Open your ears.
Sonic Innovations continues to expand Caramoor’s programming with an annual exhibition of sound art, curated by Stephan Moore, from artists working with sonic materials outside the traditions of concert music. Each artist has drawn inspiration from their chosen location, creating work that is mindful of the natural and human-made sounds and systems already present in the environment, while engaging each site’s unique characteristics — be they acoustic, historic, architectural, or natural.
Due to travel restrictions this summer, this piece will be completed in 2021.
When Caramoor first asked Trimpin to create a permanent sound art sculpture in celebration of its 75th Anniversary, the world-renowned sound artist thought about Caramoor’s acoustical environment: the birds singing, the wind in the trees, and the blissful absence of street noise. He then conceived of in“C”, the interactive kinetic sculpture shaped as a 16-foot high double letter C now located in the entry plaza, welcoming guests as they arrive. From the top of the C’s curve, 24 tuned metal bell chimes ranging over two octaves are suspended. Made out of steel and utilizing electromechanical components, in“C” interacts with visitors through a motion sensor (as you approach, its melodious chimes draw you closer) and through the physical activation of a push-button panel (don’t be shy!). The push-buttons activate the structure’s chimes to play pre-composed short pieces, each 1–2 minutes long. In addition to Trimpin’s music, Caramoor commissioned pieces from four composers featured during the 2020 summer season: Christopher Cerrone, Anna Clyne, Missy Mazzoli, and Nico Muhly. As Caramoor continues to work with composers, the chime-piece library will grow. When in“C” is in its education mode, a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) keyboard enables visitors of any musical ability (or even none!) to make their own chime music, as the chimes respond to the strikes on the keyboard.
Trimpin is an internationally acclaimed composer, musician, visual artist, and inventor, engaged in commissions and exhibitions at venues around the world. Born in 1951 and based in Seattle for the past 25 years, he grew up near the German Black Forest, an area that has a history rich in mechanical music machines (think cuckoo clocks and pianolas, or player pianos). Fascinated with sound exploration in his early childhood, Trimpin often experimented with sound and distance in the German woods. Using the tools from a well-stocked cabinetry shop in his home (his father was a cabinet maker by trade), he took apart and reassembled old radios and musical instruments. By age 10, he was inventing his own eccentric instruments. The son of amateur musicians, the young Trimpin learned to play brass instruments but developed a mysterious allergy to metal that forced him to give up playing. He turned to electromechanical engineering. Self-taught, he mastered how the memory works on a pianola and devised a machine that could transcribe and preserve the piano paper rolls digitally. He became a leading specialist in combining musical compositions with computer technology. Throughout his career, he has created installations that incorporate complex technological sculptural elements. On permanent display in his hometown area are: If VI was IX, a sound sculpture composed of 600 electric guitars at MoPOP (Museum of Pop Culture); Hydraulis, an elegant interactive water sculpture at the Seattle Center Key Arena; and On: Matter, Monkeys, and the King, a multimedia kinetic wind-up-toy structure next to the rolling walkway in Sea-Tac International Airport. In his 2014 In the Garden of Sonic Delights installation, The Pianohouse, Trimpin wanted to create a piece that every visitor could feel free to explore. What he created was a house-like structure from the frameworks of six upright pianos. “I try to use other ways to make the sculpture look not so much like a musical instrument, so people will actually play,” Trimpin explains. “My work is an ongoing exploration of the concepts of sound, vision, and movement,” he says, “experimenting with combinations that will introduce our senses of perception to a totally new experience.” A MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award recipient and a Guggenheim Fellow, Trimpin has been commissioned by Lincoln Center, San Francisco’s Exploratorium, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and Seattle Symphony, among others.
Undercurrent is a piece that is never experienced the same way twice, rhythmically evolving according to the passage of individuals through it. It taps into the emotive, creating a feedback loop between people and their environment. A communal orchestration is built up through the movement of visitors via the activation of small pods among the grasses and trees, which come alive with sound and a soft pulsing light leading people along sixth paths to the epicenter of the garden. With an increase in the number of people passing through, comes the layering of sounds from various pods and varying distances from each other. They terminate in a crescendo at the point of the paths’ juncture, but one that is overtaken by the piece’s focal point: the tone of a subterranean void harnessing its energy.
