conversations with a mythic voice

“Those who Observe the wind will not Sow”

Ecclessiastes 11:4

A Little History

This first part of the improvisation sessions with natural elements is inspired by the writings and works of Athanasius Kircher.  The inventor of a western conception of aeolian music, his 17th century drawings in Phonurgia Nova detailed methods for inciting the wind, thereby implicating a mythic, spiritual voice brought to life through the strategic positioning of strings near a window, or out in the open.  The personification of the ‘aeolian voice’ is strengthened through the excitation of upper harmonics of the strings, higher partials “invisible” to the eye, seemingly the virtuosic playing of an ethereal being of myth and magic.  It is no wonder then that early depictions featured a face in a cloud exhaling, linking the wind to the breath of an angelic or deity figure.

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Kircher’s Jesuit heritage might have spurred him to adopt the aeolian instrument as a method through which man who converse with God, particularly through an improvised collective that included the above mentioned instruments, and more conventional orchestral instruments and instrumentalists.

In my own work, my interests are aligned with Kircher’s in the desire to develop conversational structures that are expansive beyond single modes of thought (art within art, music within music, sound within sound) in cross-modal, cross-disciplinary experimentation.  These conversational structures reflect the epistemological approaches of cybernetics – of Paskian conversations, of interactive and feedback-control in large complex systems; as well as the notion of homologues in the abstraction of mathematical thought in the application of the principles of resonance to larger communicative and systemic structures.  What is the semiotical structure of the wind; of natural elements like water, sunlight and even plants, and how can we develop a system of tuning that allows us to communicate with this environment?  How has the technological, scientific and instrumental advances in the last millenia promoted or distracted us from the simple and efficacious connection with our environment?

In the first stage of the exploration, i’ve chosen to do an outdoor improvisation with the already present aeolian instrument at the NOAA – the Soundgarden:

Here are some photographs:

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These tubes move in the wind and are Helmholtz resonators, playing long drawn tones based on the lengths of the steel tubes.

Recording will be difficult, especially in the absence of wind of sufficient intensity, since they are very widely spaced, and i would presume contact microphones stuck on the resonating tubes would be the most efficient method.

About the Improvisation 

The piece involves selected instruments and bowed material, the specifics are still being decided.  The process of these are a simple call and response type activity, with the added notion of a memory on the part of the human performers (the aeolian voice is also assumed to hold a memory but perhaps not on anthropomorphic terms) which will allow him/her to recall phrases of instrumentation that he has previously played.  With multiple players, the complexity of this process increases and the interplay of playing and listening, sound and silence will be particularly integral.  This is not a timed piece, and will instead inspire a sort of time’less-ness, and as such will not documented in its entirety, but instead will highlight important moments of connection.

More to Follow

Instrument List:

1. strings —- cello, violin

2. wind —- melodica, pan flute, ocarina

3. percussion — thumb piano, bowed cymbals, rain stick, sand


if the wind is a voice, what is it telling us? How can we listen to it? Is harmony a MacGuffin worth discovering?  What is a unit of measurement for wind, how can we quantify and determine its quality so that we can know how well it speaks.

What are some local myths that involve the wind and is there a way to incorporate the lessons learnt into our understanding of the relationships between man and environment?

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