Like Cage’s prepared pianos or the Italian Futurists’ intonarumori, Basanta produces sounds using unorthodox self-made instruments. As was the case with the concerts of Cage and the Futurists, the liveness of Basanta’s sound projects is critical. His works find completion in a direct encounter with their audience. Concerts performed by the Italian Futurists at times incited violence, while the sounds produced and perceived by Cage’s audience during the performance of 4’33” are the very content of the piece itself. Basanta’s kinetic sculptures are configured in such a way that they generate sound in real-time for exhibition spectators. As power is fed into his individual installations, they produce self-amplified feedback, performing autonomously in the context of the white cube gallery. The experience and response of the audience is elicited by the oscillation between noise and silence, conjuring sometimes conflicting experiences of apprehension, anticipation, resolve, and calm.
This conflicting range of effects is provoked, for instance, by Basanta’s A Line Listening To Itself (2016), which consists of a series of seven scavenged speaker cones linked by wires in an extended line. When presented in the gallery, the deconstructed speakers are arranged on the floor. A single microphone on a stand is tilted downwards. It receives the sound of its own amplification and produces a seven-note feedback chord. Each speaker emits one note of the chord. Adjusted by custom computer software, the notes flow individually and concurrently. As Basanta describes, “Starting from silence, each chord begins slowly, building one note at a time until the full chord rings out” (Basanta 2016). The sounds emitted by the assemblage are modulated; the sounds he creates through direct engagement with his instrument are mediated and modified through an algorithmic intervention. After completing its cycle, the installation returns to silence. The performance is repeated every five minutes.
Basanta instrumentalizes feedback as both a formal component and a conceptual provocation in this piece. By pointing the microphone directly towards the artwork’s speakers, it is rendered capriciously unstable, producing a loop of audio feedback reminiscent of the amplified tones generated by Steve Reich in his work Pendulum Music (1968/1973), consisting of microphones suspended above speakers. Also known as the Larsen effect, acoustic feedback occurs when the output of a sound system is directed back into its input, which can result in screeching over-amplification. The viewer/listener enters a heightened state of awareness, cognizant of the artwork’s insidious capacity to deafen both itself and its listener through this perpetual cycle. The installation exploits this anticipatory potential, rendering its audience appropriately cautious. The people and architecture surrounding the piece also affect its acoustic output by impacting the device’s volume, intensity, modulation, and reverberation. Given its configuration and the multitude of variables impacting its output, A Line Listening to Itself threatens to produce an ear-piercing resonance but instead delivers an unexpectedly pleasant, ringing tone.
Feedback, as a subset of noise, has been deployed historically in popular music to elicit a sense of discomfort and acoustic tension. Goodman describes the effects sounds have on humans as affective tonality. These effects are often prehensive – that is, experienced foremost through perception rather than cognition. He indicates that atonal or discordant sound elicits an effect of “uneasy listening” or a “sense of dread” (2012: 189). He goes further, categorizing feedback deployed at a low volume as an instrument of soft power. He places this alongside more powerful, physical violence “where frequency is multiplied by amplitude into the sonic dominance of acoustic weaponry” (190). Basanta’s feedback-based works draw on Goodman’s assertion that “certain frequencies can produce an affective tonality of fear in which the body is left poised in anticipation” (189). Critic Grace Beaumont describes Basanta’s installations as eliciting a “nervous energy” from their listeners, citing the artist’s aptitude for exploiting the “immersive, disorienting, and under-the-skin” dimensions of audio feedback (Beaumont 2016).