EXPLORE: Distance Music
What is Distance Music?
Distance Music is an immersive concert experience that draws on the speed of sound to create melody. Large, outdoor concert areas are populated with the “Distance Organ”: a collection of remote-controlled, nitrogen powered train horns tuned to either C4-D4-Eb4-E4-Gb4-G4-Ab4-A4-Bb4-B4 or D5. Audiences interact with the installation by walking or bicycling. As they change their position, their distance to each horn changes. As their distance to each horn changes, the time for the sound to arrive from each horn changes, resulting in a gradual change of melody. Every different location in the concert area will render a unique musical result. The horns are placed using Google Earth software, taking advantage of local landmarks and topography, to create as many locations where, when the horns play simultaneous, short, loud (139dB) bursts, their sound arrival times arrive in a discernable metric rhythm. These locations provide the mobile audience important musical and physical points of reference.
Distance Music concerts also include live musicians performing music notated and synchronized for a specific location, or for improvising musicians wandering among the audience. Such accompaniment provides relief from the oft repeated, limited number of tones from the Distance Organ. The lower amplitude of traditional instruments will limit their range and give audiences personal, local, experiences.
First, measurements between possible train horn placements and architectural features are made, seeking a least common denominator between possible installation points and the walking-path called the “primary interval”. For example, sound requires 125ms to traverse 43 meters (at 70˚F). If 43m is found to be a common denominator of installation points and the audience path, then 43m and 125ms becomes the primary time/space unit. 125ms is also the duration of a 1/16th note in 4/4 meter at 120bpm. Points in the concert area intersecting the primary interval arcs of 43m and its multiples (86m, 129m,172m etc.) would contain melodies with rhythm sets comprised only of 16th notes and 16th rests. Constant movement along the walking-path would reveal cycles of gradual irregularity and regularity. The melody freezes when they stop moving. Those wishing to re-experience a favorite melody could simply revisit the location since the rhythm and order are a function of position that doesn’t change. The acoustic time-space continuum relationship, which has been around us our entire lives, is revealed, as long as the horns continue to repeat the same initial playback sequence.
The first use of the distance organ in Distance Music was attempted in October of 2014. This video describes the basic mechanics of the work:
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