On sound reproduction


Sound reproduction targets the human perception of hearing and aims to capture a sound so that it can be heard again.  In my work, I am interested in processes that aim to translate the inaudible into the audible.  Whereas sound reproduction reproduces a sound that was at one point audible and makes it audible again, sonification takes a sound that is inaudible and renders it perceptible to our hearing.

Russian film director Dziga Vertov used drawings and human voices to express the soundscape of a wood factory at a time when no methods for sound reproduction were available. In the early years of the European and Russian avant-garde, there were many experiments in the area of voice reproduction and sound visualization. Rudolf Pfenninger experimented with visualizing sound, attempting to identify single sounds and assign graphical value to each. To visualize and notate the sounds of vowels and consonants, he drew geometric forms that could then be translated by a machine into sound. Similar experiments were also made by Oskar Fischinger whose work was more artistic than Pfenninger’s, less motivated by the film industry. Fischinger attempted to define the notion of ornament by means of light sound machines by making ornaments that could be read and played back by the machines. In Russia, Evgeny Sholpo made experiments with written sound and synthetic sound.

In the sound installation topological landscapes, I attempted to translate some of the recognizable healing frequencies into audio frequencies to create a sound environment.  So-called ‘healing frequencies’ are much higher than audio frequencies, so they are inaudible.  They are called healing frequencies because it is believed by some that they can heal organisms. The Mortal Oscillatory Rate (M.O.R.) is a specific frequency band that, some purport, can kill a micro-organism. The controversial scientist Royal Raymond Rife proposed different frequencies for every disease, using several in a cancer treatment he developed in the inter-war United States. The list of the M.O.R. frequencies are now available from various sources on the Internet, but have been largely discredited by the medical establishment. The sound installation I created is based on the main principle informing Rife’s method. It looks for the right harmonics within the frequency spectrum where the harmonics unites with the major frequencies giving an accord of consonance.

The sound installation is conducted through a small instrument that I call a ‘transistor.’ I call it this because it is a self-made instrument that transmits a sine wave—a wave produced by a digital oscillator—to a 16-channel filtering system in a computer where all the modulated sine waves and the full spectrum of harmonics can be controlled.  The composition creates a sound environment in which a set of constraints—the base frequency, the environment, the feedback and the 16 harmonics—define the final characteristics of the installation’s soundscape.  

The ‘transmitter’ is the core of the system I developed, built from two consumer-grade loud speakers. One speaker projects sound, the other receives it. Sine waves transmitted through this instrument can be described as expanded waves. When a sine wave enters into a physical environment it starts to interact with it and adds additional tones to the original sine wave; it utilizes harmonics through reverberations in the environment.

Having this contact with the installation’s surrounding reality is a key part of the sound installation I created, just as is the case of the Beam Ray Clinical Instrument designed by Rife, in which harmonics were added through the transmission of cathode ray tubes.  These tubes were made out of glass, hence the resonance of the material expanded the spectrum of harmonics while the instrument was only generating the M.O.R. frequencies identified by Rife and his laboratory.

I have never thought that in working with Rife’s frequencies in a sound performance, I would actually heal people, but the possibility of healing with radio frequencies has nonetheless always interested me. The possibility that art can be a kind of healing method, on the other hand, has never really interested me.  I have always distrusted the idea of art as therapy; it has seemed to me that art has no real special status in this regard. Anything can be a therapy; the idea that only art can feels like a mystification of it.

I have, however, found it interesting that Rife’s ambiguous instruments can have a second life in art, continuing to exist outside of the scientific world.  In this way, one can, perhaps, think that these instruments have a special property to heal themselves in a world of fixed binaries (i.e., art and science) that they refuse.



Further Reading:

Keefer, C. & Guldemond J. (Ed.) Oskar Fischinger (1900-1967), Experiments in Cinematic Abstraction, Eye Film Museum; 1st edition, 2012

Graff, J. A. History of Rife's Instruments and Frequencies. self-published PDF, 2003 and 2010. http://www.rife.org

Smirnov, Andrey. SOUND in Z: Experiments in Sound and Electronic Music in Early 20th Century Russia, Köln Deutschland: Buchhandlung Walther Konig GmbH & Co. KG. Abt. Verlag, 2017.

Levin, Thomas Y. “'Tones from out of Nowhere': Rudolf Pfenninger and the Archaeology of Synthetic Sound””. Grey Room, Vol.12, 2003, 32-79.

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Image: Blazsek, A. (2015). Transmitter [Digital image]