Spencer Topel and Hana Kassem
Spencer Topel is an American artist combining sound, installation, and performance. His practice is often characterized as an exploration between sculpture and musical instruments, expressed in a variety of works ranging from site-specific installations to performance art pieces. At the heart of this inquiry is the notion that objects have their own unique voice, and the task of the artist is to reveal and amplify this quality.
Topel’s current and past projects with international arts and performing arts institutions include: Museum of Modern Art, NY; The Los Angeles Philharmonic, LA; The Barnes Foundation, PA; The Juilliard School; Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, NY; Drawing Center NY, The Estonian Music Days, Tallin; The Arts Club of Chicago; DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park Boston, LiteraturHaus, CPH; The Huddersfield Festival, UK; the Arts and Ideas Festival, New Haven; and the Proctor Academy, New Hampshire. His work has been performed by celebrated ensembles that include the Minnesota Orchestra, the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, the Oregon Symphony, the Juilliard Symphony, Ensemble Third Sound, and the FLUX Quartet.
Educated in music composition at The Juilliard School and Cornell University, Topel later joined the faculty at Dartmouth College as a professor of music. There he collaborated with sculptor Soo Sunny Park on several projects including Capturing Resonance for the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park.
Collaboration is a central part of Topel’s practice, which led to the formation of Physical Synthesis Inc. in 2019. Notable collaborations continue with architect and artist Hana Kassem, artist and cellist Seth Parker Woods, and composer Christian Wolff.
Most recently, Topel was Artist-in-Residence at The Yale Quantum Institute, where he and his collaborators developed the first-ever musical synthesizer using the building blocks of quantum computers.
Hana Kassem, is an artist and architect with more than 20 years of experience in the field of architecture and design. As a Principal at KPF, she has lead the design of a variety of academic, research, cultural, transportation, hospitality, and commercial mixed use projects across the globe – with current work in Brazil, USA, France, the Philippines and China.
Her guiding philosophy is that design is human-centric, multi-sensorial, and experiential, and that design has the ability to enhance well-being – defined as physical, cognitive and emotional – creating dynamic experiences and stimulating environments. Some of the notable projects she has led with her colleagues include, the Red Hook Houses Resiliency and Recovery project for NYCHA awarded an American Institute of Architects (AIA) Urban Design Merit Award, as well as the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center in NYC, a LEED Gold building at the forefront of sustainability that was awarded the AIA NYS Excelsior Award. Of note as well, is the FIU Business School in Miami awarded the valued Chicago Athaneum Award.
A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), with degrees in both Fine Arts and in Architecture, Kassem’s work has always entailed a cross-disciplinary approach to space-making and fine arts, straddling both fields. She is trained as a musician since early childhood and includes sound as a raw material for the conceptualization of space in her work. Recently, her Installation Art collaborations with artist Spencer Topel have fostered a synthesis of this approach with her multi-dimensional perceptions of space.
Kassem currently serves as a member of the Van Alen Institute’s Board of Trustees as well as the AIANY Board of Trustees as Director for Design Excellence. She serves as an adjunct faculty member at Parsons, formulating studio topics that focus on experiential engagement with our environment, Wellness, and Resiliency within approaches that address marginalized communities. Hana is co-editor of a book entitled Architect d.b.a | On Re-defining the Roles of the Architect Today.
Wild Energy (2014)
Annea Lockwood and Bob Bielecki
Wild Energy gives access to the inaudible, vibrations in the ultra and infra ranges emanating from sources which affect us fundamentally, but which are beyond our audio perception, many of which are creating our planet’s environment: the sun, the troposphere and ionosphere, the earth’s crust and core, the oxygen-generating trees — everything deeply integrated, forming an inaudible web in which we move, through which we live and on which, therefore, we depend. It is our sense that through these sounds one can feel the energies generated, not as concepts but as energy-fields moving through one’s body. A generating image for the piece is of Caramoor’s trees funneling these energies into the oxygen we breathe as we walk near them, or lie under them.
Wild Energy is a fifty minute loop which begins with solar oscillations recorded by the SOHO spacecraft, sped up 42,000 times, and ends with ultrasound recorded from the interior of a scots pine tree, slowed down 10 times, to make them audible to us. We are deeply grateful to the scientists who so generously gave us access to their sound files and permission to use them. The many sounds and their sources are described below, in order of initial appearance.
