Frequent Sea, a new audio installation by artists Meara O’Reilly and Barry Threw debuts at the Exploratorium today, Friday, May 2, 2014. The third installation in the museum’s Soundscapes series of innovative listening experiences designed especially for the Kanbar Forum and its Meyer Constellation acoustic system, Frequent Sea is a dynamic composition that is perceptually co-created by visitors as they walk through the space and stand in various locations. As steady, pure tones are gradually introduced at different points around the room, increasingly complex polyrhythms and melodies emerge from the physical collision of sound waves in both space and ears, providing each listener with a singular, embodied experience. Frequent Sea will be on exhibit Tuesdays, 2:00–5:00 p.m.; Fridays, 1:00–5:00 p.m.; and first and third Sundays, 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m., through July 1, 2014.
What we hear depends on where we are.
Most of the time we think of listening as a static act. Yet changing positions can greatly affect our perceptions of sound and space. For example, a room’s architecture and its resonances can create radically different listening experiences in different places. And many of the principles of hearing that help us locate objects or navigate a space also influence how we hear music.
What we hear depends on who we are.
When two sound waves of different frequencies interfere with each other, they create a third “beat frequency” of louder and softer pulses. Beats are both physical and perceptual phenomena—that is, they can physically occur in space or in our brains, as when different notes are introduced separately to each ear.
By generating beat frequencies simultaneously around the room, Frequent Sea invites our brains to make musical sense of the beats we hear. Some of these patterns are inherent, being shared by most humans. Other patterns are more subjective, and dependent on individual differences in orientation (head tilt, height, etc.) and neural processing, as well as other perceptual factors. The physical separation of frequencies across the sound system’s multiple channels allows for new experiences of beats—physical and subjective intersections of sound that highlight the unique nature of our own perception, as well as the musical patterns we share.
About the Installation
Frequent Sea builds its sound over a 10-minute cycle. To begin, a single sine wave is heard, and then a different wave is added to create an acoustic beat frequency. Others are slowly added at different locations around the Forum, creating increasingly complex polyrhythms and melodic patterns. Once all 8 tones are present, they begin to exchange locations, producing new combinations of interference. Standing in different locations will produce unique combinations of rhythms and notes—combinations created solely by the acoustics of the room and individual perception.
At the end of the cycle, channels are subtracted one by one, until only a single beat frequency remains. Another cycle then begins, introducing new phenomena within the same theme.
To accompany the installation, a visualization of interference patterns and rhythmic “hot spots” will be projected on the main screen, and informational signs will offer experiments and other ways to interact with the piece.
About the Artists
Meara O'Reilly is an artist and educator specializing in auditory perception. Her blog Illusion Songs is a collection of auditory illusions found in indigenous folk practices, popular music, and scientific research. Most recently she contributed to the Song Reader issue of Pop-Up Magazine and completed her first permanent exhibit at the Exploratorium, entitled Chladni Singing. Her collaboration with design firm Snibbe Interactive on sound-based “cymatic” concert visuals for Björk's Biophilia album was part of the world tour.
Selected past performances include Davies Symphony Hall, SFMOMA, the Berkeley Art Museum, Jeffrey Deitch Gallery in New York, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, opening for artists such as Beck, Kronos Quartet, Laurie Anderson, Lucky Dragons, Dirty Projectors, Deerhoof, Michael Hurley, Bill Callahan, Matmos, and Dinosaur Jr. She has toured internationally as a solo musician and in the bands Feathers and Brightblack Morning Light.
In addition to performing and designing installations, Meara has co-curated the San Francisco children's camp A Curious Summer and written for Make Magazine, Boing Boing, and SFMoma's Open Space Blog. www.mearaoreilly.com
Barry Threw is an artist working in immersive and interactive experience. He works in collaboration with institutions, artists, and organizations at the intersection of technology and culture. Focused on forward-looking artistic projects creatively (mis)using experiential technologies, he leaves behind installations, performances, and artefacts.
Barry’s work has been presented internationally at festivals including ORF Musikprotokol, Graz, Austria; Club Transmediale, Berlin, DE; Mutek, Montreal, CA; Cynetart, Dresden, DE; Siggraph, San Diego. His installation work has been shown at venues including the Beijing 2008 Olympics, the YouTube BrandLab, the Sacramento International Airport, and CalIT2 at the University of California San Diego, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts. He has worked in collaboration with myriad artists including Kronos Quartet, Oval, Edwin van der Heide, Egbert Mittlestadt, Biosphere, Camille Utterback, Signal, Monolake, and Jon Rose. www.barrythrew.com
Soundscapes is a series of innovative listening experiences designed especially for the Kanbar Forum and its Meyer Constellation Sound system, one of the most advanced in the world. Artists create these audio experiments, which explore the spatial potential of sound and how it’s experienced in different locations in the theater at a moment in time.