non-octave boundaries - like 15.385 notes per octave. It's great for one-upping that guy at a party who gets on a roll about 31 notes per octave: "I find integer divisions of the octave so ... confining."
posted by doctor tough love at 5:53 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Then you can all play some tunes
posted by thelonius at 6:12 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


well, there's no reason why we have a 12 tone scale instead of a 17 tone scale

I don't think that's actually correct. With equal temperament (12√2 per interval), the a lot of the numbers work out to give you some nice low-denominator ratios. Small denominators make for "harmony", so having a lot of these relationships available makes it easier to compose pleasant sounding music. The ratio between the frequencies in a major chord is really close to 4:5:6 (1, 12√24, 12√27). The best you can get on a 17 tone scale is 6:7:8 (1, 17√24, 17√27) chord. And it quickly goes downhill from there.

Different temperaments can tweak some things to be closer, at the expense of others. But it's not going to save you from the fact that you have a lot of intervals with relatively prime denominators between them.
posted by aubilenon at 6:45 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Actually I did some math and it looks like a 17-tone scale can hit almost as many small integer ratio intervals as a 12-tone scale. But it's still fewer, plus there's more crap between them. A 24-tone scale of course does everything a 12-tone scale, PLUS stuff like 8:13 ratios. But the point of a scale is to make it easy to find pleasant combinations of pitches, and adding one new good combination and 11 bad ones doesn't really serve that goal. Which is the same reason a 720-note scale is silly; at that point what do you get by even having a scale vs just talking about arbitrary base frequencies?
posted by aubilenon at 9:34 PM on February 9, 2015


Oooh! Now I want one where each speaker is playing one of the partials (overtones) of an instrument and there's a symphony orchestra.
posted by yoHighness at 3:27 AM on February 10, 2015


... And then one that's playing a 128 channel mix of some popsong but each speaker is one of the channels.
posted by yoHighness at 3:30 AM on February 10, 2015


But the point of a scale is to make it easy to find pleasant combinations of pitches

Consider the role of acculturation in what pitches or combinations of pitches we find "pleasant". Surrounded since birth by diatonic music, which we literally took in with our mother's milk, we find it to be consonant, natural, and pleasant.
posted by thelonius at 4:36 AM on February 10, 2015


... And then one that's playing a 128 channel mix of some popsong but each speaker is one of the channels.

Sounds vaguely like the same basic concept behind that legendary complex bizarre sound system that The Grateful Dead ran for one tour?
posted by ovvl at 4:51 AM on February 10, 2015


What I like most about this is how unmusical it is. Discussions and observations of acoustic phenomena are frequently overlaid with these musical assumptions. Most sounds don't have an overtone series, because most objects are not tubes or strings, and most sounds are not an a pulse or meter. I think it brings perspective to see an interesting acoustic phenomenon that isn't musical, and doesn't have to be musical to be fascinating and enjoyable.
posted by idiopath at 5:05 AM on February 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


Most sounds don't have an overtone series

All non-electronic sounds, even unpitched noises, are made up of partials - see e.g. explanation here.
posted by yoHighness at 1:23 PM on February 10, 2015


Example: This is what the partials of this bowling strike noise look like that I just ran through SPEAR. But I derail too much. This wall of speakers is fantastic, thank you for the post!
posted by yoHighness at 1:33 PM on February 10, 2015


Exactly. But partials are not all (or even usually) harmonics.
posted by idiopath at 1:41 PM on February 10, 2015


I realised a moment too late you'd meant harmonics by that, sorry! (Also I agree something does not have to be music to be interesting, and there isn't enough of that.)
posted by yoHighness at 2:05 PM on February 10, 2015


Consider the role of acculturation in what pitches or combinations of pitches we find "pleasant". Surrounded since birth by diatonic music, which we literally took in with our mother's milk, we find it to be consonant, natural, and pleasant.

Sure, it's impossible to completely tell what of our feelings are or are not cultural. But it is clear that our preferences aren't simply arbitrary. The combinations we tend to find ... harmonious, tend to actually have overlapping harmonics. For instance, the second harmonic of a G has (nearly) the same frequency as the third harmonic of the C below it. I posit that even without any exposure to music at all, we'd still be trained that "harmonics go together", every time we heard something physically vibrating in the real world.
posted by aubilenon at 3:21 PM on February 10, 2015


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