Sounds & Sources
Solar oscillations are pressure waves which travel through the body of the sun, causing ripples on the surface which the SOHO spacecraft is recording (NASA and the European Space Agency). Alexander Kosovichev and colleagues at Stanford University’s Solar Oscillation Investigation program, sped up 40 days of solar data by a factor of 42,000, bringing them into the audio range.
Kilauea volcano – gas vents, tremors
Pressurized gas is released as magma rises to the surface, creating pressure fluctuations, infrasound. Gas bubbles contribute to the sounds produced, which can resonate cavities beneath the surface. Infrasound signals recorded from tremors, explosions, fissure eruptions and bench collapses have been recorded by Milton Garces and his team (the Infrasound Laboratory, the University of Hawai’i) in recent years, particularly at the Pu’u O’o and Halema’uma’u vents. Of the recordings we have used here most have been sped up 200 times, a few 100 times.
Chorus waves and whistlers
Very Low Frequency Chorus Waves are electromagnetic waves caused by intense plasma waves generated in the radioactive Van Allen Belts in the magnetosphere surrounding the Earth. Whistlers (also VLF electromagnetic waves) are generated by lightning and move along Earth’s magnetic field lines, between the two hemispheres. Their high frequency components travel more rapidly than their lower frequencies, creating a falling tone. “This is what the radiation belts would sound like if we had antennas for ears” commented Craig Kletzing of the University of Iowa’s Radio & Plasma Wave Group who gave us these recordings and also a recording of AKR emissions. NASA’s two Radiation Belt Storm Probe satellites, together with the University’s EMFISIS receivers recently sent back recordings transmitted in stereo, a new development enriching both the sound and the data picture. Both whistlers and choruses occur at frequencies within our hearing range, and are audible once converted by the receivers.
Sei whales are “the third largest baleen whale, found in subtropical, temperate and subpolar waters worldwide.” (DOSITS) Having been extensively hunted they are now an endangered species, with an estimated current population of 80,000 whales. This whale was recorded by Arthur Newhall (the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), near the continental shelf break east of New Jersey, just south of the Hudson Canyon.
Dr. Newhall has posted this recording on the University of Rhode Island’s DOSITS (Discovery of Sound in the Sea) website where many interesting oceanographic sound samples may be heard.
The ground shaking of earthquakes is very low frequency, recorded as seismograms which may be sped up to bring them into the hearing range. Arrays of seismometers are used at different distances from the epicenter, which affects the pitch ranges, in addition to the quake’s perceived strength: Because high frequencies lose energy and are dissipated faster with distance than low frequencies, higher pitches and sharp, explosive events indicate a shorter distance from the seismometers, and the deep rumbling ones a greater distance.
The first quake in the installation was the Parkfield quake of 2004 (on the San Andreas Fault), recorded by the USGS. The subsequent quake recordings were given to us by Ben Holtzman, at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University and Jason Candler (www.seismicsoundlab.org): Sumatra 2002, and the Sumatra-Andaman Island great quake of 2004, Japan 2007, and also from Japan 2011 – the ‘tsunami’ quake.
Trees: ultrasound emissions 1
Trees continuously pump water out of the ground through water columns in the xylem layer up to the leaves, enabling photosynthesis to take place. When trees become water-stressed, in drought or other dry conditions, unusually high levels of tension in the water columns lead to their rupture. Air bubbles are formed, blocking water flow and bursting; one indication of this is the ultrasonic acoustic cavitation clicks the trees emit. Biophysicist and tree physiologist, Melvin Tyree, has carried out pioneering research on this and other aspects of water transport in trees and compiled this sequence of cavitation clicks, each distinct and individual, which he sent to Annea over a decade ago. Here is an illustration of the process.
These oceanic vents form when seawater (35.6 degrees F) penetrates cracks in the seabed, moving down toward magma bodies where it absorbs intense heat and minerals. The now superheated water (up to 860 degrees F), which is rich in hydrogen sulfide and minerals, then bursts back up through the seafloor and into the ocean to complete the hydrothermal cycle. The hottest of these vents are called black smokers (named for the black plumes they produce).
Long thought to be silent, hydrophone arrays deployed near the vents have recently revealed that they generate intense broadband acoustic signals at frequencies from 5 to 500Hz, and also “narrowband tones from 10 – 250Hz… Each vent has a unique acoustic signature” (dosits.org). Timothy Crone and colleagues at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have been recording at the Sully and Puffer black smoker vents in the Main Endeavor Field of the Juan de Fuca Ridge, two hundred miles off the coast of Washington State and gave us filtered examples of the tones generated as the vents’ physical structures resonate.
