the stuff of hope

….the elegance, fragility and strength of a feather affected by sound, provides a rich semiotic kind of hope, and I want to know why.

Ignore the disorienting camera wobble. Ignore the silence (it’s an Aphex Twin track, without rights clearance). There is a correspondence between feather and sound. And that correspondance is the thing. The plastic sheeting is on hold. Creative (or more accurately, pragmatic) energies were re-assigned to the task of working out what could be moved by sound waves. Sure, there is research out there about having objects levitate as a result of harnessing standing waves. The spectacular is not what this work is aiming at, however. Though it is spectacular.

Acoustic levitation. A popular 1980s television commercial featured a man being blown backward by the sound coming from his stereo. Though a speaker’s pressure field isn’t nearly that strong, acoustic pressure can suspend millimeter-sized objects against the force of gravity. New work by Pierre Lambert and colleagues at Belgium’s Université libre de Bruxelles compares existing theoretical models, numerically computes the strength and direction of the acoustic forces, and validates those results with experimental measurements on objects suspended in standing waves.

Fitzgerald, R.J., 2011. Acoustic levitation. Physics Today64(9), p.23.

We demonstrate that acoustic levitation can levitate spherical objects much larger than the acoustic wavelength in air. The acoustic levitation of an expanded polystyrene sphere of 50 mm in diameter, corresponding to 3.6 times the wavelength, is achieved by using three 25 kHz ultrasonic transducers arranged in a tripod fashion. In this configuration, a standing wave is created between the transducers and the sphere. 

Andrade, M.A., Bernassau, A.L. and Adamowski, J.C., 2016. Acoustic levitation of a large solid sphere. Applied Physics Letters109(4), p.044101.

“A phenomenon called near-field acoustic levitation (NFAL) has been reported by the author’s research group where planar objects of several kilograms in weight are levitated in the air a few hundred micrometers away from a radiation surface.”

Sadayuki, U., 2002. Phenomena, theory and applications of near-field acoustic levitation. Revista de Acústica33(3-4), p.21.

But back to the task at hand. A short-list of potential materials.. “stuff”… was drawn up:

• Gift wrapping paper
• Rice paper
• Origami paper
• Writing paper
• Newspaper
• Cellophane
• Coffee grinds (think cymatics)
• Latex
• Balloons of all/ any description
• Wind spinner material
• Feathers
• Thin wire

Something has to redeem the original vision of an audiovisual work which connects materially, surely? It’s hard to know without trying, so I started, with a hesitant residual rumble of self-doubt as accompaniment (“..maybe I’m just simple-minded and it’s obvious to the rest of all of the everyones, that sound cannot move materials”).

The mind is like a rat in a maze where it thought it smelt something delicious, but ends up disoriented from its own zealous movement to chase down the prize.

Paper would be taut and make too much noise. Coffee grinds would succumb to gravity unless there was a system for segmenting and limiting their movements, all of which still ultimately succumb to gravity. And this is all speculative, based on years of embodied experience.. which is good, but imperfect for imaginings.

And maybe all of this would be so subtle that listeners would need to be perched on top of the IKO to experience any visual counterpoint, and then the sound levels would need to be quieter, and then the levels wouldn’t suffice to move the materials. Am I sure I smelt the delicious thing? Is it me or the world around me, spinning?

Perhaps I could issue earplugs at the door and hope that IEM’s insurance covers any casualties? No, I couldn’t on principle. Hearing is too precious. So then, when the effects of disorientation and fatigue set in, the thing that promises possibilities is a thing of hope. Is it a coincidence that feathers happen to be graceful, alluring thing of beauty and symbolism? That they represent the individual and collective at once? No… for this hope has been recognised before.

Hope is the thing with feathers (254)
Emily Dickinson – 1830-1886

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

From The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)

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