Silviphonics: Sound in timber (2018)

Vincent Wozniak O'Connor

About this exposition

The unique mechanical and conductive properties of wood have made it the material of choice for making musical instruments from antiquity to the present. Ancient lyres, rattles and slit drums all rely on the acoustic properties of timber to convert human actions into sound. While wooden instruments are used to produce sound, trees themselves make sound without human intervention. This essay focuses on the material connection between timber and sound. It examines sound outputs derived directly from timber, considering multiple methods for deriving sound from timber. By examining the connection between instruments and timber, the role trees play in physically shaping instruments is highlighted as having direct influence in coloring the sounds they produce. Artists engaged with the relationship between sound and timber include instrument builders and sound and installation artists, who have chosen timber as the basis for making sound as a transmission medium or in field recording interventions involving live trees. Artists Laurie Anderson and Doug Aitken use the physical properties of timber, such as acoustic velocity, as a basis for their sound sculptures and installations. Research into the qualities of timber reveals shared histories between bioacoustics, instrument building and the sonic arts. The Xylophonic phonograph experiments of the 1960s, including John Cage’s Cartridge Music (1960), connects early plant bioacoustics with a shared history in hardware hacking and experimental sound. Recording directly from plants and living trees, Patrick Farmer and Robert Birch contribute to a framework of Silviphonic instrument building focusing on the vibrational quality of living trees. Developing from Farmer and Cage’s piezoelectric experiments, my own recording projects are considered here as they highlight the readymade acoustic qualities of forestry grown pines, relating silviculture to sound. The musical aspects of trees in the wind will also be examined, as they possess similarities to Aeolian instruments. The basis of these sonic practices relies on the qualities inherent to wood that enable it to radiate and transmit sound. This essay explores these practices as they expand the variety of sound outputs produced by timber.
typeresearch exposition
last modified08/05/2018
share statusprivate
licenseAll rights reserved
published inJournal of Sonic Studies
portal issue16. Issue 16

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