The echolocation calls bats emit are in the ultrasound range, so these have been slowed down. The following bats (found on Shockwave-Sound.com) are included in Wild Energy:
Pipistrelle bat – we do not have identification for the precise type.
California Myotis bat – prefers desert habitat, known for the great agility of its flight patterns.
Silver-haired bat – the largest of New York’s bats with a wingspan which can reach 16 inches, found largely in the Adirondacks.
Big brown bat – the largest cave bat in New York State with a wingspan of almost 13 inches, and is the most commonly seen summer bat.
Big brown bat hunting tiger moth: This remarkable recording by Aaron Corcoran of Wake Forest University is of a big brown trying to catch a Grote’s tiger moth (Bertholdia trigona) using echolocation. The moth, in turn, is using ultrasound bursts to jam the bat’s echolocation capability – i.e. interference. The recording has been slowed down ten times to bring it into our hearing range.
Auroral kilometric radiation emissions occur along magnetic field lines, and are generated by high-energy particles shooting through Earth’s magnetic field. They are associated with aurora displays, and seem to occur “about 3,000 miles above bright regions” in the auroras which arise in polar regions, University of Iowa researchers Robert Mutel and Donald Gurnett noted in 2001.
Tree ultrasound emissions 2: Scots Pine
Cavitation clicks are not the only ultrasonic acoustic emissions (UAE) from trees. Roman Zweifel, Fabienne Zeugin (Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL) and Marcus Maeder (Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology, Zurich) have been recording a variety of other emissions from within scots pines, discovering a relationship between the intensity of the emissions and changes in stem radius, for example. This recording, made by Marcus Maeder in 2012, together with an earthquake in Sumatra (recorded in 2004 by Ben Holtzman), can be heard at the end of Wild Energy.
Annea Lockwood & Bob Bielecki
Photo by Nicole Tavenner
Born in New Zealand in 1939 and living in the US since 1973, Annea Lockwood is known for her explorations of the rich world of natural acoustic sounds and environments, in works ranging from sound art and installations, through text-sound and performance art to concert music. Her music has been performed in many venues and festivals including: the Possibility of Action exhibition at MACBA Barcelona, De Ijsbreker, the Other Minds Festival-San Francisco, the Walker Art Center, the American Century: 1950 – 2000 exhibition at the Whitney Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum, Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Westdeutscher Rundfunk, CNMAT Berkeley, the Asia-Pacific Festival, Donaufest 2006 Ulm, the Donau Festival Krems, the 7th Totally Huge New Music Festival Perth, Ear To The Earth Festival — New York and Sonic Acts XIII.
Her sound installation, A Sound Map of the Danube, has been presented in Germany, Austria, and the USA. This is a surround ‘sound map’ of the entire Danube River, incorporating a wide variety of water, animal and underwater insect sounds, rocks from the riverbed, and the voices of those whose lives are intimately connected to the river. Other recent projects include Ceci n’est pas un piano, for piano, video, and electronics commissioned by Jennifer Hymer; Jitterbug, commissioned by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, a six-channel soundscape with two improvising musicians; and In Our Name, a collaboration with Thomas Buckner based on poems by prisoners in Guantánamo. She was a recipient of the 2007 Henry Cowell Award. Her music has been issued on CD and online on the Lovely Music, Ambitus, EM, XI, Rattle, Lorelt, and Pogus labels.
Photo by Marcella Robinson
Bob Bielecki has worked in the media arts field for more than forty years, creating unique instruments and sound designs for installation and performance. He is known for his innovative use of technology to develop distinctive electronic effects and environments and is engaged in ongoing research in psychoacoustics, sound localization, and 3-D audio.
Bob Bielecki has worked with many artists including John Cage, Alvin Lucier, La Monte Young and Pauline Oliveros. His association with Laurie Anderson dates from the mid-1970s and he has worked with Stephen Vitiello and Annea Lockwood since the 1980s.
He produced and engineered the groundbreaking media-arts residency program, ZBS/AIR, and helped to pioneer the field of binaural radio. A recipient of grants from the Andy Warhol Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts, he is an Associate Professor of Music at Bard College and serves on the faculty of the Bard MFA Program.
Stone Song (2014)
Created for 2014’s In the Garden of Sonic Delights, Stone Song by Ranjit Bhatnagar was originally hosted by the Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College, SUNY and was brought to Caramoor in 2015.
“When I look at an old stone wall, I think about how the seemingly solid form has shifted and settled over time, through weathering and the erosion and compression of the soil. In order to explore this process through sound, Stone Song is laced with pressure sensors and strain gauges, and sensors for humidity, temperature, and barometric pressure. All this information feeds into a drone synthesizer, whose fundamental tones shift slowly over the months as the stones settle. Daily weather and seasonal changes will produce smaller, shorter-term changes in the stones’ song, as will the weight of visitors who stop to sit on it and listen.
“I’ve designed Stone Song in collaboration with Hilary Martin, Akira Inman, and Evan Oxland.”
— Ranjit Bhatnagar
Photo by Keira Heu-Jwyn Chang
Ranjit Bhatnagar discovered sound art around age 14, listening to weird late night programs on KPFA. He now works with interactive and sound installations, with scanner photography, and with internet-based collaborative art. Recent works have been exhibited at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, the Parc d’aventures scientifiques in Belgium, Flux Factory in Queens, in the Artbots series at Eyebeam Atelier and the Pratt Institute in New York, and the Mermaid Show at the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center in Brooklyn. He recently taught “Mister Resistor” at Parsons School of Design, a studio course and rock band with homemade instruments.
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Ranjit received a BA from U.C. Berkeley and an MS from the University of Pennsylvania, and was certified carnie trash by the Coney Island Sideshow School in 2002. He lives in Brooklyn next to a nice big park.
t(ch)ime is a site-specific sound installation that utilizes a quiet hideaway on the grounds of Caramoor to create an environment that is both familiar and otherworldly. The sole sound source of the piece is a collection of bell chimes that have been manipulated through increasing layers of digital processing as the path is traversed. The human element of the chime — with its familiar interplay of sound, weather and nature — is preserved, while the acoustic imperfections are highlighted, drawing attention to the physicality of the materials. As the listener approaches the center the sound of the installation begins to stand still while the sounds of nature and the outside world continue. The effect is a small temporal oasis of fragile and reflective sound, in which hearing becomes the listener’s most heightened sense.
The life and work of Taylor Deupree are less a study in contradictions than a portrait of the multidisciplinary artist in a still-young century.
Deupree is an accomplished sound artist whose recordings, rich with abstract atmospherics, have appeared on numerous record labels, as well as in site-specific installations at such institutions as the ICC (Tokyo, Japan) and the Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media (Yamaguchi, Japan). He started out, in the 1990s, making new noises that edged outward toward the fringes of techno, and in time he found his own path to follow. His music today emphasizes a hybrid of natural sounds and technological mediation. It’s marked by a deep attention to stillness, to an almost desperate near-silence.
And though there is an aura of insularity to Depuree’s work, he is a prolific collaborator, having collaborated with the likes of Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Sylvian, Stephan Mathieu, Stephen Vitiello, Christopher Willits, Kenneth Kirschner, Frank Bretschneider, Richard Chartier, Savvas Ysatis, Tetsu Inoue, and others.
Deupree dedicates as much time to other people’s music as he does to his own. In 1997 he founded the record label 12k, which since then has released over 100 recordings by some of the most accomplished musicians and modern sound artists of our time.
Deupree continues to evolve his sound with an ambition and drive that is masked by his music’s inherent quietude. He approaches each project with an expectation of new directions, new processes, and new junctures.
Listen Ahead (2019)
Listen Ahead is first encountered through traffic signage whereby the audience begins to imagine, conceptualize and anticipate a space for listening. “Ear Hut,” is a structure that privileges the sense of listening over sight — there are ear-level openings in the walls allowing sounds from the outside environment to the inside. A fluidity of the interior/exterior carry meaning beyond the walls, and can be contemplated upon as the listeners rest on benches. These natural exterior sounds combine with the evocative sounds inside the hut to create a unique sound composition and experience specific to the Caramoor.
Miya Masaoka is a composer and sound artist who creates works involving perception, temporality and interaction between objects, people and nature. She is an early practitioner of using the biological world for creating sound, including tracking the movement of insects, collecting data from the body and the response of plants. Her work has been shown at the Venice Bienale, MoMA PS1, Kunstmuseum Bonn, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the ICA Philadelphia. She is the Park Avenue Armory Studio Artist for 2019.